Competitive women’s hockey expanding across Saskatchewan

FILE - Ferris State players hold hockey sticks prior to an NCAA hockey game against the Miami RedHawks, on Oct. 18, 2019, in Oxford, Ohio. Before arriving at Miami University in Ohio, as director of hockey operations, Brad Aldrich had been allowed to resign from the Blackhawks over accusations of sexually assaulting a player. A November 2012 sexual assault allegation against Aldrich at Miami led to his resignation. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster, File). AD

As the popularity of women’s hockey continues to expand across Saskatchewan, so does the need for more leagues and teams.

Over the last decade in the province, registration for women’s minor hockey has risen by over 2,000 registered players according to Hockey Saskatchewan.

Nearly all competitive leagues stop after U-18, but that is about to change.

Next fall when the puck drops on the 2023-2024 season, a new league for U-22 players will officially be a reality, one that will extend female playing careers throughout the province.

“At some point we have to say what are we going to do for these girls once they finish their minor hockey careers,” said Kelly McClintock, the general manager of Hockey Saskatchewan. “The better girls, or the girls that are maybe more fortunate to play NCAA, USport or maybe ACAC, they get that opportunity, but what about the rest of them.”

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McClintock said the league won’t interfere with current leagues but will instead offer a platform for players aging out of U-18 hockey.

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“We don’t want underage players playing, we don’t want to take players away from U-18 hockey. So, it will be kids 18 to 21 playing in this.”

A league of this nature has long been waited for in the province and early signs are showing a strong appetite for its launch.

“We did a survey of girls in that under 22 age and 92 percent of the respondents said that this was a great idea,” McClintock said.

Head coach of the Regina Rebels Mike Merk said the league is a great opportunity to allow more girls to play the game and potentially get scouted by college teams.

“I think it’s a good idea and being at the U-18 AAA level there’s a number of athletes that maybe don’t find a home the year after, that this might give some opportunity for them to play another year,” Merk said.

McClintock said they are expecting to see six teams in the inaugural season, with the opportunity to grow depending on interest. Hub applications for teams will begin in the next few weeks.

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“If they keep playing, then what I’m hoping and I think everyone is hoping, is that maybe in a few years we’ll have to create a provincial senior league of some kind,” McClintock said.

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