Hockey in the desert is still a relatively new concept for a lot of people, but Lyndsey Fry and the Arizona Coyotes are working diligently to make it more accessible to everyone in Arizona.
The Coyotes are hosting their third annual Women’s Hockey Appreciation night on Saturday. The night features a panel with Kaliya Johnson, Makenna Newkirk, Katie McGovern, and Kaley Gibson (a late addition) and, for the first time, a girls hockey clinic before the game.
“We haven’t done the clinic before until this year…in the past, we’ve always done the panel, which is just a really good opportunity for not only the girls to ask questions, but for the parents to ask questions and learn more,” said Fry. “Because my parents never really had that when I was growing up, so they didn’t have the same type of access that parents have now to players that have grown up in the state and have been able to go on and do big things.
“For these parents to hear each of our journeys, which are all very different as far as how we got there, I think it’s going to open their eyes to one, how rigorous the process can be, but two, the fact that if the parents and the players are willing to commit to it, it’s pretty incredible what they can go on and do.”
And the number of big-name players who are coming from Arizona are steadily growing. The first year the Coyotes hosted the event, it was just Fry who came, and last year they brought fellow Olympic teammate and former US National player Anne Schleper as part of the festivities. This year, they’re bringing in an entire group of younger Arizona hockey players in Johnson, Newkirk, and McGovern.
“It’s cool because growing up, Kaley and I had the opportunities to be role models for the younger three,” said Fry. “It’s kind of cool to see that [come] full circle.”
Fry credits Arizona Coyotes director of Amateur Hockey Development Matt Shott with coming up with the idea (for more on Shott, you can read this awesome story Mile High Hockey wrote on him). Fry and Shott are friends and have helped each other with events like this throughout the years, and the partnership with the Coyotes is one that Fry calls “mutually beneficial” for both her and the team.
“It’s nice to have the resources an NHL team has for sure, it’s nice to be able to get out in front of people a lot easier. But I think the good thing too is for me and Matt, our partnership is so great because we really do help each other co-create. Any time the Coyotes need help, I’m there, and any time I need help running my business and my camps, he’ll bring out his guys... I want to grow the sport, obviously they want to grow the sport to have more fans…it’s just a really good, mutually beneficial partnership that we have going.”
The night has continued to evolve in the three years the team has hosted i. Tthis is the first time that they’re hosting a girls clinic before the game, something that Johnson was extremely excited about - though she was a little concerned about whether she’d be able to get her skates all the way from Boston, where she plays for the Pride in the NWHL, to Arizona.
“Still trying to figure out how I’m going to get my skates there,” said Johnson with a laugh. “If not, I’ll be on the bench, messing around, running around with my tennis shoes. I’ll figure it out.
“I love getting on the ice with the girls, I do a lot of clinics here with younger girls, 8U, they’re very entertaining, they look up to you. Anything I can do to give back and put a smile on their face and go have fun, because at the end of the day it’s about having fun playing hockey.”
Fry also added that the event was important for two reasons - both for younger kids to see what the older players have accomplished in their hockey careers, but also for players to get recognition for their achievements.
“There are plenty of guys [from Arizona] who have gone through the process, and I think people know about them, but a lot of people don’t know about the women who have had success,” said Fry. “We’ve had a number of women out of Arizona who have gone on to play DI, club, DIII or who have gone on to play at the national level. So I think it’s cool for them to have this opportunity as players to have this exposure.
“It’s not just for the young girls who are out there tonight, it’s also for the players to be recognized for all the work they’ve done. And the fact that we’re all from a desert is just that more meaningful.”
For fans who can’t make it to the arena for the panel or the clinic, the game broadcast will also feature interviews of all five women in attendance throughout the game.