Scottsdale native Katie McGovern returned to Arizona on Friday bearing the prized product of her NWHL championship with the Minnesota Whitecaps, the Isobel Cup, which made its rounds with local girls teams over the weekend at The Ice Den Chandler and AZ Ice Arcadia.
"They can't become what they don't see."
That might be the most telling excerpt from what the champion and alum of one of the most storied Division 1 NCAA women's hockey programs, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, shared following the celebratory weekend.
It sums up the impact McGovern, a head Small Frys instructor and co-coach of the Arizona Kachinas' 16U team, was looking to make on the girls registered in the thriving and ever-growing hockey programs streamlined by Lyndsey Fry and Coyotes hockey development.
McGovern and the Whitecaps clinched the NWHL title with a thrilling overtime victory on March 17 less than a minute into overtime of the championship game, a goal initiated by McGovern's offensive zone faceoff win.
That trophy, raised by Minnesota's players, coaches, and staff four months ago, found the hands of a number of promising youth Arizona girls hockey players, having a profound impact on a rapidly growing program. It is named after the daughter of Lord Stanley, Isobel Gathorne-Hardy, who is one of the first known women to play hockey.
"It was really amazing just seeing all of the girls out there having fun and wanting to take pictures with the cup, they drank Gatorade out of it, they absolutely loved it," said McGovern.
"To see how much fun the girls had and to hear how appreciative they were for me bringing it, sharing it with them and giving them something to strive for, because that's ultimately what they want to do," added McGovern. "It was pretty cool to inspire some young girls to want to play professionally."
Fry, a Valley native just like McGovern, runs the Small Frys learn-to-play hockey program and oversees the operations of the Arizona Kachinas, the official girls hockey association of the Coyotes.
"It is so incredible to have Katie as a member as our staff, but more importantly as a role model for our girls," Fry said. "It was so cool for our Small Frys to see the Isobel Cup this weekend because you could just see it click. They really understand now why Coach Katie is such a great head coach and now aspire to be even more like her."
An Olympic silver medalist at Sochi in 2014, Fry was one-upped by McGovern's hardware.
"One parent even told me that her daughter said 'wow mom, she must be even better than Coach Lyndsey because she has a trophy and Lyndsey only has a medal!'," Fry added. "That cracked me up, but I love it because I want more and more Arizona born women to come home with incredible achievements and give back to these kids. I couldn't be more thankful to have Katie on our team."
Coyotes Director of Amateur Hockey Development Matt Shott shared statistics that show a 151% growth and a 203% increase for women's hockey registration in Arizona for players 19 and under over the past five years. Describing it as "unprecedented growth", and accurately so, Shott made note of quite possibly the most powerful aspect of all of this, that Arizona is now a state where girls can start, develop, and thrive to pursue a passioned hockey career.
McGovern knows first-hand of what it was like, and what it's like now.
"When I was growing up here, I think we had two girls hockey teams, we didn't have a lot, so if I knew I wanted to play at the highest level to compete with the best players, I had to move away from home, which was really tough," McGovern said of her path to the professional game. "But now seeing such tremendous growth, we have so many girls teams here in Arizona, it's such a cool opportunity for them to play locally, which I didn't really have, so it's awesome to see and awesome to be a part of."
Looking back, the 24-year-old McGovern took away quite a bit from her first professional season, where she finished third on her team in goals scored. Now she's looking to, through her roots and experiences, give some of it away to the next generation of girls hockey players in Arizona.
"Playing in the NWHL was amazing, playing with Olympic-caliber top athletes was incredible, and now to bring the [Isobel Cup] back home and share it with these girls hockey players, hopefully I can push them to the next level and they can see that I did it, and so can they."
"Anyone who follows their dreams and works hard can do it. Hopefully women's hockey just keeps growing and the NWHL becomes sustainable and it's only bigger and better for them, for the next generation."