What's better than having a day off from school?
More than 60 hockey-loving girls found out the answer Monday.
While their classmates were home for Washington's Birthday, the girls aged 6 to 13 were skating on the Nationwide Arena ice for the third annual Girls Hockey Day put together by the Blue Jackets.
Just a few hours before the Jackets were set to take on Tampa Bay in a nationally televised game, the girls were stickhandling, skating, shooting, and receiving instruction on the very same ice the pros would be playing on.
The Blue Jackets partnered with USA Hockey's Mid-Am district, which covers the state of Ohio as well as Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia and the western part of Pennsylvania. Some girls came out of state to take part, and they didn't have to go straight home -- the girls who participated received a ticket for the Blue Jackets/Lightning clash.
LINK: Hockey is for Everyone
Coaches ranged from former Bowling Green State University coach and current USA Hockey coach Scott Paluch; Emily West, USA Hockey ADM Manager for Female Hockey; and 2010 Olympic silver medalist Lisa Chesson.
"It's great," Chesson said afterward. "Growing up, I don't think this would have ever happened. If it did, it wouldn't be this turnout. To have a whole day and coaching devoted to just the girls and have this turnout in Columbus is pretty awesome."
Chesson grew up in Illinois before attending Ohio State, where she was a standout defenseman for the Buckeyes from 2005-08 then going on to play for Team USA in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. She has settled in the Columbus area, works as instructor in town, and still plays in the National Women's Hockey League for the Buffalo Beauts, and Chesson was an NWHL All-Star this season.
As such, she's the perfect role model for the dozens of girls who showed up to play Monday.
"Growing up, you didn't have that many females that had paved the way," she said. "We saw Team USA win Olympic gold in 1998, and I was 12 at the time. Just to have them and know how important that was for us, it meant everything. Now, if I can impact girls in the same way, that's special."
A number of local instructors also took part in helping the girls at each station, including Blue Jackets director of fan development and community relations Andee Boiman.
"The Blue Jackets host this annual girls clinic to showcase the growth of the sport and provide a fun atmosphere for young girls to make new friends while developing their skills on the ice," Boiman said. "While most of the girls play on co-ed youth teams, this clinic gives them the opportunity to see that other girls play hockey; it's not just them.
"We are thrilled to have Lisa Chesson in our backyard to give girls a role model. The Blue Jackets are proud to give back to the community and demonstrate that anyone can play the sport of hockey we all love."
The Girls Hockey Day at Nationwide is part of the Blue Jackets' celebration of Hockey is for Everyone Month in February. Saturday is Hockey is for Everyone Night at Nationwide Arena presented by Vorys, with a game-night celebration of diversity and inclusion.