High school girls in the Bangor area are finally getting an ice hockey team of their own.
Seven local high schools — Bangor, Brewer, Old Town, Orono, Hermon, Hampden Academy and John Bapst — have joined forces to create the first high school girls ice hockey team in the region.
The new team presents an opportunity for girls whose only option until now to play hockey for their school was to join the boys team. The co-op team — meaning it’s a team that multiple high schools have teamed up to create — is also more cost-effective for families compared with travel teams that can cost hundreds of dollars to join and require extensive travel.
“This might be the first hockey experience your daughters have gotten involved in where you don’t have to pay into it,” David Utterback, the Brewer School Department’s athletic administrator, told families during an informational meeting last week at the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer. “There’s no cost to you. Your taxes cover that.”
Fifteen students signed up to play during the informational meeting last week, Utterback said. Eight were girls he didn’t know were interested. He also knows of at least eight other students who want to play but weren’t able to attend the meeting.
In total, Utterback said the team “should be well over 20 players,” which he hopes to break into varsity and junior varsity teams.
The next step is hiring a coach and assistant coach for the team before the Maine Principals’ Association hockey season begins on Nov. 7. The Bangor-area team’s closest rival will likely be a team of high schools from the Augusta and Waterville areas.
Students voted to name the team the Penobscot Pioneers, which Utterback said is “fitting.”
“This is the group that’s pioneering girls hockey in the region,” he said.
There was interest in creating this team in early 2020, Utterback said, but the COVID-19 pandemic stymied those plans. Aaron Brideau, the president of Maine Inferno, an all-girls ice hockey organization in the Bangor area, helped revive the idea.
The Maine Inferno began around 2018 and now has about 80 girls involved. The organization does everything from teaching young girls how to play hockey to organizing all-girls teams of 17- to-19-year-olds. The organization now has about 80 girls involved, Brideau said.
Brideau has been gathering data and tracking girls involved in hockey by grade level. With this information, he was able to predict how many girls may be interested in playing for the new co-op team each year. That information gave athletic directors confidence that they’d likely have enough players to sustain the team for years to come, Utterback said.
The Penobscot Pioneers team has several girls who “survived co-ed hockey and stuck with it in high school,” Brideau said.
Future players who now play on girls teams through the Maine Inferno “will know only girls hockey” if they go on to play for the Penobscot Pioneers. That might encourage girls to continue playing, he said.
About 50 percent of girls stop playing hockey around the age of 13 when they’re allowed to begin checking and the game gets more physical, Brideau said.
Even more drop out around high school because their schools don’t have girls hockey teams, and they’re not interested in or able to join a boys team or travel team, Utterback said.
“All the girls around here deserve an opportunity to play in their backyard,” Utterback said. “Now they have the opportunity to play in high school and maybe play in college or get into coaching.”
Jordin Williams, who will enter her sophomore year at Brewer High School in the fall, started playing hockey when she was 5. Last summer, she played with a co-op girls team in Winslow as well as the Maine Junior Black Bears, a boys travel hockey team.
Williams said she enjoyed playing on those teams and didn’t mind the hour-long trips multiple days each week, but she’s excited about the new girls team.
“I’m not going to get anywhere on a boys team,” she said.
Meghan Delahanty, a rising junior at Hampden Academy, said she’s excited to be a member of the Penobscot Pioneers.
“It shows girls that hockey is something worth sticking with and that girls can do anything guys can do,” she said.
Growing up, Delahanty played on a girls hockey team on the Maine Inferno as well as a co-ed team through Brewer Junior Hockey, but aged out of that after eighth grade.
In high school, she is one of three girls who play on the Hampden Academy boys hockey team. Though she has enjoyed her time on that team, Delahanty said it was sometimes hard to connect with her teammates. The girls on the team, for example, have to use a separate locker room from the boys, causing them to miss out on bonding with their male teammates.
C.J. Atherton, who will be a senior at Brewer High School, said she joined the Penobscot Pioneers even though she has never played hockey because she likes what the team represents. Atherton said she’s prepared to sit on the bench all season and be “a glorified cheerleader” because she wants the team to have enough players to survive.
“It’s nice to go into a place where you have the opportunity to play whatever sport you want,” Atherton said. “It’s good for younger girls to see that it’s possible to get what you want and be on the same level as the boys. Next, we need a girls football team.”