When Tanya Foley, the women's program manager for the International Ice Hockey Federation, first contacted a group of 14 world hockey leaders in 2011 to gauge interest in a girls' event, she had no idea how popular it would become in just two years.
"It was really funny because we started looking at doing it late-summer last year," Foley told NHL.com, "I decided to just throw this out there and see what kind of response we got. I expected nothing, and we had 20 nations sign up right away."
Foley's idea was to take what Hockey Canada and USA Hockey were already doing with Esso Fun Days in Canada and Hockey Weekend Across America, as well as similar programs in Finland, and turn them into an international endeavor to recruit girls to the game.
It took flight as 165 events sprouted in 25 countries in the inaugural World Girls' Hockey Day in 2011. This year's event -- now World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend, being held Oct. 13-14 -- coincides with the United Nation's first International Day of the Girl Child, which occurred Oct. 11. The U.N. established the day to recognize that "the empowerment of and investment in girls is critical for economic growth and the achievement of all Millennium Development Goals."
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World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend is rapidly morphing into a global event spawned from the creativity of each community that brings people together and reaches them at the grassroots level. Typically, the IIHF is only able to coordinate with the international federation in each country, but this event is different because it's designed for anyone to step up and get involved -- something hundreds of communities and individuals around the globe have done.
"This event opens it up to anybody -- any club, any team any league," Foley said. "Anyone that has a passion to try and grow the sport, they can run an event. It's definitely a unique program for us and we're excited because it proves that there's a lot of people that want to help."
World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend will include 30 nations and nearly 300 events (not including Canada), up from the 165 last year, and thousands of girls. The inaugural event was a big success in many nations with well-established hockey programs, and the IIHF is adding countries with fledgling hockey programs, including Argentina, Mexico and Turkey.
In Malaysia this week, Chee Ee Laine and Nurul Ain Khadijah, two representatives from the KL Slayers, the only female hockey team in the country, were featured in an hour-long radio interview to drum up support for their event.
"The biggest success is the fact that it's such an easy event that anyone can run it, and we're seeing it go to places that we never have been able to run an IIHF program before," Foley said.
Not all of the nations hold on-ice events, and several warm-climate countries will offer street hockey as an alternative. A few countries will postpone their events until they are able to make ice -- but those will still be grouped in with the overall Weekend.
The United States accounts for 138 events, with four held by NHL teams (the Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks). USA Hockey has several events planned, from all-women's tournaments to "Try Hockey for Free" sessions to American Development Model clinics. A number of alumni and current players from the USA Women's National Team will participate in their hometowns or communities.
According to USA Hockey's director of women's hockey, Reagan Carey, the organization hopes to provide female role models for the game by sending as many National Team representatives as possible.
This weekend is one of the ways the USA Women put its team mantra into practice.
"That mantra says, 'We are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are Team USA. We are Team First,'" Carey said.
Goaltender Jessie Vetter is headlining an event in the Atlantic District, which will include a U-12 jamboree, ADM clinic and women's tournament.
Hockey Canada is increasing its number of events from 41 last year to 70 in Ontario alone, with many more throughout the country. Some of the highlights include an event in Prince Edward Island where 300 girls are expected to attend, and at the end of the day one will drop the puck at the QMJHL Rockets game. An Ontario team has incorporated breast cancer awareness into its event and will wear pink jerseys and socks.
Hockey Canada's female-hockey director Joanne Hughes told NHL.com that World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend is about more than just participation in the sport.
"It's female health, it's female nutrition, it's female awareness, it's sports psychology, it's growth development, encouragement -- it's all sorts of aspects of the female game and of the female person …," she said. "I'm so excited about it. I'm thrilled. It's very contagious."
Throughout Canada, thousands of girls will file into their local rink – some for the first time – for events that range from mother-daughter practices to sports psychology presentations. The Ontario Women's Hockey Association has planned an event for 500 girls in association with the Ottawa Senators that will take place at the Ice Hutch in Carleton. Hayley Wickenheiser is headlining an event in Calgary, and other former National players participating include Cheryl Pounder and Becky Keller.
The idea is for World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend to showcase what women's hockey is all about.
"We're not looking to build an Olympic program," Foley said. "We're just looking for people to be able to come out and try a great sport."
For more information about an event near you, check with your local or national governing hockey board. USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, and the IIHF all have more details on their websites.