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Eskasoni sees meteoric growth in women’s hockey

This story is part of a series by CBC’s Eskasoni Community Bureau, based at the Sarah Denny Cultural Centre. This series stems from weeks of conversations with community members about what they think is important to see, hear and read on CBC platforms.

Madison Gould sees a bright future for women’s hockey in her community of Eskasoni, NS.

Gould, 28, said the sport had come a long way since she was a child and she had to play on a boys’ team because there were no girls’ teams.

Today, there are three women’s teams based at the community’s Dan K. Stevens Memorial Arena.

“I grew up playing men’s hockey, dressing in the boys’ locker room,” Gould said. “At the time, in Cape Breton, there were only a handful of women playing.”

Madison Gould is the head coach of an all-female, all-Indigenous team based at the Dan K. Stevens Memorial Arena. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

There are five times more women and girls playing the sport in Eskasoni than just three years ago. The majority are owned by the Cape Breton Female Blizzard Hockey Association, which has roving reps and house league teams for girls ages 5-18.

Gould said about 90 women and girls from Eskasoni participate in organized hockey, compared to just 15 to 18 players when she started coaching.

“Like I tell people, it’s a dream come true,” Gould said. “I would have loved to play in my own community, in my own backyard, instead of driving to Sydney or 30 minutes away. I would have killed to have a team, but now I’m coaching it. And more than girls want to try it.”

“Hockey is just my therapy”

Rhyan Paul, a member of an under-11 team in Eskasoni coached by Gould, said spending time on the ice in his hometown allowed him to make friends from across the regional municipality of Cape Breton.

“If I’m 90, I’ll still play hockey,” the 10-year-old said. “I would never choose anything over hockey. Hockey is just my therapy.”

Eskasoni sees meteoric growth in women’s hockey
Rhyan Paul, 10, right, waits for the puck to drop during a game against the Cape Breton Blizzard Hockey Association Orange Team. (Submitted by Khea Paul)

His mother, Khea Paul, said playing in their hometown provides an atmosphere where Rhyan can feel safe and gain confidence. She is grateful that her daughter spends most of her hockey time at a rink just three minutes away.

“It’s really beneficial in cold, wintery, stormy weather,” Paul said. “[It’s] a great commitment from the rink committee and everyone involved. But we travel outside [Eskasoni] …mainly for league games.”

Eskasoni sees meteoric growth in women’s hockey
Christina Lamey is president of the Cape Breton Blizzard Women’s Hockey Association. (Matthew Moore/CBC)

Christina Lamey, president of Blizzard Hockey, said there has been significant growth in the sport following Hockey Nova Scotia’s decision to allow women’s hockey associations in 2015.

Lamey said that 300 players currently make up the Blizzard Association, of which at least 30% are Indigenous, Black or People of Color.

“We actually want all the girls around CBRM to embrace hockey like they did at Eskasoni,” Lamey said. “It’s a very popular sport there, tons of girls play it. They get a lot out of it.”

Gould and Lamey said there are still a few hurdles to overcome within organized women’s hockey in Nova Scotia, including the need for female coaches and locker rooms.

Both expect these gaps to be filled over time as the sport’s popularity continues to grow.

Eskasoni sees meteoric growth in women’s hockey

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