Hockey Saskatchewan is introducing a new under-22 female junior league for the 2023-2024 season.
The inaugural season can’t come soon enough for 19-year-old Zoe Kourles— who has been itching to get back into competitive hockey since she hung up her skates after graduating from Regina Rebel’s under-18 AAA team.
She was frustrated with the lack of options for women looking to prolong their competitive hockey career.
“The options are you play Division 1 [college hockey] in the states, play in CIS here for university hockey, or you’re done,” Kourles said. “I have quite a few male hockey friends who have numerous leagues to play in — so many junior leagues, farm leagues and all that. “
Kourles said the new league is coming at the perfect time for her. During her break from competitive hockey she played on intramural teams, but didn’t get the same feelings of joy she had playing minor hockey.
Building more female representation into hockey
More than a dozen communities in the province have shown interest in the league. Hockey Saskatchewan hopes to field four to eight teams for the inaugural season, with Regina and Saskatoon being hubs.
Blaine Stork, president of the Saskatchewan Female AAA Hockey League, said it’s long overdue.
“There ends up being a big gap of players who decide to go from a minor hockey player to in the future becoming a coach,” Stork said. “This [league] helps fill some gaps.”
Kourles, who has previously coached hockey and high school basketball, hopes this league will help lead to more women in coaching and administrative positions in sport.
“It’s a great gateway for women to be coaching and to create an overall community of women,” Kourles said. “It’d be nice to have a female coach, female assistant coach, female trainer and a female manager.”
Hockey Saskatchewan currently requires at least one female coach registered for any female minor hockey team.
Hockey Saskatchewan GM Kelly McClintock said he wants more women to be involved in female hockey in the province.
“We want all female staff, all female players, all female officials,” McClintock said. “That is the environment we want to create.”
Tayen Sulmic plays for the Prince Albert Foxes’ under-18 AA team. She said having female coaches is beneficial both on and off the ice.
“As a female player having female coaches is a good thing because they can understand and connect with you better,” Sulmic said.
A Hockey Saskatchewan task team is working on a process for communities/teams to apply to be a part of the inaugural season. An announcement regarding this initiative is expected in January 2023.
McClintock hopes the under-22 junior women’s league can spur a senior women’s league in the future.