The ninth annual IIHF World Girls Hockey Weekend is Oct. 5 and 6, and the Penguins will be celebrating with a number of special events planned for girls in the region over the next couple of days.
"I think it's really exciting and awesome for the unique opportunity to have a specific celebration for girls," said Shannon Webster, the Penguins director of youth hockey. "I think it's needed. Overall, we have a bunch of different things going on for a bunch of different age ranges."
The Penguins' overall objective is to increase participation in all levels of youth hockey, and a huge part of that is on the girls' side. Weekends like these are a perfect opportunity for girls to try the sport.
"I think it's fun to give them something special and help them celebrate, and make sure everyone in the area knows that girls have the opportunity to play and there's a ton of girls already playing," Webster said.
On Saturday afternoon, there will be a PAHL Clinic/Jamboree with U.S. Olympian Brianne McLaughlin at RMU Island Sports Center. It's a chance for girls ages 9-12 playing in the PAHL to enjoy skills, drills and scrimmage fun on the ice with McLaughlin, who played college hockey for Robert Morris University.
"They're going to have an opportunity to not only meet Brianne, but be on the ice with her and have a chance to ask her questions," Webster said.
Then, on Saturday night, the Penguins Foundation is hosting 200 girls from organizations including the Girl Scouts, G.O. Girls and Urban Pathways at PPG Paints Arena as the Penguins take on the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"Luckily enough, the Foundation could support it and provide the tickets so that we can have them here," Webster said. "We'll get them in the building and hopefully they'll have a good time."
On Sunday morning, the Penguins Foundation and Allegheny County Parks are hosting a free girls-only clinic for girls ages 6-15 at the Project Power Play dek in North Park from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. (those interested can register here).
"Anyone is welcome to join us," Webster said. "We're looking forward to a fun hour. We'll do some basic skills and have some fun."
And finally, with the Little Penguins Learn to Play fall sessions in full swing, there is a special surprise planned for one of the girls-only practices on Sunday evening.
Girls' hockey continues to be among the fastest-growing youth sports in the United States. In western Pennsylvania alone, girls' hockey has increased 76.7 percent over the last 10 seasons (from 2008-09 to 2018-19).
Last season, female participation in western Pennsylvania increased eight percent to 1,421 registered players, which is an all-time high for the area.
"Girls' hockey is growing a lot," Webster said. "It's definitely taken off. I think the women's national team and the professional leagues are a big part of the exposure. I think that's definitely motivated more girls to seek out hockey and to give it a try. It's a big number, but we hope it keeps increasing as well."