Emma Knelson (20) takes a pass from T-Birds teammate Melanie Robertson (18) during the last game of the girls’ ice hockey team’s first season. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Emma Knelson (20) takes a pass from T-Birds teammate Melanie Robertson (18) during the last game of the girls’ ice hockey team’s first season. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

Cowichan T-Birds set example for growth of female hockey

School’s first-ever girls hockey team has successful debut season

Cowichan Secondary School’s first-ever girls ice hockey team wrapped up its debut season with a victory on March 19, but it’s still just the beginning for the promising program.

The Thunderbirds defeated the Mill Bay Thunder women’s club team 4-1 at Kerry Park Arena in the final game of what head coach Mike Moroz called “a tremendous success by any measure you want to use.”

The Cowichan players used their speed to dominate play in the first period, getting goals from Melanie Robertson and Jenna Batty. That was all the scoring until Mill Bay got on the board with a shorthanded goal early in the third. Robertson re-established the two-goal lead, however, and Lexi Liddle added one of her own.

The team is hoping to add games against all four local women’s teams to the schedule next season.

“The players need to play against better competition in order to find out how good they can be,” Moroz said. “The local women’s teams certainly enable us to begin to find that out.”

The high school program was established to help grow the sport for girls in the Cowichan region, and Moroz has been pleased with the results in the first year.

“The growth in interest amongst female athletes in the game has been tremendous,” he said. “This past year three girls who had never played before came out to try the game, and two more who had left the game returned to it.”

Those new players included two international students from Germany studying at Cowichan Secondary, a sign of good things to come for the school.

“International interest is high in schools that offer high-end programs like ice hockey,” Moroz pointed out. “And the school’s International Program is determined to highlight it when traveling to the hockey-playing nations of Europe.”

Thanks in part to the high school program, the profile of female hockey is continuing to grow in the Cowichan Valley, and as evidenced by the T-Birds’ Hockey Day in Cowichan event in February, interest is up at every age level.

According to Moroz, who was assisted on the bench this year by Lauren James and Kristin Paddle, the players who came out to play for the school team saw huge benefits.

“The on-ice development of the players who participated in the program has been fantastic,” the coach said. “The players, most of whom also play in the Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association, added 48 full-ice practices and 10 games to their season, and their skill level, confidence and ‘hockey sense’ has grown along with it.”

Girls hockey at the high school is set to grow again next season as an ice hockey skills class is added to the phys ed program.

“Run outside the regular timetable, players can get their PE credit while developing their on-ice skills,” Moroz explained.

In their first year of action, the T-Birds benefited from the generosity of a host of local sponsors, including the Ramada Duncan, Millstone Heating and Sheet Metal, the Cal Kaiser Home team, OK Tire, Jim Pattison Toyota, Columbia Ice, Paddle Plank and Panel, Sports Traders, Moo’s Pizza and Duncan Paving.