Girls have been playing on high school ice hockey teams in Section I for decades. This winter, however, Section I unveiled the latest addition to its sports list with a pair of girls’ hockey teams hitting the ice.
The East Green Wave, comprised of players from schools on the east side of the Hudson River, and the Rockland Rockies from the opposite bank, made their debuted this month.
The teams, with 31 skaters on the rosters, came from 18 schools, and included Ardsley’s Parker Caldara and Grace Sage.
The East Wave dominated the four-game series, sweeping the Rockies.
However, that was not the main story, which was the growth and acceptance of the girls’ game in Section I.
Caldara, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Ardsley Middle School, began playing ice hockey when she was 5 years old. Her father, Jeff, was a standout on the baseball diamond for Ardsley in the 1980s and is now that program’s head coach.
“My parents encouraged me to try it, having both grown up big Rangers’ fans and my dad played after college in a men’s league,” Caldara said. “The first day on the ice as a 5-year-old I fell in love with the game and I have been playing ever since.”
Meanwhile, Sage, 15, is a freshman at Ardsley High School and a late bloomer compared to her teammate.
“I started playing hockey when I was about 12,” Sage said. “I started doing Junior Rangers events. I have been skating my whole life. I started figure skating, like my mom, when I was really young, 5 or 6. I stopped figure skating at age 10 or 11.”
She added, “My dad always played hockey and my brother had started. I was interested when watching my dad and brother play hockey. This is why I picked up hockey as a sport.”
Both spent their formative hockey years playing with boys’ teams.
“This is the first year I'm playing for an all-girls’ team in Mamaroneck,” Caldara, who plays anywhere along the forward line, actually played goalie in the initial Section I game on March 5, a 7-4 East Wave victory at the Brewster Ice Arena’s outdoor rink. “I played for the Scarsdale program with all boys until now. I also played for the first-ever girls’ Junior Rangers last year and we competed in an international girls’ hockey tournament in Tampa [Fla.].”
The Covid-19 pandemic stopped Sage, also a forward, from playing travel hockey this season. Instead, she played house league bantams at the Westchester Skating Academy in Elmsford.
Both girls love the intensity of the sport and each was thrilled when hearing that Section I was going to dip its toes into the girls’ ice hockey world.
“I love the intensity and grit of the game,” said Caldara, who scored five goals in her team’s 10-4 win on March 10 at the Palisades Ice Arena in the Palisades Mall in West Nyack. She added another goal in a 10-1 win two days later in Brewster and then three in their 7-1 championship-game win on March 14. Ice hockey “is so high-speed, and you are constantly moving, which I enjoy,” she said.
She continued, “I was psyched that girls would finally have their own team. I know coach [Stacey] Weirl has put so much time and effort into making this happen.”
Sage shared similar feelings.
“I love playing hockey,” she said. “There really is a liberating and fierceness feeling when you glide and fight for the puck on the ice. It is a big plus when you are playing with girlfriends that are supportive and cheer you on also.”
Sage was also excited and filled with anticipation when she first learned of the opportunity to play high school girls’ hockey.
“I learned about it when my mom or dad told me that my school would be participating,” she said. “I was really excited to play girls’ hockey. I have never been on an only girls’ team and was interested to see how it would turn out.”
When the lights were turned on that March 5 night, a memory was created.
“I was super excited to be part of the group of girls experiencing this historic inaugural event,” Caldara said. “I was so happy and I was surrounded by genuinely kind people. I think that night was a great experience. I was also excited to play outdoors at Brewster because we were under the lights.”
Sage also recognized the importance of the event.
“It was a great experience,” Sage said. “It was such a historic night that will always be remembered by everyone. Watching everyone try their best and help Parker [goalie] was a sweet experience to watch and play in.”
Both players hope that girls’ ice hockey is here to stay in Section I.
“I think that would be great,” Caldara said. “I think that this team lets girls experience friendships and overall a great experience. Even if you aren’t a serious player, it is a no-judgment zone — everyone is accepted.”
She added, “I think making girls’ hockey a permanent part of high school sports would help grow girls’ hockey and allow it to become more popular and more watched.”
Girls’ high school ice hockey is a mainstay in upstate New York, close to the Canadian border, as well as west from Albany out to Buffalo.
“I do hope girls’ hockey will be a permanent high school sport,” Sage said. “It was a great way to meet new friends and have fun with different girls from different schools all coming together, playing and enjoying hockey together.”