I am currently living in the midst of women and girls' hockey central. The Women's World Hockey Championship is going on a few hundred metres from my house, and there seems to be a girls' minor hockey tournament going on at the rink a few hundred metres in the other direction.
So it's not all together unsurprising that while my daughter and I were enjoying one of our Daddy-Daughter Dinner Dates at a local chain restaurant this week we were surrounded by young girls in matching track suits. I counted no fewer than three teams in the place, each comprised of a dozen or more pre-teen girls sitting in matching sweats and toques with their parents smartly sitting a few rows away.
"Why are they laughing so much, Daddy?"
"It's hard to explain, kiddo." But you'll understand in a couple of years.
The frequent and ever-changing whims of a preschooler notwithstanding, I'm pretty sure my kid's going to grow up playing hockey. She came home from the hospital in an Ottawa Senators sleeper (the day the team started a franchise-record eleven game winning streak, it should be noted) and a good part of our early bonding was spent in our living room, her sucking down a 3:00am bottle while I stared bleary-eyed at the Sportscentre morning loop's hockey highlight packages.
At three, she's already had two winters of parent-tot skating lessons and attended more NHL games than I did during my entire childhood. She declares a passionate love of the Sens and Team Canada (as well as Sidney Crosby, oddly). She's met not one, but two Sens players in person and, like everyone else in Ottawa, cheers wildly at the mention of Daniel Alfredsson's name. We've already started to wonder about getting her into the local initiation program a year early, given that her mid January birthday sits tantilizingly close to the new-year cutoff for registration.
This weekend we get to have another awesome experience as the kid and I have been invited to enjoy a meal and take in the Canada-Finland game along with former Team Canada star and current Hockey Night in Canada personality Cassie Campbell-Pascall.** The kid is particularly excited about this, since she "loves loves loves LOVES Team Canada!"
I grew up playing and loving the game, and I am thrilled that she's showing a similar interest so early. For all the lumps minor hockey takes because of overpriced gear and undermature parents berating kids and refs alike, hockey can be a powerful force for good in a child's life. The girls in the restaurant tonight were a team in every sense of the word and that sense of camraderie and friendship is huge, particularly for an only child like mine.
I also think the physical structure of the hockey rink—where thick panes of plexiglass physically separate parents from kids—does wonders for a child's development. Unlike soccer, where parents can stand right on the edge of the field, communicating to them during the action, when a hockey player steps on the ice, it's just her, her teammates and her coaches.
The fact that women's hockey has matured so much in the past few years just makes this all the better. There were girls playing when I grew up, of couse, but the emergence of entire girls' leagues has led to different traditions and experiences than I remember, ones born and shaped by girls, for girls. Instead of looking up to role models like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, girls have the option of looking up to Cassie Campbell and Hayley Wickenheiser. Instead of having to get changed in a different room before wandering down the hall to join her male teammates in "their" dressing room, my daughter will have the option of being part of a team full of girls just like her, excited and hyper and ready to play the game they love.
And judging by the smiles on the faces of the track-suited masses at the restaurant, it's going to be lots of fun.
** Disclaimer: My daughter and I were invited to attend the dinner and game with Cassie Campbell as part of a PR campaign by Chevrolet / GM Canada, in part because of my writing here at the Yummy Mummy Club. They did not require that I write this or any post nor did they have any input into it.