The 2019 Rivalry Series conclusion is Sunday at noon at Little Caesars Arena, but the excitement, buzz and momentum from the three-game pairing of the two top women’s hockey nations in the world is sure to last well past the final buzzer.
When it comes to girls' and women’s hockey, well, there’s not much that’s stopping it. Like Kendall Coyne Schofield’s speedy barrier-breaking trip around the rink in San Jose, Calif., it’s been all systems go.
From the 2018 PyeongChang gold medal that the U.S. won in thrilling fashion, to Schofield and Brianna Decker dazzling at the NHL All-Star Game Skills Competition, to various women’s players having the opportunity to practice with NHL teams, the Rivalry Series couldn’t have come at a better time on the heels of a momentous month.
The hockey has been electric as well, two closely contested matchups with the United States’ 1-0 win on Tuesday and Canada’s 4-3 victory on Thursday. The game continues to grow, and it shows.
“I think the growth has been incredible,” U.S. defender Megan Bozek said. “With the team winning gold in 2018 and just the success that the team has had before that, even rolling into this year. We have more fans, we have more viewers. We have so many more girls aspiring to be in our shoes one day, trying out hockey and absolutely loving it. I think that’s huge and that’s what we work for and work towards, because the game keeps growing and we’re the ones that have to keep pushing that.”
The crowds in each of the venues in London, Ont., and Toronto, Ont., have been bustling with noises and hordes of youth hockey players getting a live action view at some of their hockey-playing heroes, hoping to one day skate in their skates. A similar scene is envisioned in Detroit.
The spark of participation among young girls has certainly illuminated the growth in recent years.
In 2017-18, 60,983 females 18-years-old and under were playing hockey, which is a 23-percent increase (49,587) from 2013-14, and a whopping 34-percent increase of the 45,519 skaters in 2008-09.
In terms of 8-under girls, the age group where most players begin their hockey journey, over the last 10 seasons the number of girls playing youth hockey has grown by 83-percent. Last year, the 22,532 8-under girls playing was a record-high, and at USA Hockey’s Try Hockey For Free Day, presented by SportsEngine, on Saturday, February 23, over 25-percent of participants are expected to be girls.
That doesn’t cover the revelation of what’s to come either. A lot of the growth that is predicted to occur from the 2018 Olympics and increased focus on the women’s hockey game should take hold over the next few years.
“Girls’ hockey participation has grown rapidly due to several factors,” Kevin Erlenbach, USA Hockey’s Assistant Executive Director of Membership said. “One of the very important factors is the increased exposure our best female athletes get now. Another is our local associations working to remove the barriers of cost and commitment. Our volunteers are dedicated to being very intentional with helping more girls gain exposure to youth hockey. As they do so, female participation has a windfall reaction. With more girls experience this great sport, the more they bring their friends and their parents tell their friends."
Still, much of the growth comes from young girls looking up to role models, and players embracing that role and fostering a connection between themselves and their fans, building bridges that will help elevate and benefit the sport both now and later.
The U.S. Women’s National Team doesn’t shy away from that responsibility, as they hosted a girls skating party today at the Belfor Training Center immediately after their practice, intended to get more girls on the ice. After the game on Sunday, select members of the team will be on the concourse for an autograph signing for fans in attendance.
“Any way that we can interact and any opportunity that we have we take advantage of, because we were there at one point,” Bozek said. “Whether it’s us looking up to females or males, whoever our heroes or our role models were. Just having that connection, watching them play a game and then ideally meeting them after, is huge. It goes such a long way, even one simple word of encouragement or an autograph, these girls and boys as well will remember for the rest of their life. However we can interact with fans and however we can give back I think it’s such a good opportunity to do so.”
Watching two teams put it all on the line, as the United States and Canada do each time they face off, displaying an exhilarating brand of hockey, can also leave a lasting impression.
That’s what’s expected when the Rivalry Series finale, takes place at noon ET at Little Caesars Arena on Sunday, where bragging rights are on the line in the winner-take-all game three.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Bozek confirmed.
“Any opportunity to play on home soil, against your biggest rival, is just incredible. Having that game in Detroit on Sunday we’re hoping to see a lot of fans out there. It’s so good to get to showcase our talent and our sport, so we’re hopeful to see new faces and some familiar faces out there. If you want to see some great hockey and watch one of the greatest rivalries in sports I’d recommend everyone coming out to Little Caesar’s Arena at noon on Sunday.”