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Paving the Way for Future Female Hockey Players

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Girls – Darby Kern

Compiled by Kylie Penticost, Pittsburgh Youth Hockey Network

Kylie Penticost: Tell me a little bit about yourself. (i.e.: family, hobbies outside of hockey, travel, etc.)
Darby Kern: I am 17 years old and a senior at Peters Township High School. I live with my parents and older brother, Rod who is 20 years old and attends Penn State University. I played lacrosse for 6 years but I ended that last year to focus solely on hockey. With hockey, I love getting to travel all over the United States and internationally.

KP: What are you taking in post-secondary school next year? In addition, what do you hope to do with it once you are finished?
DK: Next year, I’ll be joining my brother by attending Penn State University, and playing on their first NCAA Division I Women’s ice hockey team. As for my studies, I’m undecided on a major but will start out in the Division of Undergraduate Studies where I will eventually decide on a major. Right now, I am leaning towards kinesiology and may choose to go forward with that in the future as I think I would enjoy the hands on work.

KP: Why did you choose to get into hockey, and how long have you played?
DK: I got into hockey because my brother started playing. I was tired of constantly being dragged to rinks to watch him, so decided to try it out for myself when I was 8. I didn’t start playing on a team until I was 9 because I had to learn to skate first. I didn’t join a girls’ team until I was 10. Altogether, I’ve been playing boys and girls hockey for 9 years.

KP: What position do you play and why?
DK: I play right and left wing. Originally, I started out on defense probably because that was the position my brother had played. I enjoyed it, but I wanted to be in the offensive zone more often to get on the fore check, try to score goals and make plays. My coach, Stephen Walkom, gave me a chance to play forward and I was able to do everything I wanted to in the offensive zone. He then decided it was time for me to play permanently as a forward once I proved myself. But I played defense for several years before eventually becoming a forward for my girls and boys teams in the 8th grade which helped me tremendously in my skating. While I had a different coach each year playing on the boys team, I have had Stephen Walkom as my coach since I started on the girls team (7 years ago) along with John Mooney. They have taught me well, with discipline and hard work ethics. Many times, I would be mad because the practices were difficult and exhausting but I thank them both for where I am today. In addition, I have taken private lessons for 5 years and I can’t thank Chuck Fink enough for everything he has taught me in stick handling and shooting the puck on net, as well he worked me to total exhaustion.

KP: What has been one of your most memorable moments?
DK: One of my most memorable moments was actually this month, beating the Ohio Flames and Gilmour Academy and making it to Nationals. I’ve been to Nationals before but for some reason, this year, with this team feels more special and exciting than in the past. I think we can do really well this year, and I am so happy to be a part of the team.

Another moment I am extremely proud of is making the boys varsity team for my high school, Peters Township. I am the first girl ever to make the varsity team: it has been a blast! I love my teammates and practicing with them has made me an even better player.

KP: Who has been your biggest supporter during your hockey career? How have they shown support?
DK: My biggest supporters of my hockey career would have to be my parents. They always support me in everything I do and take me all over the place to play hockey. Before I got my driver's license, they were running me daily to my private lessons, practices, and personal trainer sessions. My mom has been the business/team manager for my teams every year and does an awesome job to make our season a great one! I am so grateful to have them and their continued support in whatever I choose to do.

KP: As a female hockey player, what are some of the pressures or limitations you face with the sport?
DK: As many people know, there is no NHL for women to go onto after college, so I’d say that is the biggest limitation in playing women’s hockey. Of course that shouldn’t mean girls should stop playing - some women get the opportunity to play for their countries in the Olympics and in other tournaments, but even just being fortunate enough to play in college is an accomplishment itself. Girls can still achieve great things by continuing to play. We get the chance to learn and experience things other girls don’t normally get to do: I would not want to give that up for anything.

KP: What piece of advice would you give to girls who are just starting out in hockey?
DK: I would tell the girls just starting out to stick with hockey for as long as possible if you love it because there is so much to experience, including the travel opportunities and friends you make along the way. You can achieve whatever you set your sites on if you are dedicated and work hard at it. Above all, have fun!

KP: What is a hockey dream of yours, and why?
DK: My dream for a while has been to play for a Division I University, and now my dream has turned into reality. I could not be happier! Like many female hockey players, I would be ecstatic to play for the USA National team, but for now, I’m extremely honored and excited to play for Penn State: it just doesn’t get any better!

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