Hockey participation increases among female students

Take a moment and list all the professional hockey teams in the United States that you can think of.

Now, of the teams you just listed, how many are professional women’s hockey teams?

The answer is probably zero. At the very most, you may have listed one women’s team—the Boston Blades, who are actually part of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL).

In the U.S., women’s hockey teams tend to be overshadowed by their highly publicized male counterparts. Nicole LaVoi, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, explained that this is due to sports-typing where certain sports are typically associated with masculine qualities, such as football and hockey, whereas feminine type sports would be considered tennis, golf, dance and figure skating.

“Typically, hockey is more of a masculine sport-typed sport because you have to be aggressive, and there’s a lot of contact,” LaVoi said. “People think you need power, strength and aggression to play this sport well.”

Because hockey is a predominantly male sport, there are less females hockey players than male hockey players. This is even more so displayed at the high school level.

While Stevenson boys’ hockey includes a varsity and junior varsity team, Stevenson’s female players play on the Scouts Girls’ Ice Hockey team which is a combination of students from Stevenson, Lake Forest, Libertyville, Highland Park and Woodlands Academy.

“There are fewer girls who play hockey, although that is changing,” said Camy Gould, Stevenson representative on the girls’ hockey board. “Girls’ and women hockey are the fastest growing segments of hockey.”

Like Gould, Liz Zorn, Girls Hockey Head Coach, predicts that more players will join the girls’ ice hockey team after noticing that more girls were starting to play hockey at a younger age.

With the current roster consisting of 21 girls—two from Stevenson—Zorn is not concerned by the number of girls on the combined team.

“We’re fortunate enough to draw from multiple schools, so the numbers aren’t a huge issue,” Zorn said. “But we’re not sponsored by the IHSA, so we’re really a club team. That would be difficult for some girls’ who want to be recognized for playing a high school sport.”

Along with IHSA recognition, female players also face challenges at the professional level. Although there is a U.S. Olympic Team for women’s hockey and multiple collegiate teams, the U.S. does not have a national women’s hockey league due to the lack of highly skilled female hockey players who could fill teams in a number of cities, according to Gould. Achieving that caliber in women’s hockey would mean more girls playing an expensive sport at a young age.

“There is no professional girls’ hockey league, so it’s the Olympics or nothing,” Gould said. “Many girls and women will go overseas to play hockey where they can be paid to play or play on men’s teams.”

However, women are not allowed to play on men’s teams in the U.S.. This is due to regulations allowing only men to check, which is a defensive technique players use to disrupt or separate an opponent from the puck. This difference can prompt some fans to favor men’s hockey for having more physical contact while others favor women’s hockey for requiring a greater ability to handle the puck.

“Some people think that the women hockey players have a greater skill set because they can’t just check you off the puck,” LaVoi said. “You actually have to have puck handling and skating skills.”

In addition, men’s hockey tends to attract larger fan-bases because women’s hockey is a fairly new sport. Its first international appearance was in the 1998 Winter Olympics whereas men’s hockey has been around since the 1924 Winter Olympics, according to LaVoi. In addition, men’s hockey get more media attention.

“They’re seen on television more; they’re promoted and marketed more,” LaVoi said. “Therefore, they have a pretty good fan base because that’s what we see. It’s hard to be a fan of women’s hockey because you can’t see them, except every four years on the olympics.”

Zorn described the Scouts girls’ hockey fans as a majority of parent-based fans with only a handful of student fans. In addition to encouraging more people to come out and support the team, she encourages more students to join the no cut sport.

Despite the growing number of female hockey players, the percent of media cover dedicated to women and girls sports is going down, LaVoi said. However, female hockey is becoming more and more competitive on every level of girl’s hockey. Girls are getting cut from higher level teams now, whereas the teams used to just ask people to play, according to Gould.

“Women’s sports and athletes deserve the respect and attention because they’re amazing athletes like their male counterparts,” LaVoi said.