They have some of the fastest skates, most precise puck work, incomparable strength and determination and they are the changing face of youth hockey in our area. They're also girls.
After years of watching brothers and dads on the ice, Coach Charice Wilczynski says more and more young women are suiting up. When Charice began more than 20 years ago, girls were mostly in the stands.
“The first time I stepped on the ice I was the only girl,” she says. “From six years old to about 8th grade I just played on all-boys teams. I was the only girl in the whole league. It was such a special experience.”
She went on to play in high school and college and for about a decade has coached at Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills where there are nearly a dozen girls now playing.
It is not a sport for the faint of heart. The girls spend three days a week in practice, usually followed by at least one game a weekend. And then there’s the occasional off-ice defense.
“The girls are phenomenal listeners,” Charice says. “You can tell them something once and they get it the first time. And that’s always been a trend. A lot of our girls also have a really great center of gravity like their core is a little stronger because they’re developing a little bit faster than the boys.”
There is a push to get more girls into the sport in Illinois. This year, the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois held its mid-season tournament at the United Center, and for the first time ever it was an all-girls event. There were 400 female players and about 20 all-girl teams. They played in an all-day 3-on-3 tournament, hung out with fellow female athletes and got to meet the U.S. Women's National team as well as some of their favorite Blackhawks.
As the Chicago hockey fan base continues to grow, Charice hopes the number of girls on the ice will too. They are building not only an impressive hockey skill set, but also a physical and mental toughness she says cultivates successful women.
“This is a place you learn to develop your confidence. This is a place to lay it all out there, don’t care what anyone thinks about you, just go out there and have a good time because it’s the greatest game out there.”
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