MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. -- The St. Louis Blues and NHL, along with equipment partner Bauer Hockey, announced Thursday a long-term investment of $180,000 in girls and women's hockey in the St. Louis area.
The 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend's Legacy project was unveiled at Centene Community Ice Center, the Blues' practice facility, by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
"Anything we can do to engage children in our game, the values of the game -- physical fitness, leadership, discipline, teamwork -- that's good, whether or not you're a young boy or young girl," Commissioner Bettman said. "But having said that, giving the women's game a higher profile, the skill that these great athletes have, sends a message to young girls that you can have dreams in sports, and nothing will hold you back."
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Commissioner Bettman was joined by Blues chairman Tom Stillman, CEO Chris Zimmerman and Hall of Fame forward Brett Hull; Mary-Kay Messier, Bauer Hockey vice president of global marketing; Kim Davis, NHL executive vice president of social impact, growth initiatives and legislative affairs; women's American All-Stars Kacey Bellamy, Hilary Knight, Annie Pankowski and Kendall Coyne Schofield; and women's Canadian All-Stars Rebecca Johnston and Marie-Philip Poulin. More than 100 girls hockey players from the area were also in attendance.
The investment made in girls and women's hockey will cover equipment, ice time, coaching and special events for players of all ages. That includes year-round programming, summer skills camps, official development programs, coaching clinics and a 3-on-3 skills development league.
Zimmerman said he wants St. Louis to be at the top of the list as far as developing female hockey programs, and he feels the Blues will continue to grow the resources possible to get there.
"Girls and women's hockey is growing at an incredibly fast rate," Zimmerman said. "Our goal is we want to be the best girls (and) women's hockey market in the country. Having a facility like this to build around and now our partnership with this program and the NHL as well as Bauer, that's a great gift."
Each of the women's all-stars took to the ice for a skate and skills session with the local girls hockey players.
"I love it. Being from a nontraditional hockey market in California, to have an opportunity like this, for Bauer to come together with the Blues and with NHL to put a program like this in place is really incredible," Pankowski said. "You heard it from the Blues [CEO], who has said they're committed to being the best in girls and women's development in the country. That's a huge statement, and for him to come out there and say it to the people who are going to be living it is a testament to their commitment to doing this."
Poulin said it's a tremendous opportunity that didn't exist in the past for girls and women to grow in the sport.
"It is really exciting," Poulin said. "I think seeing that it starts at such a young age, I think that's what's missing in women's hockey. You have the chance to play with guys, but if you get cut, there's not much opportunity like [there is] for guys. Usually when they get cut, they have another level, another level. For us in women's hockey, it's not like that. So obviously starting at such a young age and the grassroots and having the support's going to be huge, and it's going to make girls want to play hockey even more."
The Legacy initiative is an ongoing philanthropic endeavor through which the NHL and its teams support community organizations in the host city of an NHL event. Since 2003, the NHL, its teams and partners have donated more than $6 million to communities across North America.