The fledgling Tri-Valley Lady Blue Devils hockey team took to the ice for the first time recently at a "Girls Only Open House and Try Hockey for Free" skate at Dublin Iceland.
More than a dozen girls, ranging in age from about 6 to 12, showed up for the open house hosted by the Tri-Valley Minor Hockey Association. Rhonda Andrade, whose 11-year-old daughter, Evelyn, has played with the association's co-ed ice hockey team for the past two years, says the formation of the Lady Blue Devils is a huge boost for girls who want to play.
"To have a women's league in our backyard would be amazing," said Andrade. "My daughter wants to support the growth of a local girls' league so she can continue to play when she's older."
While co-ed teams work well for younger kids, the disparity in size between boys and girls as they hit their teens discourages girls from participating, she said. For her part, Evelyn, who lives in San Ramon and is also on a softball team, loves team sports.
"I like conversing with people, making new friends and being with people who enjoy the same things as I do," she said.
William Stone, president of the board of directors of the Tri-Valley association, says his goal is to have a full girls' hockey program for 8- to 19-year-olds.
"The secret to Tri-Valley's success is building the fire in the belly of the player, in other words, we help create the passion for the sport," he said. "Once we have that, everything good follows -- players want to play more, strap on roller blades, take shots on net in their backyard, beg their parents to take them to the rink."
Stone says the opening of Tri-Valley Ice in Livermore this month is a huge factor in the formation of the Lady Blue Devils.
"Ice is very scarce in the Bay Area," said Stone. "We are the fifth-largest youth hockey club in the Pacific, and we continue to consume a lot of ice, so it would be impossible to crowbar another program in without these new rinks."
Livermore resident Bryon McDougall, a manager with Tri-Valley Ice Management, says the surfaces are not regulation size but are ideal for practice and skating in general.
"The rinks have four dressing rooms and a café," he said.
Johanna Asher, 48, who plays pickup ice hockey at Dublin Iceland and was an assistant coach last year, took on the task of organizing the rookie Lady Blue
"William [Stone] approached me about starting a girls' team," says Asher, whose 12-year-old son, Kyle Mann, also plays ice hockey. "I was a figure skater as a child, but had no opportunity to play ice hockey. I want to give girls a chance."
Asher says it take years to become a good hockey skater.
"It's a lot easier to learn when you're 4 or 6 than when you're 46," said Asher, who took up the sport a couple of years ago.
She says the goal is to build women's hockey from the ground up, starting with teams as young as 6 and younger.
"We want to build a strong base for girls' ice hockey because you get attrition as kids get older and find other sports," she said.
She says the reception from players and coaches has been great.
"We have many experienced coaches who are very excited about teaching the girls," says Asher.
Also, Asher said, if the price of playing is prohibitive, scholarships and loaner hockey equipment are available.
"We have a wide variety of sources for equipment," she said. "In my world that won't stop a girl from playing."
Ten-year-old Jessica Doss, of Castro Valley, was one of the players who showed up for the Lady Blue Devils inaugural skate. She says she hasn't been skating for very long and had never tried ice hockey before.
"It was really fun," said Doss, who is also on the East Bay Bat Rays swim team. "I was surprised that it was not as hard as I thought it would be."
She's excited at the opportunity to play on an all-girl team.
"I'd rather play with girls ... the boys are too rough," she said.