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William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog since 2012. Douglas joined NHL.com in 2019 and writes about people of color in the sport. Today, he profiles the San Jose Jr. Sharks 16AAA Girls team that finds strength in its diversity.

Players and coaches of the San Jose Jr. Sharks 16AAA Girls team like to say their differences bring them together.

The Sharks are diverse -- from their coach, a dual Canadian/American citizen whose family roots are in India’s Punjab region -- to their roster.

“We’ve got players from China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, some Middle Eastern players, players with South American backgrounds from as far away as Peru, white players from the United States, my apologies if I missed anyone’s background,” coach Tim Grewal said. “We don’t look like every other team. I think it's awesome because I think it gives the girls an appreciation for cultures and different backgrounds.”

And it has proven to be a winning recipe; the Jr. Sharks won the Pacific Girls Hockey League championship at City National Area, the practice facility of the Vegas Golden Knights, on March 17. They also won the 2 Nations College Prep Series tournament in Brampton, Ontario, in December as the only California entry.

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The 2 Nations tournament was a homecoming for Grewal and his daughter, Siya, a Jr. Sharks assistant captain, who lived and played hockey in Brampton before moving to the United States.

Their presence and the Jr. Sharks’ diversity brought Brampton’s Punjabi community out to cheer for them at the tournament in droves, Grewal said.

“It was just a crazy experience for me just bringing my team from California there and showing well,” said Siya, a 16-year-old forward. “Yeah, it did feel like a home game for me and my teammates as well because we’ve played together for so long and have that bonding connection.”

That connection was shared and celebrated off the ice during team potluck dinners, smorgasbords that give players tastes of each other’s cultures.

Liv Betten, who joined the Jr. Sharks when her family moved to the San Jose area from Stuttgart, Germany, in August greeted her new teammates with German pretzels her mother made from scratch.

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“They really liked them,” said Liv, a 15-year-old forward. “My teammates, they made me feel so welcome and I found, like, my first friends when I came here. I didn’t know anyone, and they all made me feel like I was a part of them directly, like, after my first tryout.”

Grewal said the team’s diversity occurred naturally because the players mirror the population of the Bay Area.

“I think it’s something that’s awesome,” he said. “It’s something we encourage. We want them to be organically who they are, be proud of what they represent, the cultures they come from when they come to the rink and get a chance to be part of a team and they get a chance to be Sharks together. I think that unites them. It really bonds them as a group.”

Athena Cho, a 16-year-old Sharks forward, said opposing teams sometimes do double takes when they first see her team.

“Even when we’re warming up, all these people see us and they’re, like, ‘What are these girls doing here?’” she said. “We don’t look like a typical hockey team, so I just like to show them that anyone can play the sport and it doesn’t really matter where you’re from or what you look like.”

Several of the Jr. Sharks say they hope to play collegiate hockey and inspire other girls along the way.

“My number one goal is to play Division I hockey in the NCAA and just show young South Asian girls what it’s about,” Siya said. “And I think girls would really look up to that, and there so many South Asian girls that I would love to join the game.”

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