Growing up, Angela Ruggiero remembers being one of two female hockey players her age in the entire state of California.
The Olympic gold medalist played on a boys team with her brother, as there weren’t enough girls her age to complete a forward line, let alone a team. An all-girls hockey clinic like the one she led on Sunday at Northwell Health Ice Center, forget about it.
So the fact that the Hockey Hall of Famer was on the ice with 85 girls as part of the New York Islanders’ Girls Hockey Day just shows how far the women’s game has come.
“This is great, growing the game of women’s hockey in particular,” Ruggiero said. “When I started playing there was little-to-no girl’s hockey and now it’s starting to really take off. Women’s hockey has been in the Olympics now five times and there are opportunities for girls to get scholarships. I think [it’s important] just to grow the game in general.”
Ruggiero, a four-time Olympian with Team USA, led the two-hour session, which taught girls of all ages and skill levels. Afterwards she held a Q and A, brought out her Olympic medals and signed autographs.
“She was nice and taught us a lot of things,” Kaitlyn Fanelli, a second-year hockey player, said. “We learned how to dive and get back up. And we learned how to how to hold our sticks in hockey position and that was a lot of fun. I learned a lot of new things.”
From figure skaters to those who had never laced up skates, there were a sizable number of first-timers on Sunday, part of USA Hockey’s Try Hockey for Free initiative. If even just one girl from the free clinic takes up hockey, then Sunday was a success.
“The goal is to provide a nice, friendly, fun atmosphere and a chance to try it and hopefully become a lifelong fan,” Ruggiero said.
Amanda Richter of Rockville Centre is one of those stories. She plays hockey on a U13 boys team and skated with the advanced girls on Sunday. About five years ago she was on the ice for the first time, at a learn to skate event in Freeport. She was hooked, so she asked her dad, Dan, to sign her up for the hockey development camp. Development camp turned into playing on a team and the rest is history. Her dad is happy to see more opportunities for his daughter, especially the chance to learn from an accomplished Olympian like Ruggiero.
“It’s great to see more opportunities for girl’s hockey,” Richter said.
It’s also an opportunity for the girls to see exactly where the game can take them and what they can aspire to. Ruggiero told her story, from her first day on the ice to playing on boy’s teams, to playing at Harvard and in four Olympic Games with the U.S. Women’s National team , winning gold, two silvers and a bronze medal. She was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this season and is now a member of the International Olympic Committee.
“It’s just opened so many doors for me,” Ruggiero said. “That’s what I want to convey to these young women. Maybe one day they’ll get to play in the Olympics, or play college hockey, or maybe professional hockey. But even if they don’t go on to play, even if they just have fun, you learn so much just by playing sports.”