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17 WING WINNIPEG WOMEN’S HOCKEY SKILL/GAME DEVELOPMENT SPORT INITIATIVE

               The Covid-19 pandemic impacted participation in sports, this was felt deeply within the CAF sports program. Once programming started to open back up it seemed unlikely that the 17 Wing Whiteout Women’s Hockey team would be able to field a team this season. In October when the Canadian Armed Forces Council approved the first ever CAF Sports Strategy everything changed. This new strategy presented opportunities aimed at increasing women’s participation in CAF sports. We partnered with PSP and the Jets Hockey development (JHD) Staff from hockey for all centre (3969 Portage Ave) to submit a proposal for a women’s hockey training program. When news about this opportunity began to spread, thirteen new players were inspired to join the Whiteout. “Military members are ready and willing to play hockey, they just need a little extra support” said Major Kimberly Keires. This growth in numbers well surpassed the targeted 1% growth annually of women in sport set out in the CAF Sports Strategy.

“I started playing hockey when I was posted to Cold Lake, AB” said WO Anita Zacher the team coordinator. “Like a lot of adults when I first started playing, I just picked up things as I went along. The skill and player development from JHD has been incredible. The JHD Instructors have noticed players making huge leaps forward not just in skill but in their confidence, game play and we have really come together. I am very grateful that this program was possible, it has truly made a difference for our team”.

Since October 19, 2022 the Whiteout have been participating in a skills/game development 10 week initiative hockey program with the JHD Instructors. As a Hockey Team we have a huge disparity in the skill levels of our players. Some of the players have played university level hockey while others have put on hockey skates for the first time this season. The ability of the JHD Instructors to challenge the variety of players, modify drills on the fly and add elements to the practice has truly built an environment that is encouraging, challenging and welcoming to all skill levels. “The JHD Instructors were great, they tackled individual skills and big ice drills" said Major Kimberly Kieres. While player development may have been the focus of the program, the JHD Instructors added an element of development for the team coach, Major Kristin Gehlert. Throughout the training sessions the JHD Instructors ensured Major Gehlert was actively engaged in the drills/practice plans and offered insight on incorporating drills and what they were seeing from the players. Being able to access professional Instructors was such an instrumental component of sports and a contracted program that wasn’t subject to the CAFs operational needs really aided in the development of the players this season.

The benefits of the CAF sports program go well beyond the basic skills required to enjoy a recreational activity, the program builds leadership, comradery, and esprit de corps. It encourages a healthy active lifestyle resulting in being better prepared for operations. For a lot of the players who joined the Whiteout this season it was a return to normalcy, where others built a sense of belonging to 17 Wing and social connections with other military members.  As a team, we have bonded on and off the ice and have been fortunate enough to participate in many social outings creating networks within the Winnipeg community. For many of the women involved, they are parents who now have a family passion for hockey. We believe you can feel the strength in the team environment, everyone is so encouraging, positive and excited about the experience with the JHD Instructors. None of this would have been possible without the support from all Units located at 17 Wing and PSP.

– provided by WO Anita Zacher, 17 Wing Winnipeg Women’s Hockey team coordinator

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