How girls can be inspired by the changing face of women's hockey
Jess Cameron, coach of the P.E.I.'s women's hockey team, has something she wants to proudly show off at the Canada Winter Games this week.
While it has nothing to do with winning or losing, it's an accomplishment sports leaders like Cameron have been working toward for a long time — an all-female coaching and support staff.
Girls may be looking up to them. Hockey fans may be watching with curiosity.
No wonder she's "a little bit nervous."
That's why she turned to her close friend and one of P.E.I.'s most successful women's hockey players, Shannon MacAulay, for advice.
"She said, 'Well this is ... what we fought for for so long — to have female coaches on the bench and an all-female staff. So you really got to show up and be seen,'"
Cameron said that advice helped her a lot.
"That's what you have to do when you're a woman in these roles, is just, you know, keep showing up to the table and be seen."
When I had women coaches, it was really empowering and that kind of helped me to visualize myself in that role one day. — Shakita Jensen
Cameron's staff includes assistants Rebecca Babiak and Sami Sentner, manager Genna Phelan, mental performance coach Megan Ferguson, and equipment manager Haley Ellis. Emma Weatherbie is an apprentice coach.
MacAulay, now a strength and conditioning coach for Hockey Canada's women's national development team, also helped out.
Diverse backgrounds reflected
It's all part of the changing face of women's hockey, which also includes a growing number of players and coaches with diverse backgrounds.
Shakita Jensen of Team Northwest Territories is at the Canada Games as part of the Aboriginal Apprentice Coach Program.
She said it's important to keep building on the number of diverse players and coaches "just so other players know ... I can do this, too."
"When I had women coaches, it was really empowering and that kind of helped me to visualize myself in that role one day."
Working to 'become the best I could be'
P.E.I.'s 15-year-old goaltender, Yiyi Peng, is originally from China.
She started playing shortly after moving from Beijing and hearing everyone talk about hockey.
The goalie equipment looked cool, she said, and she wanted to give it a try.
"But like my dad always told me to focus on, like, skating first and as a player. So whenever I got the opportunity to try goalie ... I worked my hardest to become the best I could be."
Cameron hopes girls will be inspired.
"We hope that they can take a little bit from our experience and you know help create some dreams and be able to provide that perspective from having been there.... just help lead the girls on their path. Whatever that may be."
They're already making an impression on their goalie, Peng.
"I love to show young athletes ... you could achieve whatever you put your mind towards," Peng said. "And I'm really excited to play and to represent a province and I want to show them just that."