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2nd annual female hockey prep camp in Lethbridge sees major increase in participation

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WATCH: This past weekend, the second annual female hockey prep camp was held at the ATB Centre in Lethbridge. As Taz Dhaliwal reports, increased participation in the camp may just be a sign of the growing popularity of hockey for girls and women across southern Alberta.

The second annual female hockey prep camp took place at the ATB centre in Lethbridge this past weekend and the camp has already doubled in size from its first year.

Director of female hockey for the Lethbridge Minor Hockey Association (LMHA), Chris Fantazir says it’s exciting to see more women — of various ages — from all over southern Alberta getting involved in the sport.

“It’s just a chance to get the girls back on the ice, get them ready for the season,” said Fantazir.

“It’s our second year with the Lethbridge Minor Hockey Association running the camp and we grew again. So, 60 participants, which is up from 30 last year.”

Read more: Hockey Alberta hosts first ever ‘Female Hockey Day’ in Lethbridge

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Fantazir says the significant increase in participants is proof that female hockey teams are gaining some much-needed and well-deserved recognition across the region.

Fantazir adds it’s the first time many of the girls have put on skates and stepped back into the arena ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Due to physical distancing measures, the camp primarily focused on skill-building exercises such as shooting, passing and skating during indoor and outdoor training sessions.

“I’m really excited and I just want to make the best (of) if it because I don’t know how long the year is going to last and I just want to try my hardest to learn as much as I can, because I don’t know how much ice time I’m going to get out there,” said Ava Peeto, one of the bantam players partaking in the camp.

“It feels really nice to be back with my friends, I get to see them again, you just got to stay your distance for the most part and just make sure you’re giving them your space,” said Aubree McLean, one of the pee wee players participating in the camp.

Even though parents and other spectators cannot enter the arena to watch the girls play due to COVID-19 restrictions, one hockey mom says it’s still nice to get back into one of their ‘normal’ routines.

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Read more: United Hockey summer camp underway at Lethbridge’s ATB Centre

“It was kind of weird coming back to the arena after, what, five months of not being here,” said Serena Pollock, Aubree’s mom.

Both of Pollock’s young daughters took part in the hockey camp. She says they attended last year as well and couldn’t be happier to return for a second year as the sport also allows her girls to make friends, while playing a sport they absolutely love.

“It’s a little different not being in the stands, not being able to watch, but the camp, they’ve been livestreaming for us parents, so we can sit on our phones in the parking lot and watch the kids,” Pollock said.

She adds getting the kids dressed in the parking lot prior to entering the arena can prove to be more work as changerooms are currently closed due to COVID-19, but she goes on to say the minor inconvenience is worth the smiles she sees on her daughters faces as they lace up and get ready to hit the ice.

Fantazir says the LMHA has experienced a great wave of success when it comes to recruiting female hockey players and empowering them — so much so that the LMHA was awarded with Hockey Alberta’s association of the year award earlier this summer.

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“A large part of the reasoning for the award was the work of our female Cyclones program and the Female Hockey Day event,” Fantazir says.

In January of this year, the LMHA helped Hockey Alberta host Lethbridge’s first ever ‘female hockey day’ which helped boost confidence and various skill sets for the players who participated.

“It’s just great to see these girls get the respect they deserve for how competitive it is, we just want to keep growing and get [more female] players in the game,” Fantazir stated.

The upcoming hockey season is expected to start in October, with LMHA planning more tryout and training events slated to take place in September.