By Ottawa Sports Pages, for Ottawa Girls’ Hockey Association
The 2023-2024 hockey season doesn’t really start until October, but the Ottawa Girls Hockey Association has already scored several big off-ice wins to help further propel the sport forward.
The first offseason victory was a name change for the Ottawa Lady 67’s teams, which are now known as Ottawa 67’s ‘AA’.
“It is 2023. It’s time to put females in equal categories as males,” states Jr. 67’s U22 Elite Head Coach / General Manager Shannon Donnelly. “We thought dropping the ‘Lady’ would give our women and our girls a bit more respect in terms of what they’re called in the sports world. And we’ve gotten a lot of support for this.”
The next victory was having the new team logo painted at centre ice of the Jr. 67’s home rink at Sandy Hill Arena, along with an Ottawa Ice logo (for the OGHA’s other competitive teams) between the blue lines.
“It’s great to get the support from the city,” Donnelly indicates. “We’re one of the few women’s junior teams in Ottawa, which I think is a pretty big deal, and the players and parents in the association are pretty proud of it.”
There are many junior men’s team logos on local rinks, but the Jr. 67’s are believed to be the first junior women’s team to have their logo at centre ice of an arena in Ottawa.
“It would be nice to get some more of the U22 women’s logos in there,” says Donnelly, whose team is one of 25 Ontario Women’s Hockey League U22 ‘AA’ clubs across the province.
“It’s equivalent to the (20-team men’s) Ontario Hockey League in a sense,” adds Donnelly. “The day that we could be seen as the same will be pretty cool.”
Another huge triumph was the announcement that a new Professional Women’s Hockey League team will be setting up shop in the OGHA’s backyard at TD Place.
“I heard a quote during the PWHL draft – they said, ‘If you see it, you can believe it,’ and I’m a huge believer in that,” highlights Donnelly. “Now with this league, and especially having a team in Ottawa, (young players) will get to see these amazing athletes being drafted and treated the way they should be treated. I think it’ll go a long way for women’s hockey.”
The pro team’s arrival now means local players can take their first strides with clubs like the OGHA and work their way through development, competitive, junior and university teams to the very top level of play, all within Ottawa.
“The buzz in Ottawa, with our own team that we’ll get to go see, we’ll have so many girls believe it,” Donnelly underlines. “I’m sure that’s going to create some pretty awesome athletes that will eventually play for us too.”
Donnelly, a former NCAA player at Newmann University, says that women’s hockey has “definitely come a long way” but that there’s also “still a lot of work to be done.”
All four 67’s ‘AA’ teams (U13, U15, U18 and U22) have female leadership, the U22 players frequently help at younger teams’ practices, and the OGHA has roughly 70% female coaches organization-wide. But Donnelly would like to see that become more of a priority globally.
“You have a lot of great coaches out there, but I’d love to see more females, and moms, have the confidence to be on the bench and coach young athletes,” Donnelly explains.
“I’m coaching now. I had a lot of male coaches myself and there weren’t many females who had the opportunity to run women’s hockey. I wanted to be in a position where the younger players could see, ‘I could be a coach one day, because I can see it.’”
Jr. 67’s ‘AA’ OWHL faceoff coming on Oct. 6
With a positive mix of younger and more experienced players, the Ottawa Jr. 67’s will begin their 2023-2024 OWHL season at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 6 at Sandy Hill Arena.
“We’re super excited about the season,” signals Donnelly, whose team is already a dozen games deep in preseason exhibitions and showcase tournaments. “I think we’ve turned a lot of heads and shocked a few teams, so hopefully we’ll keep that going in the regular season.”
Playing over 40 games a year can be gruelling at times with travel, but the players love the experience of competing in a top-flight junior hockey circuit.
“It is really the best league at this level in the world, I would say,” Donnelly notes. “Schools want to see players play here, and for us, the reputation that we’re starting to build is that we really do develop full players on and off the ice who are ready to take that next step to university.”
Last year, Jr. 67’s graduating high schoolers Keara Merriman, Taylor Eastwood and Emmanuelle Gendron signed on to play university hockey at uOttawa, Queen’s and Holy Cross (NCAA) respectively.
Alex Therien (New Hampshire), Sarah Howell (Ottawa) and Abby Glandon (Laurier) have also made their commitments, while several more current 67’s will be making their destination decisions shortly.
“It’ll be exciting to get another year under our belt in this league,” Donnelly adds.“At the end of the day, our main goal here is to develop young females to eventually play university or pro hockey, and to have them want to come back and coach.”
The Jr. 67’s ‘AA’ schedule and team info is available at Ottawa67sAA.org.
Growing the game
The OGHA celebrated several other markers of the ongoing expansion of opportunities in girls’ hockey recently.
The Ottawa 67’s U13 AA team led a very successful equipment collection drive earlier this month to support Next Shift Canada, which works to make hockey accessible to every child possible.
And the OGHA has also added a new U22 Intermediate team to give players an opportunity to continue playing below the varsity hockey level.
These developments reflect the growth of the OGHA and the community built in the sport over nearly 25 seasons since the association was established in 1999.
“It’s a really nice circle,” reflects OGHA Vice-President Marc Lugert, noting many former OGHA players are now returning as coaches or bringing their own daughters out to programs.
There’s never been a more exciting time to get involved in girls’ hockey. The OGHA’s FUNdamentals program for players aged 4-6 and older rookies is led by an all-female coaching cast and provides a perfect introduction to the sport – it’s not too late to sign up!
Visit OGHA.org for more details and registration.