Jenelyn Russo

By Jenelyn Russo

Jenelyn Russo

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When Girls Play Hockey

She just turned 6.

And she’s fearless.

The younger of my two daughters, she shares a lot in common with her big sister, but in many ways, she is so different.

So I was only partly surprised when she announced to us a couple of months ago that she wanted to learn to play hockey. We were at a Ducks game and had just finished watching a team of Mini-Mites on the Honda Center ice during intermission. She turned to me and said, “I want to learn how to play hockey, like those kids.”

I glanced over to my husband, John, and we both told her, “Absolutely.” And then I texted my brother, Paul, who was sitting on the other side of the arena. He may or many not have jumped out of his seat and pumped his fist into the air. He’s a proud, hockey-loving uncle.

There are several reasons why this is a big deal in my family. First off, for as much as I love to follow sports, I never actually played them (does cheerleading count?). And up to this point, my kids have not shown any interest in playing them either. Like their mama, both my girls have been drawn to the arts; dance, music, visual arts, etc., and those are the kinds of activities they enjoy. And for my 6-year-old, her big sister’s interests have largely influenced her interests.

Her entire life, she’s been dragged from this dance class to that piano lesson. She stood at the glass window of the dance studio for two years, just waiting for her turn to wear the pink tights and ballet slippers. From a very young age, she has always been able to sit at the table and color and draw for hours.

But in addition to her love for the arts, she has a sort of competitive side to her, not so apparent in my 8-year-old. She likes to win. And with that, she does not like to lose. And for the first time in her six young years, she showed interest in something that was all her own. She picked an activity that was completely outside the shadow of her big sister. And that made us very proud.

So where does a parent start with this kind of request? My print column in the January issue of OC Family Magazine addresses this very issue. Make no mistake, youth hockey is alive, well, and thriving in SoCal. Through the support of the California Developmental Hockey League and USA Hockey, there are “Learn to Play” programs out there that are entirely free, allowing your child to experience the sport and see if he or she likes it before committing to league play. And that is what we are doing.

She started two Saturdays ago, with the Wildcats Hockey Club at KHS Ice Arena in Anaheim. We showed up, filled out the forms and waivers, picked up the gear and then tried to get her dressed. John and I, being the rookies that we are, were sort of overwhelmed and not sure how to put all the equipment on her. It was sort of comical. But the very helpful people at the rink that day, including fellow Ducks fans Marc and Karen Posner, made sure our daughter was well taken care of.

At first she didn’t like the helmet. She complained about all the equipment being too heavy. But when it was her turn to get out onto the ice, all of that went away and she had the time of her life. She’s learning skating and stick-handling skills. And she loves it. She shows off her gear to family and friends and talks all week about how she can’t wait for Saturday to get here.

As the parent of two kids of the same gender, I’ve found it’s been more difficult to figure out my younger daughter. I’ve wondered whether her interests were her own, and whether we were giving her enough chances to discover what she truly enjoys. As the three of us stand at the glass in the freezing cold on Saturday mornings, I know that regardless of whether she continues with hockey or not, we’ve given her the chance to stretch her own wings and fly……across the ice.


Do you have a child who is interested in learning how to play hockey? Check out these links for more information on how to sign up for a free “Learn to Play” program near you.


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