MARLBOROUGH, Mass. -- After the Washington Pride 14-and-Under team played its first Tier I tournament in Cleveland this fall, the players took time to notice improvements in their play when they returned to the Washington, D.C area, where teams mostly play Tier II hockey.
“It took a couple months of playing these girls at the tournament every couple months to go home and see a difference,” team caption Amber Ketzenberger said Thursday at the 2014 Toyota-USA Hockey Tier I Girls National Championships at the New England Sports Center.
“But once we had [seen] the difference, we were really doing well back home.”
Thirteen years after Kush Sidhu founded the program, the Pride are making headway in popularizing the sport in what’s considered an emerging hockey market. The program has 37 girls on three teams and another 45 in its 12U futures program.
“We’re very happy, we’ve been fortunate to be at nationals for as long as we’ve had the program,” said Sidhu, who coached at Northeastern University from 1988 to 1992 and coached at the USA Hockey Development Camp last year. “Our area is very small in terms of the number of girls playing, so we tend to get the ones committed to come into the program.
“It’s been great. We’ve helped a lot of girls go on and play in college.”
Among the 100 girls from the program who have played college hockey is Kim Weiss, who returned to coach for the Pride after graduating from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. in 2011. This season is her first season as coach of the 14U team. It’s also the first year the 14U squad is attending nationals.
“Our goal this year was to develop them for the longer term plan,” Sidhu said. “We do not have expectations of winning a championship at the U14 level.”
Despite the Washington Capitals’ run to the 1998 Stanley Cup Finals, girls’ hockey didn’t exactly explode in D.C. like it did in other areas of the country. Weiss played with boys until she was 10-years-old before switching to a 19U girls’ team.
“Nowadays that would never happen,” the 24-year-old coach said. “There were not a whole lot of other girls playing, especially at my age. … So it’s definitely changed now that girls are picking up gear and sticks and playing from age 4 now.”
Weiss is the first female coach in the program, too.
“I had phenomenal coaches, but they were all men when I was a kid,” she said. “So it’s been really cool to come back. … I think it’s huge for them. It helps them relate. [I’m] someone who has been through this and survived and done pretty well. I know the older girls talk to me a lot about going to college and the struggles they have with balancing school and hockey.
“Hopefully they’ll surpass me and do way better than I ever did.”
While Weiss said playing Tier I hockey has been a “reality check” for her 14U players, showing them what it takes to be a future NCAA Division I player, Ketzenberger has not been dissuaded from her goal of playing in college. She knows playing Tier I teams only puts her that much closer to that goal.
“It helps you think of decisions faster and just work with the puck quicker,” she said “It helps your foot speed a lot just playing against them. It gets you used to this higher level of hockey and quickness.”
And that’s why she’s also not dissuaded by the fact that the Pride lost their first two games at the national championships by a combined 15 goals to the N.J. Colonials and Buffalo Regals.
“You just make sure that you keep your head up because at the end of the day it’s just a game that we play because we love the game,” she said. “So you just have to pick your feet back up and remember to keep trying, because it’s what we love to do.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.