Girls Score & Achieve Goals at CAYH’s Bruins Academy

Photo: Dawn Enos

What happens on the ice each Sunday around 1 p.m. at Dorothy Talbot Rink in Gloucester may come as a bit of a surprise to some.

It’s at that time every week that 40 young hockey hopefuls ages eight and under lace up their skates, strap on helmets and pads and take part in the Bruins Academy Girls Learn to Play Hockey Program. The sight of young female athletes filling the ice and embracing a sport that can be tough to access in some instances is a unique one created by both the Bruins Academy and Cape Ann Youth Hockey (CAYH).

“The response exceeded everyone’s expectations,” says Tod Johnson, CAYH Developmental Director. “If you had told me a few years ago that we could assemble 40 new-to-hockey girls and get them all onto the ice at the same time, I would have lost a bet.”

The surge of interest that girls have shown in the sport has grown over the years, making scenes such as these much more common in recent years. 

“A lot of it has to do with society empowering women and girls to go into the corners and dig out the pucks, even if it’s a boy in the corner with the puck,” explains Johnson. “On top of that, you have a women’s professional hockey league putting tens of thousands of fans in the seats with players being paid to play.

He adds: “Young girls can finally answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?’ question with the answer, ‘I want to be a professional hockey player.” And for reasons that are good for the sport, girls’ and women’s hockey has governance that highlight the skill and grace of the game as opposed to the brutality that is often associated with hockey. The Bruins, Cape Ann Youth Hockey, USA Hockey, and so many hockey communities support, encourage, and enable all of those things to take place.”

While girls youth hockey has certainly gained in popularity, the sport can be one of the more challenging to get into: It requires learning and mastering both the fundamentals of skating and playing hockey to play, while also requiring hopefuls to obtain a lot of gear -- helmets, sticks, pads, skates -- which can be expensive. The Bruins Academy has helped to equal the playing field by helping participants to overcome those barriers.

“The Bruins Academy program takes away some of the barriers required for kids to even think about trying out hockey,” explains Johnson. “While every kid has a pair of sneakers and can jump onto the soccer field or basketball court; very few kids have a full set of hockey gear buried in their closet.”

With that in mind, the program provides discounted equipment to girls who participate so they have the gear they need to play. The sport is presented as welcoming and fun instead of something that is exclusionary, with a focus on fundamentals and teaching the basics. Cape Ann Youth Hockey also boasts a long history of providing girls hockey teams and programming for years, with more experienced CAYH players coming back as peers to mentor the younger members of the Bruins Academy.

“My daughter had never played hockey before, she had only skated a few times,” says Nate Berkowitz of Manchester, who’s daughter, Dory, is enrolled in the Bruins Academy. “She’s really enjoying it. It’s a great way of introducing kids to hockey.”

“There are 40 Bruins Academy girls on the ice and when they fall down they are being picked up and dusted off by 20 or so current and former CAYH girls players,” says Johnson. “I’m on the ice with the girls as I wouldn’t miss this for the world, but we’ve flooded the ice with ‘ponytails’ as opposed to the ‘five-o’clock-shadow’ crowd, and the girls love it.”

Johnson states that the goal of the program is to not only make the sport easy to get into for
newcomers, but to keep it fun and compelling so that they want to continue playing as they get older instead of worrying about the factors that might keep them from taking part in a sport they enjoy.

“The goal of the program once it is in my hands is to have these kids leave the rink with nothing on their minds except wanting to come back for
the next session,” he explains. “It truly is all about fun, but I also want them to recognize that they are accomplishing something really challenging, and they’re having fun doing it. That lesson alone makes this all worth it. These girls also get to experience the community that exists within the Cape Ann Youth Hockey girls program. It’s an incredible thing to witness.”

The 2024 Cape Ann Youth Hockey Bruins Academy at the Dorothy Talbot Rink in Gloucester. The program has surged in popularity with more than 40 girls signing up this year.
The 2024 Cape Ann Youth Hockey Bruins Academy at the Dorothy Talbot Rink in Gloucester. The program has surged in popularity with more than 40 girls …