Steamboat Springs For many years, Bobby Yeager didn’t think the state of girls hockey in Steamboat would be his concern.
“I was a wrestler,” he said Sunday afternoon.
But having your first six children all be girls can change your outlook. Yeager’s youngest daughter is just 3 months old.
So on Sunday, Yeager was doing what the 18-year-old version of himself might have never expected: helping organize and run a recruitment effort designed to introduce the sport of hockey to Steamboat’s young girls.
“We want to grow our girls program as well as all the Steamboat youth hockey program,” Yeager said. “The big thing is just getting these girls out on the ice.”
What a success it was.
The event featured one hour of hockey, the newbies being guided around the ice by friends and classmates already in the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association’s programs. And the day featured the mark of all good children’s events: a pizza party.
In all, 43 girls showed up, far better than the 25 some had hoped for and the 15 Yeager anticipated. For most, it was their first time in skates, and for all, it was their first time in hockey gear.
Jessica Sandvik spent much of the afternoon being led around the ice by fellow fifth-grader Libby Lukens. At first, the lessons focused simply on the basics of skating. By the end, the pair was moving faster, and Jessica was feeling more comfortable.
“I like how when you fall, you have cushion,” Jessica said with a laugh. “I wanted to try a new sport, but I wanted it to be something I wasn’t very good at so it could be another sport I might improve on later.”
It was just an hour on the ice, Jessica donning borrowed equipment and not brushing on even the basics of stick work or hockey strategy.
For the young athlete who also enjoys soccer, basketball and alpine ski racing, however, it was enough.
“I liked it a lot,” she said. “I like how you can go fast.”
She said she’d be back to participate in next winter’s hockey season.
Organizers say there’s been no more important time for the future of girls hockey in Steamboat Springs. There are currently three established teams, one for players 11 and under, one for 14 and under and one for 19 and under.
The 14 and under team is coming off a runners-up finish last month at the state tournament, while the U19 team won the state title.
“Our U19 just won the championship, so that’s why this is so important now,” Shannon Lukens said. “They’re really good and we have a lot of momentum.”
For a program that featured 60 girls this winter, finding 43 new and interested young faces makes for a pretty good day.
“It worked out great,” said Linda Sopeck, who helped supervise the event and plays on one of the women’s teams in Steamboat. “To have 43 girls out there on the ice, out of their comfort zone trying to give it a shot is pretty incredible.
“We need to grow the girl’s side of youth hockey, and this is where it starts. This is our base and foundation.”