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Instructors Hope to Inspire Girls to Play Hockey

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Young girls who wanted to try their hands at hockey used to have to join boys’ teams if they wanted to play.

But the Penguins are hoping to help change that by continuing to aid the growth and development of girls’ hockey in the Pittsburgh area with their first Girls Hockey Camp June 23-25 at Ice Castle in Castle Shannon.

The age groups for the Pittsburgh Penguins Girls Hockey Camp are 5-and-older, 10-and-older, and 14-19. Participants will receive instruction on basic hockey skills, power skating, conditioning and fitness while also participating in a scrimmage.

But the most unique aspect of the Girls Hockey Camp is the all-female on-ice instruction.

“For a lot of the girls, that will be something new because most of these girls have been coached by men,” said Mark Shuttleworth, the Penguins’ director of amateur hockey. “So I think it will be exciting for them to have role models – highly accomplished female skaters – on the ice that they can look up to.”

In addition to Marianne Watkins, the Penguins’ skating consultant who will oversee the power skating portion of the camp, Valerie Chouinard will be running the skills instruction portion of the camp.

Chouinard, who currently works for the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, is a native of Matane, Quebec who played for the Canadian women’s national team before accepting a full-ride scholarship to Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., a national women’s hockey powerhouse, from 2005-09.

Brianne McLaughlin, a 2010 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, will be running the goalie instruction part of the camp. McLaughlin finished her four-year career at Robert Morris University in Moon, Pa., from 2005-09 with the NCAA record for career saves with 3,809.

“When I grew up, there was no girls team to play for so I played with the boys until I was 16,” McLaughlin said. “It's so nice to see the opportunities that the girls have now. The size of the game on the women's side is growing so quickly. All the hard work people are putting into getting camps like this together and giving girls the opportunity to try playing hockey is paying off big time.”

Both women agreed that looking back, playing hockey provided them with a plethora of positive experiences that have shaped who they are today.

“For me, played hockey opened a lot of doors,” Chouinard said. “I didn't expect to go to Pittsburgh and play hockey for Mercyhurst in Erie. It was just to get the education and for the school life, too. But I learned so many things.”

McLaughlin agreed, saying “You don't really realize how much these things are going to impact your life growing up. Looking back on it, sports – especially hockey – have probably been the most influential part of my life.

“Hockey has led me to most of the friends I still have today, it led me to play Division I hockey and get an education here in Pittsburgh where I still live, and finally to experience one of the best things I've been a part of with being able to represent my country in the 2010 Winter Olympic games.”

Both women hope to show the camp’s attendees their passion and enthusiasm for the game that’s given them so much.

“We’re starting with girls aged 5 years old and up,” Chouinard said. “We want to get those girls with us in that camp so they keep playing hockey during the summers and when it comes to fall, they just want to keep playing hockey instead of doing a different sport.

“We want to show them, ‘Look, (playing for your national team) can be a goal for you. Keep working hard.’ They’re young, you want to start step-by-step, but we just to show them the passion we still have for the sport even though we started when we were 4-5, and also for their parents to see that.”

Overall, they hope to inspire the girls who attend to stick with it and follow their dreams.

“I've had the opportunity to watch quite a few girls’ games the last year or two, and I'm so impressed with the talent level the girls are getting to compared to when I played at their level,” McLaughlin said. “I believe it's thanks to camps like this where the girls can get great coaching and inspired to get to the next level of their game.”

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