As the NHL kicks off its annual Hockey Is For Everyone initiative in February, the Nashville Predators and Ford Ice Center are encouraging more girls and women to get out on the ice and play hockey.
Coming off a weekend full of events - from the attendance record-breaking NWHL All-Star Game at Bridgestone Arena or the Black Girl Hockey Club meetup at Ford Ice Center - the time to promote women's hockey couldn't be more perfect.
Speaking after the game, NWHL All-Star team captain and U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Lee Stecklein said she wants to continue to encourage girls to get involved in hockey.
"It's always special to see younger players in the crowd," Stecklein said. "It's something I know we take very seriously. We know we're role models for a lot of young girls, and we want to continue to encourage them to stay in sports, stay in hockey and grow the game that way."
NWHL All-Star and fellow U.S. Olympic Gold medalist Amanda Kessel expressed a similar sentiment.
"That's part of our mission. We've been traveling all over the country and whenever we can trying to get to different areas and inspire that next generation," Kessel said. "I know our coach (Predators broadcaster Chris Mason) said his little girls want to play hockey now. That's pretty cool for us."
Nashville Predators President and CEO Sean Henry knows opening up opportunities is key to growing the sport for women players.
"It all starts with more ice, more ice and more ice," Henry said. "Opening up [another ice rink in] Bellevue is going to really allow us an opportunity to add to the travel girls program we have with better girls recreational hockey, to where it really does become a sport for everybody."
Ford Ice Center currently offers several grassroots hockey programs for players of all ages and backgrounds, including Get Out and Learn!, Hockey Rules, Little Preds Learn to Play, Go Skate! and many more that offer lessons at affordable prices and to skaters of all backgrounds and ages.
"Hockey is just such a great sport for any kid to play, whether it's your prime sport, second or third sport, whether you play at the ultimate level or you play casual pickup from time to time," Henry said. "We need to continue grow those opportunities."
To learn more about hockey programs, clinics and initiatives, click here.