Small Frys program aims to grow girls hockey in Arizona
TEMPE, Ariz. – There’s something strange about the scene at Oceanside Ice Arena on this Thursday night. About 50 players line the benches, watching the Zamboni like hungry diners at a buffet.
“Let us out!” they chant in unison as the machine completes its final laps to resurface the ice. “Let us out!”
Like Allen Iverson, I can’t ever remember being so enthusiastic about a practice. Lyndsey Fry is brewing something special here.
The Mesa-born, Chandler-raised, Harvard-educated, Olympic silver medalist for Team USA is the ambassador of the Small Frys Hockey Program, a development-based program for girls ages 6-12 that is sponsored by the Coyotes, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association through the league’s industry growth fund.
The 20-week program, which began in April and ends in August, is the only development-based program for girls that is sponsored by an NHL team. It is divided into three segments, or strides.
The first teaches individual skills such as skating, stick-handling and shooting. The second teaches team and competitive skills such as passing and body contact (Fry loves this one). The final segment reviews the first two segments and offers half-ice, 3-on-3 games.
“There was nothing like this when I was growing up,” said Fry, 25, who just earned her MBA at ASU. “In a three- to four-year age span, I could count 15 to 20 girls who were playing in my age range. We were scattered around the rinks playing with boys teams because that was really all we had.”
Matt Shott, the Coyotes director of amateur hockey development, had always dreamed of teaming up with Fry. His younger brother, Trevor, played hockey with Fry’s brother, Wesley, in Chandler. The families have been friends for a long time.
“She always knew one of my big goals when I got this job was to grow girls hockey,” Shott said. “I approached her about our Little Howlers program and told her ‘I want to do a girls one and I think you should be the person to run it.’ She’s perfect for it – raised in Arizona, an Olympian and a perfect role model. We need more Lyndsey Frys in this world.”
In the past five years, Shott said that girls hockey in Arizona has grown by 150 percent from 301 girls in 2012-13 to 757 this year. Fry and Shott want more.
“We’re not at the point where we have leagues yet but the fact that there is this much interest means it has potential,” Shott said. “I’d like to see multiple women’s teams. I’d like to see this form into a Small Frys, a Medium Frys and a Large Frys. I’d like to have it year-round and have different age groups; have it so big that we don’t have 12-year-olds skating with 6-year-olds.”
Fry clearly loves the game. She made it to the biggest stage despite all the hurdles that being born in Arizona created. That love is still her driving force, but Small Frys is also about creating an alternate image of, and an alternate possibility for girls.
“It’s about awareness,” she said. “It shows not just girls, but parents all around the state that this is not just a boys sport and that’s really important to just get them thinking that way. People around Arizona are used to supporting the sports they’re used to seeing so people living 15 minutes from this rink may not even realize that girls hockey is thriving in Arizona.”
Like many of her Small Frys teammates, Camille Christensen, 9, grew up playing with boys. Her older brother, Nolan, plays travel hockey and she wanted to follow in his strides.
“I grew up in Wisconsin and I had a good friend growing up who played hockey and was the first girl on our high school team and she battled cystic fibrosis so girls playing hockey has always had a spot close to my heart,” said Camille’s mom, Mercedes. “My daughter and a couple others out here have more experience but they all get to see what the future can hold for them. It seems so much more attainable to play in the Olympics when you’ve got an Olympian from Arizona coaching you.”
Getting more girls playing isn’t Fry’s only goal. She wants to develop more women coaches. She already has Grand Canyon head coach Natalie Rossi, ASU captain KC McGinley, Scottsdale product, former Minnesota-Duluth player and current ASU assistant Katie McGovern, and other ASU and GCU players helping out. The Coyotes sponsored the certifications for the coaches who still needed it.
“A lot of these parents – and this is just from the feedback we’re getting – didn’t think their kids liked hockey when they were going through the Little Howlers program,” Fry said. “But when they see them out here with other little girls and with women coaching, they’re not afraid to mess up and use their body. They’re just more confident when they’re around other girls and socially they are having a blast.
“Almost to a fault, they’re talking to each other in the corners when the coaches are trying to explain a drill, so for me, it’s less about the hockey and more about building the female and girls hockey community.”
The pink stick tape and ponytails were probably enough, but Shott wanted to differentiate the Small Frys even more from the boys so the Coyotes supplied them with retro Kachina jerseys and the girls also have the option of replacing all their gear for free to give them their own swag.
“We want to give them their own experience and their own identity but honestly, the Kachina logo is just sick. It’s awesome,” Shott said, laughing. “I think a lot more people like it now because it’s retro. It’s nostalgic.”
The Coyotes have supported girls hockey in other ways like their girls hockey appreciation night. Fry wants to organize even more events like viewing parties to create more opportunities for the girls hockey community to gather.
“We do have opportunities like She Wolves and Lady Coyotes and the development camps that come through but there need to be more and there will be more now with this feeder program,” Fry said. “We have GCU and ASU club teams. Girls can go watch college hockey games and that was unheard of for me when I was growing up. They can stream a game now and watch the NWHL, college hockey or national team games.
“The goal is obviously to have this be all girls with an all-female staff, but we might have the NHL guys out here some time. Maybe we’ll just make them wear ponytails.”