Girls’ ‘AA’ hockey on rise again

Joey Payeur

More female minor hockey players will be able to take their game to the next level this season.
The Fort Frances Girls’/Women’s Hockey Association recently announced it has enough coaches and players on board to run ‘AA’ competitive squads at three different age levels.
Last season, the Fort Frances Bantam ‘AA’ Leafs was the only local girls’ squad that operated above the house league level.
FFGWHA marketing and public relations director Craig Miller, who also oversees the organization’s website and social media platforms, said the numbers added up to expand the ‘AA’ program.
“This past year, we’ve received enough applications at the Atom, PeeWee, and Bantam level to run ‘AA’ teams at those levels,” noted Miller, who also isn’t giving up on the possible addition of a fourth age group.
“We’re hoping for some more of the Midget players after Muskie tryouts are over and they filter down to us,” he explained.
The importance of a girls’ ‘AA’ program comes down to one main factor for Miller.
“It gives the girls the same opportunities that [the Fort Frances Minor Hockey Association] offers” he reasoned.
“Girls have just as competitive a streak as boys do,” Miller added.
“This lets them work towards playing one day at the high school and college level.”
The coaches will be former Muskie boys’ bench boss Shane Bliss (Atom), Darwin Woods (PeeWee), and longtime minor hockey coach Les Kaun (Bantam).
If enough Midget players come down the pike to create a team in that age division, a head coach will be found at that time.
Players from Emo and Atikokan also will be allowed to try out for the ‘AA’ teams.
A stipulation for all ‘AA’ players is that they also are required to play house-league hockey.
In the case of players from the Emo-Devlin-Barwick Minor Hockey Association, that organization already has officially-sanctioned house leagues in which to play.
With Atikokan not having that same luxury, anyone from that area will have to travel here to play in the FFGWHA house league program.
“We actually had a girl from Atikokan a few years ago . . . played on the ‘AA’ team and also played house league with us,” noted Miller.
Local ‘AA’ teams will find plenty of willing opponents.
“Kenora will have teams in all those age divisions, as will Thunder Bay and, of course, Winnipeg,” said Miller.
“Dryden will have some but I’m not sure if they have them in all those divisions.”
Miller added there’s also a chance local squads will play U.S. teams that are comparable age- and skill-wise.
There’s also the possibility the Fort teams will be able to host their own tournaments, although nothing is confirmed at this point.
Those wanting to play ‘AA’ hockey are asked to make that clear during FFGWHA registration set for Sept. 8-9 from 6-8 p.m. in the Memorial Sports Centre lobby.
Tryouts then will be held for the Atoms (Sept. 18-22), PeeWees (Sept. 22-24), and Bantams (Sept. 21-23).
“It’s a good step in the right direction for the association,” said Miller.
“The more options we can give the girls, the better.”