The girls of the Toronto Wolverines atom AA hockey team.
Nov. 19 – The Sports Village, Vaughan, Ont.
Toronto Wolverines 4
Jason Granitto (2), Nyah Philip, Aidan Gromek
Vaughan Rangers 1
“That’s not one of our girls,” says Rachel Ramos, pointing to No. 85 on the Toronto Wolverines, a player whose long locks are flowing out of the helmet and down the back, “that’s my son.”
It’s important to make that distinction when it comes to the Toronto Wolverines atom AA team in the Greater Toronto Hockey League. That’s because among the 16 players on the squad, five of them are girls. Having one or two girls on a boys’ team is not uncommon, but to have five on a team in the second highest level of competitive hockey available is almost unprecedented.
This is certainly not a case of on-ice affirmative action because all five of the girls can certainly play at the competitive level. In fact, one of them left girls’ hockey to join the Wolverines because she wasn’t being challenged enough. About the only thing that distinguishes them is the aforementioned long hair flowing out of the helmets.
“They’re strong skaters and they stickhandle with their heads up,” said Paul Kitor, whose daughter Ella is on the team. “Three of them are definitely in my top seven (players) and in the last seven or eight games, they’ve been involved in about 70 percent of the scoring. They’re productive members of the team. They’re not out there just because they’re the coach’s daughter or they were the last kids at tryouts.”
Kristina Bahl, Ketia Nicolakakos, Tamara Gianquinto and Nyah Philip are the other girls on the team, all of whom were recruited by Kitor. He said one of the reasons the girls have excelled is because their former hockey association, the George Bell Hockey Association in Toronto, received a $10,000 grant from the Royal Bank two years ago and decided to earmark the money for a skill development program for girls only.
“By giving them that time on the ice with qualified instructors, their skill level went up and they developed the confidence that they could play,” Kitor says. “And now 15 percent of that house league is girls and there are 11 girls who are playing select and rep hockey at George Bell. They have four girls on their bantam select team alone.”
As Kitor speaks, the sounds of Gangnam Style are emanating from the winning dressing room and cliques are certainly not an issue. The Wolverines are a middle-of-the-pack team with a 6-7-5 record, which puts them 11th in their 17-team division. The boys on the team have accepted their teammates unconditionally and privacy is not a problem for the 10-year-olds, since Hockey Canada regulations stipulate that players on any team with mixed genders must come to the rink with their hockey undergarments already on. But if the girls continue to play, next season when they graduate to peewee hockey, they’ll need their own separate dressing room and will join their teammates 15 minutes prior to the start of the game. An even bigger concern is they will also be exposed to body checking at an age where players grow at wildly different rates.
In fact, Kitor has had parents of other female players approach him about joining the Wolverines, but he fears that if there are more girls on the team, teams might have a tendency to play more physically against them.
“You don’t want to put a target on their backs,” he says.
Kitor is hoping the girls will continue to play with his team for the next couple of seasons before going on to play girls’ hockey at a higher level. And he thinks his female players are setting themselves up for a good future in both hockey and life by playing and excelling with the boys on their team.
“My daughter has a ton of confidence. There’s a school hockey team that she’s trying out for and she has every confidence she’s going to make that team,” Kitor says. “There are a couple of AAA boys on that team she grew up playing with and she believes she’s just as good as they are. So when you believe you can do anything and you can compete on an equal footing with boys, it’s also going to set them up well in business or academics or whatever they do in life.”
Ken Campbell will travel to take in different hockey games all season to find unique stories.