Finding the right opportunities for girls in sports, especially in Colorado’s sparsely populated mountain towns, can be a challenge. Players and qualified coaches are few and far between, and practice space is at a premium. In Aspen, however, there’s no shortage of sporty girls interested in athletic challenges. In fact, of the 279 girls enrolled at Aspen High School last year, 202 of them played at least one sport. And, increasingly, one of those sports is hockey. Aspen Junior Hockey (AJH) was the first youth association in Colorado to offer girls-only competitive teams, starting in the late 1990s, and currently boasts one of the largest club programs in the country. Throughout the winter, girls—some as young as 4 and padded from head to toe—enthusiastically sweat it out on the ice.
Shaun Hathaway, AJH’s director, is excited about the continued upward trajectory of girls’ hockey locally and the opportunities it offers. “Girls can challenge themselves competitively without having to play boys’ hockey,” he says. “To have a program that focuses on skill development and provides an environment where girls don’t feel intimidated is key.”
Elizabeth Stewart-Severy, head coach of the U19 (under 19) Aspen girls’ team, credits the sport’s growth among the pig-tailed set to the Olympics. “Women’s hockey debuted on the world stage in Nagano in 1998, and the US team won. Suddenly all these girls, myself included, were able to see that hockey wasn’t just a sport their brothers played.”
Aspen’s girls’ hockey teams are good. So good, in fact, that they tend to blow away the competition. As a result, AJH created a 14UAA team, one of only four U14 Tier II teams in the state.
Some girls play on multiple teams in one season, traveling to club games and tournaments around Colorado and to tournaments in Minnesota, Texas, and California. A few even round out their seasons by playing on a boys’ team. Regardless of what team they play for, however, both players and coaches agree that team camaraderie and the life skills that come with the sport are far more important than the game itself.
Moreover, local girls are able to take what they learned on the Aspen ice to higher levels. For example, recent Aspen High graduate Caroline Godfrey walked on to the highly competitive Bowdoin College hockey team last year on the encouragement of her parents and Hathaway. The ability to work hard that she gleaned from playing locally was just the ticket; Godfrey finished the year with the award for most improved player. aspenjuniorhockey.com