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U.S. Olympians help Blue Jackets grow girls hockey

Annual clinic provided instruction to 60 girls during Hockey Is For Everyone month

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Olympians, CBJ team up to teach

U.S. Olympians, CBJ team up to teach girls the sport

Olympians Lisa Chesson and Kelli Stack help teach at the Blue Jackets' annual girls hockey clinic

  • 01:01 •

Hands across the room repeatedly shot into the air, with many of the nearly 60 girls in attendance at the Blue Jackets annual girls hockey clinic wanting to ask questions of two women who were once like them before becoming the best in the world. 

How did they get into the sport of hockey? What were the biggest highlights of their careers? How many goals had they scored, and who were their favorite Blue Jackets? 

Former U.S. Olympians Kelli Stack and Lisa Chesson answered each question over a 30-minute span last month, then put on their gear and headed to the ice, using their expertise to help teach the sport to the girls aged 6 to 14 years old in attendance. 

It was a day everyone in attendance, from the former American stars to the girls who got to learn from the best, will remember for a long time.  

For Chesson, that's because it's something that wouldn't have happened when she was growing up. A silver medalist on the 2010 U.S. Olympic team, she was raised in the suburbs of Chicago and played on boys' teams as a kid just because there weren't enough girls who were interested in the game to form full teams. 

"You look back and this would have never happened, to have a room full of girls wanting to play the game," the Ohio State alumna told the girls and their parents. "It's great that everyone is here." 

Stack had a similar experience growing up in suburban Cleveland, where she cut her teeth playing on boys' squads until she was 14 years old, then went on to star at Boston College and play on the 2010 and 2014 U.S. Olympic teams while winning five gold medals at the World Championships. 

"I think one glaring difference is there's actually girls programs in the area," she said of how girls hockey has grown at the grassroots level since when she was a kid. "When I was 14 and I couldn't play boys hockey anymore, there was only one (girls) team in the area and they had a 19 and under team. They didn't have 16 and under, 14 and under, 12 and under, 10 and under, all the way down to mini mites.  

"Now they do. There's just more of an opportunity to get girls together and play on the same team, which is awesome." 

The Blue Jackets have made it a focus to help the growth of girls hockey in the area, including a grant partnership with Central Ohio Girls Hockey. The February girls hockey clinic has become an annual event as part of Hockey Is For Everyone month, and some of the team's Get Out And Learn! programs have been set aside for girls-only crowds, staffed with female instructors.  

Tweet from @CBJGivesBack: In honor of International Women���s Day, over 50 girls tried hockey for free yesterday as part of GOAL! powered by @performancecbus! Visit https://t.co/1X6ZD4ewoY to learn more and to sign up today! pic.twitter.com/KeaXCZ8lz9

It's a slightly different world than the one both Stack and Chesson grew up in. Both followed older brothers into the sport and their first on-ice role models were NHL players, something that changed when the U.S. team won the gold medal in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.  

"1998 happened and Cammi Granato, her hometown is not far from mine, so I was fortunate enough to meet her at the rinks and stuff," Chesson said. "She was always a role model for me, but now it's pretty crazy to see that girls can dream to be like a lot of the players on the national team. It's pretty awesome." 

"When we were growing up, there weren't too many female hockey players that we could look up to," Stack added. "But now you have a whole bunch of Canadian and American and Swedish and Finnish players that you have probably seen play on TV in the Olympics that you probably want to be just like some day." 

For one Saturday last month, two such players took time out of their day to teach the sport to the next generation. And perhaps the best question they received from the girls in attendance was one of the last ones of the pre-skate Q&A. 

What's their favorite part of playing hockey? 

"There's two things," Stack said. "I really like being in the locker room with all my teammates and listening to music and getting ready for a game. And then winning. It's fun to win -- working together as a team and seeing everyone succeed and fighting for that common goal." 

"If you take a step back from hockey, it's all the friendships and relationships you make from day one," Chesson added. "Kelli and I played against each other in college but we were teammates on the national team back in 2010, and here we are sitting and chatting. That goes a long way." 

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