By Caroline Rea
On Wednesday March 8th people around the world celebrated International Women’s Day which is a part of National Women’s History Month every year. In honor of that the Topeka RoadRunners want to celebrate women and girls in hockey all over the world. We want young girls in Topeka to know that they can play hockey too, because hockey is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or boy. If you can play, you can play.
So to celebrate National Women’s History Week we have reached out to a few female hockey players from all over the country. Some girls play professionally and some just play for fun, but they all have one thing in common and that is their passion for hockey.
The two major professional women’s hockey leagues are the CWHL or Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the NWHL or the National Women’s Hockey League.
The CWHL was founded in 2007 and is comprised of 5 teams: the Boston Blades, Brampton Thunder, Calgary Inferno, Les Canadiennes, and Toronto Furies. The NWHL, on the other hand, is in their second season as a professional hockey league and is comprised of four eastern teams: the Buffalo Beauts, Boston Pride, New York Riveters, and Connecticut Whale.
One of the players we had the chance to talk to was Katie Fitzgerald. She is a professional goalie for the New York Riveters in the National Women’s Hockey League. She started playing hockey when she was 5 playing in a mini mite league with all the boys in her town and continued playing with them through high school. After graduating she moved on to play in the NCAA for four years with the St. Cloud State University Huskies. During her last season with St. Cloud she would lead all goaltenders in the WCHA conference in shots faced. Fitzgerald made her NWHL debut for the Riveters in October of 2015 and in November of 2016 she recorded a 4-0 shutout marking the first shutout in Riveters history.
When we talked to Katie about her experience with the newly formed NWHL she said “I think the NWHL is amazing. I wouldn’t be playing hockey anymore if it wasn’t for them. Sure, there are some growing pains and struggles going with being pioneers, but we signed up for that. We like to think of the big picture, that we’re doing this for the young girls that come to our games.”
The other professional hockey player that we had the opportunity to talk to was Rebecca Russo. Russo started playing hockey when she was 3 years old when she saw her brother playing and wanted to be just like him so she strapped on some skates and never looked back. She played in the NCAA for the Boston University Terriers and set the BU record for most assists in one game with five against Yale.
Her senior year she ended the season with a career high of 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 39 games. In that time she also maintained a scoring streak from Jan 23 – Feb 14. She joined the New York Riveters this past season and scored two of the four goals in the game that would be marked as the first shut out in Riveters history.
When we asked Russo what she thought about the NWHL she said “We are trying to establish something very special here with professional women’s hockey and I think we have achieved that in the first two seasons with the NWHL. For me, being an undrafted rookie I had to prove to not only myself but others around me that I too can play in this league with the best women hockey players in the world.”
We asked both Fitzgerald and Russo what advice they would give to girls who are interested in playing hockey. Fitzgerald said “I would tell young girls to never give up. It sounds cliché, but there is nothing more admirable than someone who refused to give up or listen to the voices who told her she couldn’t. Proving everyone wrong is the ultimate payback.”
Russo’s response was very similar. She said “My advice to young girls would be to work hard and follow your dreams. It is a lot of hard work that got me to the place I am today and I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t put in the effort both on and off the ice. My commitment to the sport, my dedication to off-ice training and my hard work in the classroom all helped me fulfill my dream. But it all comes down to what you put in. It takes hard work to achieve your goals, but if you set your mind to it and are willing to put in whatever it takes, you will get the outcome you deserve.”
Although right now professional women’s hockey isn’t as well-known as men’s hockey it looks to have a promising future. Fitzgerald says “Where we are right now is where the NHL was when it first started 100 years ago. It took them a long time to reach where they are and that’s thanks to the men who agreed to be the first. Seeing the progress the WNBA and women’s soccer league have made makes the next decade of growth very promising for the talented girls growing up who can dream of being the next Amanda Kessel instead of the next Patrick Kane. They now have women to look up to and see the paths they took to get to the top and learn from them.”
It’s not just professional hockey though. Girls play hockey at all levels. One Topeka native, Holly Ives, is a goalie and has been playing hockey since she was 11. She is currently attending the University of Eau Claire in Wisconsin to study Athletic Training, but she’s still always ready to lace up her skates and get back in the net just for fun.
Holly’s advice for girls who are interested in playing hockey is, “Don’t be afraid to fail, that’s the first step toward being good at something. It doesn’t matter what kind of team you play on whether it’s girls, coed, house, or travel. Just keep playing the game and working toward getting better.”
Hockey is one of the greatest sports in the world and it is meant to be enjoyed by everyone. The Topeka RoadRunners are dedicated to spreading the love of the game to the kids in the Topeka community.
Anyone between the ages of 3-15 interested in learning to play hockey can reach out to us for information on our free Learn To Skate and Learn To Play Hockey programs that will start up again next season. We will even look into supplying gear, provided advanced notice, to kids who are interested in giving hockey a try. It doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, if you can play, you can play.
Happy International Women’s Day to all our female hockey players and hockey fans out there! The Topeka RoadRunners support you!
To see the full interview with both Katie Fitzgerald and Rebecca Russo click HERE.