PHOENIX – It’s getting colder in the desert.
“We’re not a hockey state but we are starting to get there,” said Jordan Nash-Boulden, an Arizona State women’s hockey player.
She’s a member of the first women’s hockey team in ASU history. In 2017, Grand Canyon University will follow suit with its first women’s team. ASU’s new women’s program comes at a time when hockey is prospering: The NHL’s Arizona Coyotes celebrate their 20th anniversary in the desert, Arizona State University moved its men’s team to the NCAA Division I level last season and the existence of a women’s club hockey organization for girls (U14 and U19) in the Valley to play competitive hockey.
“Hockey is really growing in the Valley and we have seen the growth among the men’s side, but now it’s definitely time to start bringing in the women’s program,” said Daniel Roy, GCU’s director of hockey operations and coach.
For a female hockey player in Arizona there were two options: Stop playing in high school, or leave the state and move north or east where women’s hockey is more prevalent. But now girls in Arizona have an in-state option, which ASU’s women’s hockey coach Lindsey Ellis hopes has an effect on female participation.
“I hope young girls see us and are like, ‘Oh, wow, you can play hockey. There are places to go in hockey,'” Ellis said.
Nash-Boulder grew up watching the Coyotes with her family, and wanted to be like them. Although no women play in the NHL, now young women in Arizona have higher-level organizations to look up to.
“I didn’t have a college team to look up to when I was playing girls youth hockey here so I think that’s going to be really important for them to have that milestone and to know they can achieve a higher goal,” Nash-Boulden said.
ASU defender KC McGinley left Arizona to pursue college hockey in Boston. After two years, she left Boston and hockey to be closer to home. Little did she know she would be playing collegiate hockey in the state she grew up in.
“Hockey at the collegiate level was everything I worked my whole career for, so it is such a special experience and an amazing opportunity. I’ve played at a collegiate before, so to be able to come home and play in Arizona is indescribable,” McGinley said.