Pittsburgh Penguins Elite:
First, can you tell readers about your program and how it got started?
About eight years ago a group of parents who wanted to create an elite level hockey program for girls in Pittsburgh formed an under-12 team called the Pittsburgh Lady Iceburghs and we competed in a few tournaments every year. The purpose was to create a program here in Pittsburgh, so that elite level girls did not have to leave Pittsburgh to pursue high level girls’ hockey if they didn’t want to. We have achieved that goal and exceeded our expectations by creating an entire program for girls from all over the tri-state region and beyond!
We added the older teams as the girls got older and we kept developing the younger girls to move up in the program. Many of those girls have moved onto college hockey, but some of them are still in our program today. Two seasons ago we proudly joined under the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite banner and our teams are recognized as some of the top girls teams in the Nation, top to bottom. We are now the only all girls USA Hockey organization in Southwestern Pennsylvania, which provides opportunities for girls ages 6 up to 19.
Who can qualify to play and how – and how many people participate?
We hold tryouts every spring for our elite teams, under-12 up to under-19. But, we also have open sessions throughout the year for girls under-10 and under-8, down to 5-6 years old! Any young girl can sign up at any time. We currently have about 150 girls participating in the program between the Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams and developmental (under-10 and under-8).
Who do you play and what tournaments do you participate in?
All our teams play in the premiere hockey league for girls in the US, the Tier 1 Elite League and our older teams play in the most highly competitive and well scouted tournaments and showcases in the US — to include the Beantown Classic in Boston, North American Hockey Academy (NAHA) labor Day Tournament in Vermont, the Stoney Creek Showcases in Hamilton, ONT and the USA-Canada Cup Series held in Toronto, Detroit and Kitchener where only the top US and Canadian teams play against each other to win the “cup” for their country!
The younger teams also participate in “fun” tournaments such as Hocktoberfest and the Manon Rheaume Foundation Invite. We also host one of the largest hockey tournaments in the US, right here in Pittsburgh — the Pittsburgh Girls Thanksgiving Classic.
What skills do you focus on most and what techniques do you use with these athletes?
We believe that the fundamentals of hockey (skating, passing, shooting) are the most important to continue to practice at every level. We provide 5.5 hours of on-ice practice every week which focuses mainly on skills, but also works on other team concepts such as cycling, systems, etc.
Many of our girls continue to play and practice with the boys as well, which is completely accepted and supported, so they are getting a lot of ice time and development. One team is not more important than any other and each team whether under-10 or under-19 is
supported with an age appropriate on and off-ice plan.
Do the Penguins get involved and if so, how?
We are obviously proud to be affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins as we bare their name and jersey/logo. They are extremely supportive and provide advisory support and help us to promote girls’ hockey in many ways through their Youth Hockey Network.
How has the increased fan interest in the Penguins over the past 5 or so years enhanced your program and interest in it?
Hockey has grown in general in Western PA, but certainly the popularity of the Penguins has helped us to grow fans and young fans, including young girls wanting to play the sport. We hold regular “open skates” for free for young hockey girls and we have had girls as young as 4 years old come out and skate. This is exciting for the sport and our program. We plan to be around for the next
10 years to help those girls move on to college hockey.
What’s the next step for these athletes – where do they play next?
Just about each and every girl has a goal of playing NCAA college hockey (which is basically the NHL for girls). We have only had u19 teams for the last 3 years and right now we have approximately 10 girls playing NCAA D1 or D3 hockey, including girls at Dartmouth, Cornell, Norwich, Northeastern and more. We already have 4 girls on the current under-19 team committed to NCAA D1 schools for 2012, including Penn State with their new program starting up.
Is there a professional league, and if so, have any of your alumni played there?
There is a professional league called the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) which is in its infancy and the players aren’t paid. None of our alums have played there (yet) because we are a very young organization, with all of our alums still of college age.
Where can fans see you play and how does this experience differ from those of other leagues, if at all?
The best place to really check out our teams and girls’ hockey in general would be the Pittsburgh Girls Thanksgiving Classic held over Thanksgiving Weekend at Robert Morris University and the Iceoplex at Southpointe. There is no gate fee for spectators, and I think that everyone will be surprised at the level of play by the girls!
Any last thoughts for readers?
Any girl out there playing hockey who isn’t involved with Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Girls should contact us at PensEliteGirls@aol.com While it is great to keep playing boys’ hockey as long as girls are comfortable, we offer elite level girls the coaching (professional coaches who have all played at a high level, including female coaches who played for Dartmouth, St. Lawrence University and Harvard) and more importantly, the exposure to help them play at the next level!
Come check us out!