Ice time: With Fry’s guidance, hockey participation among females in Arizona booming

Lyndsey Fry has played a key role in growing female hockey participation in Arizona. (Photo by Nick Aguilera/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – Just five years ago, Lyndsey Fry was on the ice in Sochi, Russia. As a member of the 2014 United States women’s hockey team at the Winter Olympics, Fry had the opportunity to play on the sport’s biggest stage and helped lead Team USA to a silver medal. Fry was the only player on the team’s roster from the Southwest and her inclusion on the team helped put a spotlight on one of the country’s fastest growing hockey markets: Arizona.

Currently, Fry works as the hockey ambassador for the Arizona Coyotes, a position she accepted in December so she could help raise awareness of the sport for both kids and adults throughout the state. In that role, and as the creator of Lyndsey Fry Hockey, she has helped the numbers in hockey among females in her home state of Arizona grow faster than any other NHL market within the United States over the past five years, as reported by USA Hockey.

In 2012-13, 301 females in Arizona played hockey. That number jumped to 508 in 2014-15, the first season following the Sochi Games, and 764 in 2018-19.

Fry oversees the team’s Kachinas program, a program that allows girls and women to participate in organized hockey from the age groups of 8 and under to 19 and under along with the rest of her positional duties. Over the past year, the number of teams within the program has grown nine overall – triple the amount of total female hockey teams in the entire state in previous years – and includes five elite level programs.

“Our mission is we want to make sure that all girls in the state of Arizona have the opportunity to play with girls like them if that’s what they want to do,” Fry said. “It’s something that I didn’t really have. I didn’t have an opportunity to play with other girls at the same skill level, at the same age group when I was growing up and I wish I had.”

In her business, Lyndsey Fry Hockey, she offers private instruction, development camps and an introduction-to-hockey program for girls called Small Frys.

One of the biggest challenges Fry has faced while growing female hockey in the state has been the lack of equal competition. In the early stages, girls teams would face boys teams almost exclusively. With the expansion of the Kachinas program and the overall growth of female hockey, that is no longer the case thanks to Fry’s work.

“Our first goal was to make sure that we get these girls playing against other girls,” Fry said. “Something that has happened a lot in the past is that they kind of just play against boys teams and maybe go play against girls every once in a while. Especially for our older teams where puberty kicks in, playing against the boys doesn’t really make sense anymore.

“We have them playing home-and-home weekends with other Southwestern girls teams to get them some games in and they’re also going to be playing girls tournaments, especially our (16U team) and our (19U team.) Those teams are hardly going to have to play boys teams at all.”

Coyotes team president and CEO Ahron Cohen credits Fry with spearheading the growth of women’s hockey in Arizona and attributes much of that success to her own drive. As the state’s first and only woman to make the Olympic national team for hockey, Fry fought for every opportunity while growing up in the state.

“With Lyndsey Fry as I mentioned before … (she) does a great job. She’s only 26. She’s not that old,” Cohen said. “When she was growing up, there weren’t even a lot of opportunities for her here in Arizona to play female hockey, so she was playing with the guys and doing a very good job at that.

“To now see her building female hockey in the state and girls hockey and getting girls excited about hockey, I take tremendous pride in that, as does everybody working for our team.”

For the Coyotes, the growth in female hockey isn’t the only success the team has seen from a hockey development standpoint. USA Hockey also reported that Arizona ranked second in total hockey growth within NHL markets and first in youth hockey participation from the age of 8 and under.

“That’s one of the things that I’m most proud of. It really is,” Cohen said. “Something that’s central to our organization is promoting inclusivity and getting everybody excited about our brand and reaching out and getting new fans, people that may not have been as exposed to hockey as before.”

Part of the reason youth hockey is booming with both males and females is the success of hockey in the state and on a national stage. The Coyotes are credited with helping the success after a season that saw them just four points short of their first playoff berth since 2011, inspiring excitement for Arizona hockey.

“It has a huge impact,” Cohen said. “Certainly success breeds more people getting involved and getting excited about the brand and the sport, so the momentum we can generate with winning and playing well and engaging with the community, the better.

Another reason that female hockey is growing rapidly in Arizona is due to the recent success of women’s sports in the U.S. Thanks to two world champion teams, USA women’s soccer at the 2019 World Cup and USA women’s hockey at the 2018 Winter Olympics, women’s sports have become more popular than ever before and have inspired a new generation of girls to participate in organized sports that have largely been played mostly by their male counterparts.

“At the end of the day they’re not different,” Coyotes director of amateur hockey development Matt Shott said. “Competitive women’s hockey is a blast to watch. When you have good girls playing the sport at the best and the highest at their level, it’s fun just like the NHL. It’s just never been given the opportunity. … It’s not just important, it’s necessary to do that now, to show that you have opportunities outside of what’s been given to you in the past.”

For Fry and the rest of the Coyotes staff, they believe the sky is the limit for hockey development.

“My expectation is that it’s got to keep on going, higher and higher. We’re always setting the bar higher,” Cohen said. “My goal for our staff is we’re not going to rest until every single person in this state is exposed to our game of hockey and we’re going to keep on hustling, fighting at the grassroots level making sure everybody can experience hockey.”

“For me, it’s less about how do we get the next Arizona player to the Olympics and more about how do we just get Arizona girls who play hockey to whatever level it is that they want to get to and that’s really what we’re trying to create here,” Fry added.