It was a weekend to remember for nearly 90 girls from the Peace Region and beyond who came to Dawson Creek Oct. 25 to 27 to participate in the Encana 2nd Annual Female Hockey Jamboree.
Headlining the hockey weekend was three-time Olympian and former Team Canada goalie Sami Jo Small, whose expertise and bubbly personality had the players smiling and laughing on and off the ice.
"I got to teach kids for a couple days, and that's not really the legacy that I want to leave," Small said on Sunday from the Memorial Arena. "The legacy is I want them to love the game, and I think they do, and I think they now realize that they can play, they can play with girls or boys and just love the game.
"I loved Dawson. I'd love to come back and see the smiling faces on the kids. They're just so excited and people are so appreciative and that's nice to see."
Players and families from as far north as Fort Nelson, northern Alberta and everywhere in between flocked to Dawson Creek for the Jamboree, with parents hoping to get their daughters more expertise in the game, as well girl time on the ice.
Angela Cole registered both of her daughters in the Jamboree. Recently moving from 100 Mile House to Dawson Creek, Cole was looking for something to link her daughters, Rowan and Avery, with their new city.
"This is very impressive," Cole said about the Jamboree. "This really confirms in my mind that this was the right move for us. Just looking at all these girls, there are so many out there and so many smiles, and it's a great opportunity for girls in hockey.
"This is so impressive that my youngest didn't want to play hockey this year, she wanted a break, and now she wants to join again. She's a natural, she's out there, she doesn't even need to try and she's good. This has really reinforced that she loves the sport."
Three different age groups of girls spent the weekend learning dry land training, on-ice drills and sessions, off-ice sessions and team building. They also had an opportunity to bond over meals and have casual time with Small.
Breanne Friedel, 16, is a defenceman for the Fairview Midget Cruisers in Fairview, Alberta and came all the way to Dawson Creek for the weekend to learn from Small.
"[Small] sounded pretty good and inspiring, so I wanted to hear what she said and take some of that in," Friedel said. "They taught us a lot about keeping your head up and hockey sense, just keep going.
"[She showed us that] you need to keep going and keep improving no matter what stage you're at. You can never be perfect at what you're doing."
Brandy Lenart's daughter Tionna currently plays for the Atom Canucks and is in her third year of hockey. Lenart wanted her daughter to be able to experience playing with all girls for once and hopefully make some new friends.
"She plays with the boys right now, so to be 100 per cent with girls in her comfort zone [is great]," Lenart said. "It's fun, it's light. She wanted to have a good time with girls. It's a different perspective on hockey and she's meeting lots of friends.
"With exposure to players like Small, it helps it be more okay for girls to play; it's not such a boys' sport, and having stuff like this where the girls can bond is awesome. I'd do it every month if that's what came to be."
The number of girls registered surprised organizers and instructors alike, and also proved to members of the community and hockey lovers in the Peace Region that female hockey has a lot of interest out there - it just needs help to get off the ground.
On hand helping Small on and off the ice were dozens of volunteers from the City of Dawson Creek, the Dawson Creek Stars Elite female hockey team, minor hockey and many other organizations. That kind of support, Small says, is what makes the potential for the growth of women's hockey in the area more realistic.
"The support that these girls get is huge," Small said. "The want for girls to play hockey here is huge, and the volunteer support is incredible, so I think there's a great base and it can only grow from here.
"Not every place where you go in this country would you get people volunteering their time for six hours at a time. You don't see that everywhere," she added. "To have the infrastructure and support already here means they'll be able to play for a lifetime."
Meanwhile, the same groups who have helped set up and run the Encana 2nd Annual Female Hockey Jamboree are throwing around the idea of hosting female hockey events every month in addition to the annual Jamborees.
Cole, whose entire family plays hockey, says she'd be willing to add her time as a volunteer if it meant getting more female hockey events going in her new home of Dawson Creek for the sake of her two daughters.
She sees it as a good investment, and thinks others should, too.
"It's camaraderie, and it reinforces that girls can do anything," Cole said. "It's a life skills lesson for them. I'd really like to see more events like this. I think it's very inspiring for my girls and it's good to see them smile, especially with a move being hard on them.
"This reinforces that they have friends, and there's nothing like hockey friends."
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