BANGOR, Maine — Based on the growth of the Bangor Youth Hockey girls program and interest from other players in the area, the first girls team has become part of the Maine Freeze travel program.
The Maine Freeze conducts the travel program for three area youth hockey organizations: Brewer Youth Hockey; the Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference, based in Orono; and Bangor.
Dena Whitehead, the girls representative and scheduler for Bangor Youth Hockey who will handle the same positions for the Freeze team, is ecstatic.
“The coach had checked around and found out if we did put more of a select team together we’d be able to attract some more players,” she said. “He was getting positive response, so we went ahead and decided to go for it.”
The Freeze will hold a tryout at Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer on Oct. 10 from 6:10-7:10 p.m. There is also a pretryout practice Wednesday at Penobscot Ice Arena from 6:10-7:10 p.m.
“It’s for anyone who has registered for the tryout just because all of our practices and things are sanctioned by USA Hockey and we have to know they are USA Hockey members in order to participate,” said Whitehead.
She also will outline the plan to the parents and answer any questions.
Players can register through Whitehead before the practice or before the tryout. The cost is $52, which includes the USA Hockey fee and the Maine Amateur Hockey Association fee.
The final team will consist of players ages 12 through 16. Ordinarily, that would put the team on the select level because youth hockey age groups are based on two-year brackets. Bantams, for instance, are an Under-14 group made up of players ages 12 and 13 as of Aug. 1 in a given year.
The number of girls in Maine playing youth hockey is much smaller, though, and it’s harder to make up a team based on the same age groups as the boys, according to Whitehead. She recognizes the difficulty but is willing to work around it.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” said Whitehead, the wife of University of Maine men’s hockey coach Tim Whitehead. “It would be great to start off and, boom, [have] five teams. You’ve just got to keep at it and do the best you can and hope that it continues to grow.”
And she believes they’re seeing the beginning of that growth.
“Each year, [the Bangor Youth Hockey team] has taken a step forward,” said Whitehead. “First, we started getting more girls, then last year we were able to divide up basically into two teams. And we knew that more girls were going to be coming in.”
That’s when they looked to join the Freeze.
“It seemed to make sense to move it to the Freeze since they do a lot more traveling, more games, more practicing, and we’re drawing girls from all three organizations,” said Whitehead.
The problem with being a select team was that it couldn’t qualify for the championships, but Tuesday morning, Whitehead received good news from the Maine Amateur Hockey Association, the state representative of USA Hockey which governs youth hockey in the country.
“We are actually going to be able to register as a travel team,” she said.
That will make scheduling easier because travel teams have to schedule a certain number of games in order to qualify for regional and national play.
Now, games played against the Maine Freeze will count as travel contests for both teams.
“We still need to get some games, but [the Augusta area] and Maine Coast [Rockport area] are in the same boat,” said Whitehead. Associations based in Lewiston-Auburn, Portland and Saco already have girls travel teams.
The size and age differences are less of a concern in girls hockey because there is no checking.
That came in handy in a tournament at Dover, N.H., last year.
“We were mostly 11-13 years old,” said Whitehead. “They put us in a 14-16 bracket and we finished in second place.”
That was another key for the players, believing in what they were building.
“These teams were much bigger, it was not even close,” said Whitehead. “But we have a very strong goalie and quick, little skilled players and were able to hold our own, and that was another thing that kind of gave us the confidence to move ahead.”
Whitehead is hopeful but realistic.
“In a way we’re charting new territory,” she said.