Numbers game: AYH is looking for more girls to play hockey

Published 8:12 pm Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Yazmine Huerta has found her happy place on the ice of Riverside Arena.

Huerta, a 10-year old, was one of many Austin girls checking out hockey for free on Tuesday night and she’ll likely be one of the players on the ice again at 6 p.m. next Tuesday when Austin Youth Hockey hosts another free clinic for girls players.

Huerta is in her second year as a youth hockey player and she’s hoping some more girls in the community will come out and try the sport she’s come to embrace.

Brad Weichmann works with his daughter Lexee before the start of Tuesday night’s clinic. Eric Johnson/

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“I love playing hockey. It brings me joy and whenever I’m on the ice, I just feel happy out there,” Huerta said. “I would encourage other kids to try it and if they like it, I’ll be really happy because not many girls are playing and I would love to see more people try hockey.”

The free clinics held this week are part of an effort by AYH to boost participation numbers in hockey for girls in Austin. The program is looking for skaters of all ages to give the sport a try, but AYH is especially short on players in grades 4-6.

“We’ve got barely enough for a team [at some levels] and we could certainly use more,” said Matt Cano, who is the coaches coordinator for AYH. “Minnesota is the hotbed for girls hockey. We’ve got great numbers in the state of Minnesota and we want to translate that to Austin as well.”

AYH has taken plenty of steps to lessen the burden for parents of hockey players. All first year players will not have to pay a registration fee and next Tuesday’s clinic will allow players to use equipment without a charge.

Ryan Vossler, a coach and public relations director for AYH, said he’s seen parents run away from hockey registration as their kids are showing interest and he wants to change that stigma.

“We’re trying to overcome some of the barriers to hockey,” Vossler said. “We’re finding ways to make it affordable for families. People have a perception that hockey takes a lot of time and that it’s very expensive. We’ve worked on ways to mitigate those concerns. We’re trying to find ways to make it affordable.”

Girls are directed where to go during a free hockey clinic Tuesday night at Riverside Arena. Organizers are trying to get more girls interested in hockey with things like this clinic. Eric Johnson/

Austin is fortunate to have plenty of ice time available at Packer Arena and Riverside. Cano is hoping that can lend to a growth of hockey.

“There’s a nice base. We just need to work together with the high school and the Bruins are welcoming as well. We’ve got all of these connections locally and we’ve just got to put the parts together,” Cano said. “It’s a great sport and there’s a confidence level that the girls gain through confidence and teamwork. There’s a lot of life lessons to be learned from working together on a team. They really do have a great time together.”

While the Packer varsity girls hockey program has been low in numbers in recent years, the team did go to the Minnesota Class A State Tournament in 2007 and in 2008, when the Packers finished fourth.

Maci Talamantes, a 13-year old, who has played hockey since she could walk, has always been invested in the sport. She watched her older sisters Vanessa and Justina play for the Packers and now she’s hoping the sport will continue to grow.

“My older sisters played hockey and my dad played hockey when he was younger. I just wanted to follow in their footsteps. I have fun when I’m out there skating,” Maci said. “I like working with the little ones [on the ice]. It’s exciting to see them play because there’s not too many girls coming out. I think kids should try it out.”

A participant in Tuesday night’s clinic heads to the ice at Riverside Arena. Eric Johnson/