Aubrey Kenny-Smith needed to tilt her head straight up to just about anyone she talked to on Saturday. The eight-year-old has the ends of her long, brown hair dyed in turquoise. She said she’s been playing hockey her whole life.
Her favorite thing about the sport is simple: the quality time it brings.
“I really like spending time with my friends and I think I might’ve met some new people here.”
Although there were no official games happening at TD Place, the building was anything but quiet. Music, cheers, and the clash of hockey sticks fill the city’s arena for the EmpowHER Hockey Fest.
It’s the event’s second year in action, and sees girls aged between eight and 13 working with players from the Ottawa 67’s. It’s an all-day event where the kids are split into groups. If they aren’t on the ice developing their skills, they’re taking lessons from the city’s talent.
And there’s plenty of talent to go around.
On their own accord, members of Ottawa’s professional women’s hockey team, and some other special guests, showed up to lend a hand.
Head coach for the city’s women’s team, Carla MacLeod, is last to step off the ice, following a cluster of stumbling kids. MacLeod has a smile stretched across her face. She said she got it by working with the youngsters.
“I just love the purity that kids bring, it’s just joy. It’s not about anything other than they enjoy being out there. They put a smile on my face because of it.”
MacLeod said it was incredible to have so many young girls participating in the game. She added she’s grateful for the opportunity and what it means.
“There’s really no question, a bunch of girls on the ice is very normal now. And that’s growth.”
Jincy Roese is a professional hockey player for Ottawa who showed up on Saturday as well. She helped teach a classroom of young girls about what it means to be a great teammate. As great as it was for the youth, it also was great for her, she said.
“These things we’re teaching kids, we’re role models, those are important for us to be living those out as well. So it’s a good check, ‘am I doing these things that I’m telling these kids to do as well?’”
Rose added that girls get very excited at the sight of both her and her team and the feeling she gets from that might never wear off.
“I don’t think we’re used to it, and I don’t think that’s something you ever want to get used to. The true appreciation and joy you can bring to someone because of what you do is very special.”
Greg Amiel works with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) and helped organize this event. He was also here for its first one last year, and talked about the short history of EmpowHER.
“The first year was really awesome for many kids to have the chance to come here,” her said. “There was such a high demand that we knew in year two, we had to make sure we could open this up even more.”
Amiel also stressed how important it was for days like Saturday to be long-term.
“We want this event to become a staple in our community, an event that every single year the capitol region looks forward to,” he said. “From there, who knows what’s next. We’ve been very fortunate to have discussions with other hockey teams who want to do something similar and maybe this is an event that’ll grow across the Ontario Hockey League.”
As for Kenny-Smith, she’s got high hopes for a future career in hockey.
“I want to be in the Olympics.”
Kenny-Smith said her goal comes from having met one the women’s players who also played in the Olympics. Although she can’t remember the name of her inspiration, it doesn’t take away from what she’s gained.
“I really think I learned from her and that I may have a chance to be like her.”