Building girls’ love of hockey as children

Cool Sports’ 10-U Girls SM Wilde team beginning to grow with encouragement

  • Enjoying the moment, despite sitting in the box during a recent Wilde practice, are Ellesie Steinbarger, left, and Brailyn Ayers, both 9 years old. - Photos submitted

  • Reagan Haase, 9, waiting her turn to hit the ice during a recent practice. - Photos submitted

  • Robyn Ayres, 8, getting lots of ice time during a recent practice. - Photos submitted

The relatively new girls youth hockey program in Farragut and Knox County, through Cool Sports Home of the Icearium, is beginning to get traction on the ice.

With most of the elementary school-aged girls from 7 to 10 forming the 10-U Smoky Mountain Lady Wilde, “This is technically our second year in existence,” starting in the summer of 2022 “with 11, 12 girls,” said Jeff Monckton, girls program coordinator, who works alongside coach Samantha Haase.

One year later, “We’ve absolutely exploded,” he said. “So we are now up to about 21 girls now.”

Although they had “barely just had enough for a team” last season, “we ended up taking them all to Nashville for a tournament, and it just really exploded from there,” Monckton said.

Playing in Nashville in January as the Junior Ice Bars, the team had to scramble for a similar look without official uniforms. That has changed.

“Now we have our own uniform; we just ordered them,” Monckton said. “We got help with sponsors … got team T-shirts. So we’re excited.”

“To our knowledge and understanding, this is the first all-girls team program in (metro) Knoxville for ice hockey,” he added. “I have a daughter that plays. And so I took the initiative to start it since we didn’t have one.”

Before 2022, “they would always have to play co-ed,” Monckton said. “So I always thought as soon as they would get older, they would have to leave. They have to go to Nashville, North Carolina, Cincinnati, anywhere other than Knoxville to continue playing.

“And so the mission behind the whole thing just manifested into, ‘let’s build a program so our girls can stay home once they get to that age of 14, 15 and up,’” he added.

“My kids started last year, and Jeff came to me and said, ‘Hey, does your daughter, Regan, want to play with all girls?’” Haase said. “’Yes, absolutely.’ That’s when I joined here in November and started coaching with him.”

As for limited opportunities for teenage girls, “I didn’t realize this changed from when I was a girl up north, but girls could not play under USA Hockey rules in the U-18 League,” she said. “So even if they wanted to keep going, they’re not allowed to for safety reasons per the rules. So that’s why we wanted to provide an option earlier.”

Moreover, most parents of female high school girls “are going to say no” to co-ed hockey, Haase said about the fears.

“And I’ve heard from some from parents as well that, yeah, ‘my daughter prefers this because they’re too intimidated by the boys,’” Monckton said. “And this gives them an extra boost of confidence to continue playing the game.

“Full checking is like shoving into the boards. It’s allowed in boys, not allowed in girls.”

“So that’s where we’re losing most of our female hockey players to other regions around us, such as Nashville and Cincinnati and others,” Haase said. “And so, like I said, the purpose of the program is to bridge that gap.’

“We’ve gotten tons of positive feedback from our parents and everybody’s excited,” she added. ‘We have a ton of momentum going right now for us. And so, yeah, everybody’s very excited that there is a girls team and a girls’ option for our female players.

Moreover, with Haase as coach, “I think I have the girls’ trust in the locker room as a female coach,” she said. “And they love being together. Some of them play in a coed league, too. They go out once a week, both of our daughters do.

“But they get excited for the all girls because they get time in the locker room to bond,” Haase added. “They’re not as scared. They can easily get along, communicate similar skill levels. ... The girls have told friends and they all go to different schools. And that’s how we have become larger.”

On Saturday, Sept. 23, “We’re going to be hosting a friendly play date or scrimmage date,” Monckton said. “And then the big one coming up, the Southern Girls Hockey League Showcase Tournament, is coming to Knoxville, and that is an all-girls tournament” Nov. 18-19 in the Icearium.

For young girls and parents interested in playing for the 10-U Smoky Mountain Wilde, visit the Cool Sports website, and search for the youth hockey button.

“Yes, I think we’re looking at a couple of teams from Florida, a couple from North Carolina. I believe Nashville is coming as well,” he said. “… I just know it’ll be a handful, a big showing. It’s a showcase tournament. It’s the only one in the Southeast, I put it to you that way, for girls.”

“We want to play other teams from other clubs,” she said. “We don’t play our own teammates. They’re excited now that they get to play together against other girls clubs.”

The team practices weekly on Saturdays.

“So the ultimate goal is to have a travel program with all girls,” he said. “The plan at this point is still to have a 12-U All Girls travel team. We want to join the S-G-H-L, which is the Southern Girls Hockey League. We want to put them in that league and have that as an option for our female skaters at 12 U level. So we have a 2-to-3 year plan in place. It’s working. It’s accelerated some things faster than we initially thought, which is a great thing. But that is the overall goal is to have multiple travel teams at multiple ages for girls hockey.

In two years, “My hope and my prayer right now is that we have at least 50,” he said. “But realistically, for me, right now as a goal I’d be happy with 30-40.”

“And again, it’s just we are here to give our female athletes a different option for them,” he said. “Hockey is not looked at as a girl sport. It is a girl sport. It’s made for everybody. And we just want them to know that we have an option for you. It’s here. It’s not going anywhere. We’re here and we want them to come out and try it. Because again, you don’t know until you try.”