British Columbia

New girls team makes hockey accessible to all at Vancouver high school

With a gear library and no fees, the Sir Charles Tupper Tigers are giving girls who have never played hockey a chance to join a team and hit the ice.

With a gear library and no fees, the Sir Charles Tupper Tigers are removing barriers so all girls can play

Grade 12 student Donna Davila picks up a pair of skates. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

The Sir Charles Tupper Tigers won't be topping the standings table of the Vancouver girls high school hockey league, but victory will be theirs nevertheless.

Heck, it already is. Even with the start of their debut season still a month away.

Ellie Auton-Strolz and coach Ed Jay look for the right fit in the socks box. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

For that, players can thank coach Todd Hickling, who came up with the idea to launch the team at his kids' high school in East Vancouver with the notion of removing all obstacles to participation so girls who never had a chance to play, could experience the joys of the game.

No barrier hockey

"Hockey, being particularly Canadian and particularly expensive...I wanted to take that down to a level where's there's no barrier to come out and try it," said Hickling. 

Grade 12 student Ellie Auton-Strolz is one of 22 who signed up for the team. She plays a lot of sports but never hockey because of the expense.

Isabela Hastings says she always wanted to play hockey and is thrilled to get the chance. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

"I can skate forward but that's about it," she laughed. "A couple of my friends are joining as well so this will be a learning experience."

'It's really cool'

Isabela Hastings also jumped at the chance to join up, despite never having played a team sport.

"I'm really excited because this is at my school and there's people I know and it's really cool," said the Grade 10 student. "And I'm really happy that they're able to lend us most of the equipment."

It's no secret the cost of hockey can be prohibitive. A novice player (age 7 and 8) in the Vancouver Angels girls association pays almost $600 in yearly fees, with the rate increasing as a player gets older.

And then there's the several hundred dollars it costs for equipment.

That's why Hickling felt it was important to make the Tupper start-up a no barrier team.

Coach Todd Hickling has started a "gear library" of donated hockey equipment so that any girl at Tupper who wants to join the team will have access to equipment. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

First, he and co-coach Ed Jay, a science teacher at the school, secured enough money to cover ice costs so there would be no fee to join. For that, an anonymous donor came forward with $500 and the Tupper parent advisory council pitched in another $500.

Gear library

Then they put out a call for lightly used equipment, which brought in a deluge of donations — more than enough to outfit this year's squad with reserves going to set up a gear lending library in Hickling's basement.

Abbies Sports Shop on Main Street has also stepped up, donating jills (female groin guards) to the entire team.

HIckling says it's been heartening to see how the team has been embraced. 

"When you put something out there to the community and you get such a generous response it restores your faith," he said.

Donna Davila tries on skates for size. (Tristan Le Rudulier/CBC)

Earlier this week, 22 girls hit the ice for Tupper's first practice. About half the team has no hockey experience so the plan is to empower those who know how to skate and play to act as mentors for the girls who don't.

The Tigers play their first league game in January. 

"I'm not expecting to bring home any large trophies," laughed Hickling. "The focus is on learning, having fun and team building — all the positives that come out of team sports."

"Hopefully it's life changing for some of them, and a good experience for everyone."