By Ottawa Sports Pages, For Ottawa Girls Hockey Association
The end of summer can sometimes bring on a case of the Back-to-School Blues, but for Rebecca Azar and Marla Lugert, it’s simply an exciting time because it means hockey season is here.
The teenaged pair are gearing up for another year of double duty as both players and coaches with the Ottawa Girls Hockey Association, and are hungry to have more new young players fall in love with all aspects of the sport like they have.
Azar plays house league hockey at the U18 level and has enjoyed coaching the OGHA’s youngest players in the First Shift and Fundamentals programs.
“It’s a great leadership opportunity. I’ve learned a lot from communicating with the kids and the parents,” signals Azar, who at first didn’t think she’d like coaching.
“I love to see their progress after five or six sessions. They make a really big improvement,” adds Azar, noting many new players will often be able to skate, but learning to work with a stick and a puck is new.
The Bauer/NHL First Shift program is for first-time players between age 6-10 and includes a full set of Bauer equipment for $229, which makes the program especially appealing for newcomers to Canada or anyone who might be hesitant about getting started in the sport.
Sold out early once again this season, OGHA will kick off its First Shift program with an Oct. 27 welcome event, followed by six weeks of on-ice sessions.
“To see the girls go from not knowing how to do anything, to then being able to control the puck, and to be able to play next year, is really nice,” Azar indicates. “And it’s just so nice to see kids that want to play hockey enjoying themselves.”
Like Azar, Lugert started playing hockey in a boys’ association before making the switch to the girls’ side and discovering the opportunities available.
“It was really fun to meet so many players with the same interests and make a lot of friends,” reflects Lugert. “And now it’s really cool to coach the younger girls. They have so much fun. The smiles on their face when they’re on the ice is just adorable.”
During hockey season, Lugert is on the ice just about every day of the week (and her smile never fades either).
Last season, she had three or four practices plus a two games most weeks with her U15 competitive team, and she helped coach the U11 Ice, the First Shift program, and even para ice hockey with Sledge Hockey of Eastern Ontario.
“It was nice to see that every kid could dream and achieve their goals in hockey,” she underlines. “Coaching helps you grow as a person so much. And by teaching others, you can also learn yourself.”
Directing the First Shift program was an all-female crew of coaches and on-ice volunteers, from whom Lugert also drew inspiration.
“I see that I can do it,” she says of the more experienced female coaches. “A few more years and a few more lessons and I think that I’ll be able to be a head coach of a team myself.”
For Azar and Lugert, the desire to expand their involvement in hockey stems from the joy they first experienced as players. First Shift or Fundamentals are great programs for young players to start in, while the Metro Ottawa Girls House League features teams from U9 through U18 (Kanata and Gloucester are also part of MOGHL alongside the OGHA).
The OGHA’s Development Stream provides a bridge for players aspiring to join competitive hockey, while the a full slew of Ottawa Ice competitive teams will begin tryouts after Labour Day (players can still register up to Aug. 31).
And the Ottawa Lady 67’s provide a pathway to the highest levels of the sport – defenders Emma Eryou (U Conn Huskies) and Payton Jacobs (St. Thomas University) are among the latest OGHA products to sign with university hockey teams.
The pre-season is already underway for the Lady 67’s with exhibition games and a showcase tournament in Boston on tap as they prepare for their Ontario Women’s Hockey League U22 Elite season.
The club will also host its inaugural golf tournament on Sept. 14 at Greensmere Golf & Country Club, with proceeds going to the Lady 67’s and OGHA Fundamentals programs.
There are many different possible avenues, but the OGHA’s desired destination remains the same – “building strong and confident girls,” which they’ve now been doing for almost a quarter-century.
“It’s so fun just playing the sport, but you also make a hockey family with your team and your coaches,” highlights Azar, who’s always excited to see newcomers embark on that journey. “Working with the kids is so awesome. And I see myself in them. When I was little, it was the same thing.”