VALLENTUNA, Sweden – One of the most exciting things with joining a hockey team is getting the real hockey equipment. Or, at least a real hockey jersey, like all the girls in Vallentuna, a municipality 35 kilometres north of Stockholm, when the local SDE Hockey kicked off their Girls’ Hockey Day.
Maria Stolpe walked around the locker room with a big, blue Ikea bag full of practice sweaters. The girls attending the hockey school all got to pick one. There were two choices: a green jersey, or a pink one.
All six girls picked a pink one.
“There’s something about pink,” said Stolpe, who runs the hockey school, and whose daughter has recently graduated to the girls’ team that’s running its drills at the other end of the rink.
My daughter, Hilda, is bursting out of excitement. Emotionally, she can hardly fit inside her jersey, while I feel like Walter Gretzky as I roll her sleeves up and tuck the all-too-large (pink) sweater into her pants.
Hilda’s six. She’s also the smallest of the girls on the ice.
“We have two hockey schools for girls. One here in Vallentuna and another – once we get ice – in Danderyd, a little closer to Stockholm. Our operations basically cover everything north of Stockholm,” says Stolpe.
“There are no other girls’ teams. Of our players, about a third comes from Vallentuna, and two thirds from two other municipalities around here,” she adds.
The Girls’ Hockey Day in Vallentuna opened with a meeting for the girls who already play in a team, a little off-ice training session, before it was time to hit the ice with the hockey schoolers.
The girls, and their two coaches, focused on skating drills, skating around in circles, working on their backward skating and balance.
“It’s important that we do get girls’ teams to get the depth of players we need. Sure, girls can play with boys but it is tough for them, and sometimes they have to listen to things they really shouldn’t be exposed to,” says Stolpe.
“The hockey school is our best marketing tool. Of the girls on our team, all but three have gone through the hockey school in the club,” she adds.
But hockey isn’t the top-of-mind first choice for many girls, or their parents. According to Stolpe, once they get the girls and their parents to the arena, and on to the ice, most of them are hooked.
“Very few girls quit. Maybe their parents have an image of hockey as a violent and aggressive sport and that stops them. Now, the women’s game isn’t like that, and especially not the kids’ game,” says Stolpe.
SDE Hockey also sends out information to parents of the girls who are in the hockey school age. While Stolpe says that they should get even more girls into the sport, some always bite.
Like Anna Falck and her daughter Tilde.
“This is our second season, Tilde started in the hockey school last fall. We got direct mail from the club, and got interested even though neither I nor my husband have played hockey,” says Anna.
“So I get to play instead,” adds Tilde.
Tilde, what do you like about hockey?
“Making bubbles,” she said.
“You know, when you make curves on the ice,” she added.
The girls lay flat on their stomachs on the ice. The coach slaps her stick on the ice and the girls in pink try to get up as fast as they can. The coach says something, and they all hit the ice again. And up again. Then they skate from the goal line to the blue line, and touch their knees, and then raise their arms towards the arena’s ceiling.
The practice over, I lean against the boards and hold my arm out so I can high-five Hilda. She stops and looks at me.
“I can’t do that with these on,” she says, and points to her gloves. So we do our very first fist bump. Hilda gets off the ice, and as she puts on her skate guards, she sees a tray of cookies and juice on the other bench.
“I wonder if that’s for us,” she asks and just then, Stolpe says they are.
Ten minutes later, the pinks sweaters are back in the Ikea bag, and Hilda and I walk to the car.
“Was it fun? I saw you doing all kinds of tricks on the ice. Touching your knees, and then raising your arms,” I said.
“Dad, those are called doing meatballs – touching the knees – and spaghetti, and I learned to skate backwards,” she said.
“Also, I want to come back next week,” she said, eating the last of her cookie.
“Even if there aren’t any cookies?”
It was a good day for hockey.