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Bruins get 400 participants for Girls Hockey Day

First-time event offers clinics, instruction to youth players, women

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- The girls formed a half circle, the skaters in the inner rings, the goaltenders following at the edges. They kneeled around Roger Grillo, USA Hockey regional manager of the American Development Model, as he led them in instructions. Around them skated a dozen professional players from the Boston Pride and the Boston Blades.

The girls clearly took the coaching to heart. Not long after they were engaged in drills all over the ice, learning from the professional players they could perhaps one day be, enhancing their skills as parents and friends watched. It was all a part of a new initiative for the Boston Bruins, the team's first-ever Girls Hockey Day at TD Garden, which drew about 400 participants from around New England on Friday.

The event was the brainchild of Bruins youth hockey development manager Mike Dargin, who saw seven empty hours on the TD Garden schedule with a full sheet of ice and found a solution: Devote those seven hours to promoting girls hockey. 

The program ranged from a public skate, to U12 skills, to U14 body contact drills, to a high school clinic, to a women's learn-to-play event. 

"Just the support from the Bruins for girls hockey in general, I think it's so important for the growth of women's hockey," said former Olympian Sara DeCosta-Hayes, on hand with her gold and silver medals and her Rhode Island Sting girls hockey program. "And to see so many young girls? It's exciting. Especially for me who, back in the day, played with all boys. I didn't have the opportunity that these girls have today."

DeCosta-Hayes helped lead the U14 Body Contact Clinic, alongside Grillo and players from the two Boston women's professional teams, who were honored to take part in an event many said they hoped would continue, and spread across the NHL.

That is the same hope and plan the Bruins have, that this will be the first in an annual event. 

"I don't think it's too much to ask," Pride goaltender Brittany Ott said. "It's obviously a generous thing for the organizations to put on. But if we could get this going, the support from the communities and all the cities that have NHL teams, if they were to each have an event like this, the turnouts would be remarkable."

Because it means so much.

"I think it does nothing but inspire them, fully," Blades captain Tara Watchorn said.

Included among the instructors was former Bruins player Hal Gill, who helped lead the Learn-To-Play Clinic on Friday. For Gill, who has two daughters, it was exciting to be part of the event and to take the ice, marrying two of his jobs: hockey coach and girls sports coach.

"I think it's awesome that the Bruins have taken the initiative to include girls and to make it a special day for the girls," Gill said.

That much was clear from watching the faces of those participating, and even those coaching. 

"To be able to have role models like the Boston Blades players and the Pride players that are here, these girls, they're so excited to be on the ice with them," DeCosta-Hayes said. "I had some great NHL players to look up to, but there weren't many female hockey players when I was around. It's great for the growth of women's hockey and it shows girls that it's OK to play. You can be a female and play hockey."

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