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Growing girls hockey in Copenhagen

The image is intriguing. Two girls taking a face-off in the dark with a glowing red puck. This image quickly became the most liked and commented on 2018 IIHF World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend (WGIHW) photo on the IIHF Instagram account after it was posted earlier this month. The story behind this image is just as intriguing as the image itself.

In 2017, Anders Frederik Gjesing’s son and daughter were playing for a hockey club out of Copenhagen’s newest ice rink, Ørestad Skøjtehal. After several months in the new rink, Gjesing and three other parents, Rasmus Bro, Nadja Gry Persson, and Niklas Nilsson, were shocked to find out that the club had been tampering with public money that they had been entrusted with in order to operate the rink.

After being expelled from the club for trying to bring this information to light, Gjesing, Bro, Persson and Nilsson decided to form a new club that would be based out of the same rink, the Copenhagen Falcons Ice Hockey Club. They had a clear vision about how they wanted the club to operate from its beginning.

“We want to be a club where children think it’s fun to be in,” said Gjesing. “We have a mission that every single hour that they train or practice in our rink, they have to have fun, they have to have fun together.”

While the first Copenhagen Falcons teams didn’t step on the ice until late November 2017, the club has seen exponential growth since then with both their male and female players. Of the 200 adult and children players in the club, roughly 40% are female.

What is equally impressive is that the female players in this club—which is just under one year old—make up roughly 14% of the 578 registered female players in Denmark. The club’s number of female players has huge potential to increase; earlier this month the Falcons participated in a nationwide introduction to hockey recruitment event, which brought 82 kids to their rink, 50% of which were girls.

Approximately 50 of the Falcons’ female players play on the U7, U9, U11 or U13 teams, or are in their Hockey School for beginners over the age of seven or their Falcons’ Nest program for beginners under the age of seven. The remaining 35 female players play for one of the club’s two adult teams, the Falcons Ladies.

The Falcons have embraced the female hockey community from the beginning, which was made clear when the first head coach that was signed on was former women’s national team player Camilla Søgaard. Gjesing recognizes the importance of having female role models for young female players, and regularly arranges ice times for players from the Falcons to play with and learn from members of the Danish women’s national team.

Gjesing and the club also have an understanding of how to promote hockey to girls and women on social media. They have noticed that advertisements from the Danish Ice Hockey Union only ever feature male players, and so the Falcons purposefully use photos of female players in their advertisements.

“It’s not that hard to get a good picture of a girl if you have told yourself that you actually need a picture of a girl,” said Gjesing. “And it works.”

With the large proportion of female players in the club and the Falcons’ openness to having female players and coaches, hosting a WGIHW event was a no-brainer.

Twenty-five girls between the ages of nine and 15 from eight different clubs participated in the Copenhagen Falcons’ Girls Night Out event. Søgaard and current women’s national team member Malene Frandsen (a defender with 178 points through 182 games in the Danish women’s league) helped run the event.

A portion of the evening featured TV2/Sports media personality Jimmy Bøjgaard and the girls in attendance interviewing Frandsen about playing hockey in Denmark as a girl. Following this, the players were divided into small groups in which they discussed topics such as the barriers girls face with playing hockey, and some solutions to those barriers. Each small group presented their main points to the entire group.

“It was amazing,” said Gjesing. “We had nine year old girls standing in front of these 25 girls telling why they play hockey … and what could we do [to get more girls into hockey], and it was pretty sweet … We shot it on video and we’re going to send it to the Danish Ice Hockey Union.”

One of the highlights from the night was, of course, the glowing puck.

“I heard a rumour that somewhere in Russia there was this concept of night hockey, where they turned down the lights and then played with flashlights on their foreheads,” said Gjesing, who later found an LED roadside emergency disc that could double as a puck.

“It’s rubber coated with LED lights and you can get it to blink in 15 different ways. It’s covered in plastic that can actually handle pretty much [anything].”

Having only existed for just about a year, there is still lots to come for the Copenhagen Falcons. While their focus is not on forming elite teams, Gjesing is hopeful that the club can foster the development of female players who could one day potentially play in the Danish women’s league and/or on the national team, and believes that women’s hockey has a lot of potential in Denmark.

“As I see it, [women’s hockey] is the best opportunity for Denmark to do well in a major winter sport,” said Gjesing. “The Olympics in Beijing 2022, that would be the goal for the women’s national team. It can be done … There’s 10 teams in 2022 [eight teams participated in 2018] and we are ranked 12th [in the world], so we should be able to. But we have to work hard.”

Photos courtesy of Anders Frederik Gjesing.


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EDITOR’S NOTES:

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Liz Montroy

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