Jess Chagn (bottom left corner) with the Golden Girls women’s team at a tournament. She fell in love with the game and has now stepped into a women’s hockey development role so that future generations of girls can enjoy hockey in Golden. (Claire Palmer photo)

Jess Chagn (bottom left corner) with the Golden Girls women’s team at a tournament. She fell in love with the game and has now stepped into a women’s hockey development role so that future generations of girls can enjoy hockey in Golden. (Claire Palmer photo)

Growing women’s hockey in Golden

Jess Chagnon has stepped into a female hockey development role

After the success and sheer dominance of the Canadian women’s hockey team at the 2022 Olympics en route to gold, women’s hockey has never been more in the spotlight.

The gold medal game itself was the most-watched event in Canada and the U.S. over the course of the Olympics, drawing 2.7 million viewers on CBC in Canada and 3.54 million viewers on NBC in the U.S., despite the late start time of the game.

Locally, Golden Minor Hockey is trying to ride that wave, with Jess Chagnon stepping into the role of female development coordinator at the end of the 2021-22 season.

The goal of the role is to grow the women’s game in Golden and boost female enrolment through recruitment, with Chagnon saying she hopes that an all-girl team can be pulled together for next season, even if just for a tournament or two.

“Right now, there’s a big opportunity for women’s hockey, for female development,” said Chagnon.

According to Brianna Davey, vice- president, member services minor and female regarding Female Hockey for BC Hockey, there are approximately 40,289 hockey players in the province, with only 6,807 being female.

While registration has returned to near pre-pandemic normal, female registration is slightly lower than in a normal year, said Davey, who said that she expects it to be an outlier and that numbers will once again rise post-pandemic.

Currently, girls in Golden Minor Hockey are mixed in on the boys’ teams, with one or two on teams for their respective age groups, with the majority of the girls concentrated in the U11 age group.

Playing with the boys can be intimidating and isolating, with girls often having to get changed in separate rooms by themselves, away from their team. A stronger female presence would help alleviate some of that, with a girls-only team removing that barrier to playing all together.

Retention is also important for female players, with a 2020 report from Canadian Women & Sport and Canadian Tire Jumpstart revealing that one in three girls will drop out of the sport by the time they’re in high school, while their male counterparts will only do so at a rate of one in ten.

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Chagnon is looking to change that.

“We have these girls that love playing hockey right now, this big younger cohort, and they’re in the association and they’re naturally underrepresented,” said Chagnon.

“Hockey is so traditionally male, but it’s changing, we’re riding the Olympic momentum and having representation locally is going to be a big part of growing the game.”

Chagnon herself plays the game, coming to the arena on Sunday nights to lace them up with the Golden Girls at drop-in, learning to play just a few years ago.

It’s that passion that led her to this role.

“I just fell in love with the game myself, and I signed my kids up after that,” she said.

“My girl, she plays hockey now, and I don’t want her to fall short on options for whatever she wants to do with her hockey career. That’s why I volunteered because no one else was going to so I took it on as my new project.”

Beyond the role, there is now an informal sub-committee dedicated to growing the women’s game in Golden, bringing forth ideas on how to recruit female players while also shifting the narrative that hockey is for boys.

So far, there’s been support all around.

“The group came around from a core group of parents in the stands as we were watching our girls practice, ” she said.

“Since then, I’ve been approached by several parents, men and women that want to take part of this; everybody seems to be very motivated to make things happen.”

Chagnon is also hoping to create a network within the Kootenays to hopefully help grow the game in the region and make the area a hotbed for girls hockey. Cranbrook has already become a hub, but the three-hour drive makes it difficult for some girls to get involved. So why not Golden?

While there may be a few hurdles ahead of her, she’s sure that her message will get out there.

“It’s a minority in the sport, they’re a bit marginalized, but they’re welcome to play in Golden for sure,” said Chagnon.

“Their association welcomes them.”

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