Sweeping onto the ice
Cohasset-Hanover squad is latest to join the exploding girls’ hockey movement
They’re the new girls on the ice — and for the Cohasset-Hanover Girls’ Ice Hockey Team, that means more than being the most recent addition to the growing roster of competitors in the region.
For more than half the team, this season will be the first time they’ve ever played hockey, or even skated in a rink.
“Maybe they skated on a pond when they were little,’’ said Nancy Farren, a Cohasset parent who helped organize the group. She said of the 21 girls on the team, eight are experienced hockey skaters — one girl played on the Hanover High School boys’ team — one is a figure skater, and the rest are ice novices.
“Without the beginner skaters, this new program wouldn’t exist,’’ Farren said. “We had to have a certain number; they wouldn’t allow us to play with a short bench. So it took a group of girls who were new to hockey, and willing to try it, to make it work.’’
The newcomers are on the front of a movement sweeping across the high school sports scene in recent years: girls playing hockey, a sport long the domain of boys who push around a puck dreaming of some day becoming the next National Hockey League star.
“Girls’ hockey is definitely the fastest-growing sport in the state; it’s exploding,’’ said Cohasset’s athletic director, Ron Ford. “This is a great opportunity for us to build a program.’’
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association first sanctioned girls’ ice hockey teams in 2000, when 974 girls participated on 37 high school teams, according to MIAA statistics. Among the earliest teams were Canton, Dedham, Fontbonne Academy, Milton, Wellesley, and Westwood.
By last school year, 1,795 girls were playing on 100 Massachusetts high school teams; there are 106 teams recorded this year.
The growth is a national phenomenon, according to Heather McLaughlin, a sociologist at the University of Minnesota who has looked at the girls’ ice hockey explosion.
“Hockey is unusual in that it is one of the fastest-growing sports for girls and women, growing steadily since the early 1990s,’’ she said. Fewer “than 100 girls played hockey prior to the 1992 season. From 1995 to 2010, high school participation rates increased between 12 and 13 times’’ — from 647 players in 1995 to more than 8,000.
McLaughlin, who played some pond hockey growing up in Maine, said Minnesota was the first state to sanction girls’ ice hockey as a high school varsity sports and has 40 percent of the high school girl players. Massachusetts comes in second with about 20 percent of the nationwide total, she said.
Cohasset and Hanover are eager to jump into the mix with their combined team. Although parents have been working to form the team for two years, it came together quickly late this fall.
The school committees in both towns approved a combined junior varsity team just before Thanksgiving, on the condition that it support itself financially. Cohasset High’s girls’ soccer coach, Deb Beal, offered to coach the hockey players, and the school’s football and baseball coach, Peter Afanasiw, offered to help her.
Afanasiw had started the Duxbury girls’ hockey program when he was there, said Ford. He was enthusiastic about the new team, saying it would not only give more girls a chance to participate in a winter sport, but would also prevent female hockey players from leaving for private high schools.
Cohasset has started cooperative teams with other towns before, sharing a gymnastics team with Norwell and cross-country and track teams with Hull. Cohasset and Scituate had a combined swim team for four years, splitting into separate ones a year ago, he said.
Ford, who works closely with his Hanover counterpart, Fran Coyle, said they are planning a 10-game schedule for the girls’ ice hockey team, with Walpole, Bourne, Marshfield, and some scrimmages with Hingham already in the works.
Meanwhile, parents have raised close to $14,000 to pay for ice time and other expenses. The Hingham High School girls’ hockey team also helped with an offer to share the ice at Pilgrim Skating Arena in Hingham, a particularly generous gesture given its junior varsity team is scheduled to compete with Cohasset-Hanover.
“They know we are new and wanted to help us out,’’ said Jim Farren, adding that the Hingham team is relatively new and empathized with the neighboring start-up. “It was incredible. I don’t think you see football teams offer their fields’’ to the competition.
Hingham varsity coach Tom Findley said the decision — made with his twin brother, John, who coaches the Hingham junior varsity — was easy.
“They were short of ice, we had an extra half a sheet, so we gave them a shout,’’ Tom Findley said. “Our job is to promote the girls’ game. It’s a great brand of hockey.’’
Watching Cohasset-Hanover start up makes Findley a little nostalgic, too. Hingham won a state championship in 2008 and has blossomed into a Division 1 powerhouse. But he remembers how 10 of the 17 team members were “newbie’’ skaters when Hingham started its girls’ program as a club sport in 2003.
“It was my favorite season ever,’’ he said. “The kids were so into it, and so happy to be playing hockey on a team.’’
The Cohasset-Hanover players also have found ice time at the Connell Memorial Rink in Weymouth, and the Farrens have opened their backyard rink for skating practice, as well.
Other hockey families opened their closets to help equip the new team, donating everything from gently used skates and sticks to pants, shirts, and pads. The Farrens put a collection box outside their house, and “every day it was almost like Santa had come,’’ Nancy Farren said.
Neither she nor her husband play hockey, but her two oldest daughters — 15-year-old Nicole and 16-year-old Amanda — have been playing since they saw how much fun their little brother Jimmy had with the game. Two younger daughters — Valerie 14, and Lauren, 9 — also are hockey players.
“This would have been a lot easier if they played basketball,’’ Farren said. “But they love hockey, they love the camaraderie, the whole team aspect of it.
“It’s exciting [for all the girls] that they’re part of something on the ground level. They can always say they were members of the first-ever girls’ hockey team in Cohasset and Hanover,’’ she said.
Her daughters agreed.
“Everybody’s getting along really well,’’ said Amanda. “We hope we can have a good season, maybe get some wins, and have fun.’’
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.