The first thing we teach kids who are learning to play hockey is how to stand up when they fall down.
Seems simple, right? But it's the lessons like these, and so many more, that young hockey players will take with them and can apply both on and off the ice. These lessons, and the community surrounding the sport, are just two of the reasons why growing girls' hockey is so important to me.
To see the NHL, Blues, and Bauer announce a long-term investment in girls' and women's hockey in St. Louis almost made me cry. There was nothing like that when I was little; everybody was just shocked that a girl could play hockey.
The St. Louis Blues Girls' Hockey Development League, presented by Bauer, is designed to provide low-cost opportunities for local girls of all ages to begin their youth hockey playing career and develop skills at a faster rate. This program also gives families and players consistency in their schedule in a competitive and fun environment as they fall in love with the sport.
Through this, we can open up this community to even more people and even more girls.
Girls' hockey continues to grow nationally. More than 63,500 girls participated in organized hockey in USA during the 2018-2019 season, a number that stood at just 51,500 in five years ago. In the St. Louis area alone, more than 650 girls are playing hockey. In 2014, that number was just over 400.
I've been able to see first-hand how valued girls' hockey is here in St. Louis. There's a focus specifically on growing the girls' and women's game, along with the sport overall. Having the support of the Blues behind that obviously helps, and there are people in every organization who care and make sure the girls have opportunities - and a place - to play.
Girls' and women's hockey growth in St. Louis can been seen in our Little Blues Learn to Play program. During the 2019-2020 season alone, 99 girls have participated in Little Blues. And through the St. Louis Blues Girls' Hockey Development League, a female-led community will grow to support girls in the St. Louis and surrounding areas.
The AAA Lady Blues compete nationally with four teams 12U-19U at the highest level. Lady Cyclones is a completely female organization with teams for 6-18-year-olds. The Chesterfield Falcons now field Lady Falcon teams from 6U to 12U and the Affton Americans have the Lady Liberty program for girls U6 to 16U who wish to play girls only hockey.
Girls who want to continue playing in college can also come to St. Louis. Lindenwood University fields a Women's NCAA Division I team and boasts alumni including U.S. Women's National Team goaltender Nicole Hensley. As a member of College Hockey America, they are coached by 1998 Olympic Gold Medalist Shelley Looney.
It's great for our girls who are still learning to have these women as role models. The fact that they can see females excelling in hockey at higher levels is inspirational - and it's having an impact at all levels.
As the game continues to grow, I can't wait to welcome all the new players to the community that I cherish so much.