February 2, 2013

On home ice, girls struggle 'to be seen'

With increasing opportunities at high schools across the state, more Maine girls are playing hockey than ever before. But those who want a college future in the sport often need to leave the state to have a fighting chance.

By Kevin Thomas kthomas@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Dakotah Clement, left, a high-school ice hockey player from Berwick, left her home and school in Maine to join the Boston Shamrocks hoping to attract attention from colleges.

Todd Huxley Smith photo

click image to enlarge

Megan Fortier decided to stay in Maine and still managed to earn a spot on the Colby College team. She plays on the Mules’ top line as a freshman.

Courtesy photo

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GIRLS HOCKEY IN MAINE

Sixteen high schools (or combined high school programs) in the state offer girls a chance to play ice hockey:

Biddeford

Brunswick

Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete

Cheverus

Falmouth

Gorham/Bonny Eagle

Greely

Leavitt/Edward Little

Lewiston

Mt. Ararat

Portland/Deering

Saint Dominic

Scarborough

Winslow

Yarmouth/Freeport

York

"There are a lot of opportunities now," LaChapelle said. "It's awesome. But it's also difficult."

The difficulty is to stand out enough to earn that opportunity. While there are more college hockey teams, there are also many more female players. According to USA Hockey, the sports governing body in the United States, over 10,000 females were registered in youth and some adult leagues in 1992-93. By 2010-11, that number grew to more than 65,500.

Opportunitities opened up in high schools, too. In hockey-crazed Minnesota, play began in 1994. Minnesota has 121 girls teams, and it is one state where players are routinely recruited straight from high school.

Maine began with 17 teams in 2008. Two schools have since dropped the sport, while another, Mt. Ararat High in Topsham, joined this year. Five of the current 16 teams are merged squads, using players from two schools to fill out the roster.

THE PREP SCHOOL ALTERNATIVE

But for an elite player, the competition pales compared to that of a first division prep school or a top tier youth team.

Abby Rutt played at Scarborough High, where she was known for skating from one end of the ice to the other and scoring. After three years at Scarborough, she left for New Hampton, a top prep school that features plenty of hockey, but also rigorous academics.

"Initially it was for hockey, to develop more as a player," she said. "As I looked into it more and more, I realized it could help a lot academically."

New Hampton's tuition is $49,500 for boarding students, with financial aid available. Rutt plays a 33-game schedule, with abundant practice time. In the classroom, she's enrolled in the school's demanding International Baccalaureate program.

Rutt has been recruited by Division I colleges and she said, "it's easy to get caught up in that." But she is leaning toward playing for Division III Wesleyan, a private school in Connecticut with a generous, need-based financial aid program.

"Abby is a Division I talent," New Hampton coach Craig Churchill said. "However, Abby is very focused academically. It says a lot about her maturity.

"Hockey is awesome, but four years from now, hockey will be over."

'LITERALLY JUNIOR HOCKEY FOR WOMEN'

Many prep school and high school players keep ties with a youth team, playing with them on Sunday. Several of the top high school players in southern Maine also play for the Portland Junior Pirates. Other youth organizations, like Casco Bay Hockey in the Portland area and Huskies Hockey in Gorham, also offer girls travel teams.

The Maine travel teams play in Tier II, the second-highest level of competition. The best New England youth teams -- the Tier I teams -- are found mostly in southern New England. In boys hockey, there is a level beyond youth leagues called juniors -- clubs that draw players away from their school teams, in order to provide better competition.

Officially, there is no juniors level for girls hockey, but the JWHL is as close as it gets. Clubs such as the Boston Shamrocks offer housing while players either attend local high schools or take courses online.

Fees vary. A Boston Shamrocks player who requires housing can pay up to $20,000. At the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid, a boarding student's tuition is almost $38,000, with another $8,000 for the girls hockey program. Most of the programs offer some type of need-based financial aid.

The JWHL schedules are long, with the Shamrocks going from Aug. 30 to March 10. There is practice nearly every day, with workouts in a gym twice a week.

"It's literally junior hockey for women," said Shamrocks head coach Josh Hector, a former assistant coach at Brown. "This is the highest there is for high school players. There is a huge difference between kids who play hockey and kids who focus on hockey."

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