When the NHL’s New York Islanders took over the Northwell Health Ice Center and made it their practice facility in 2015, girls hockey didn’t have much of a presence on Long Island. It was then that hockey director Alexis Moed decided a change of direction was in order.
Moed envisioned a rec and travel program that offered full-scale development for girls under one roof, drawing on the experience of female coaches who, like herself, had played the game at a high level.
“When the Islanders came in, they really gave me free rein to do what I believed in and what I wanted,” Moed recalled. “I had full control to develop a philosophy, hire the coaches, develop the curriculum … everything. That’s when I was able to take what I believed girls needed and translate that into an actual program.”
Known as Islanders Elite Girls Hockey, the program started with two teams and about 25 players in 2016. Today, it currently features over 100 players across five full season teams in 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U and 19U, plus a split-season squad that trains during holiday breaks, at the start of the school year and in the spring.
Hockey didn’t become a part of Moed’s life until age 12. She was fortunate enough to start on an all-girls club team before moving to Ice Works, the Islanders’ previous facility. Even though she was the only girl on that team, coaches took notice of her talent. She eventually played for a prep boys team that featured some talented players, including Doug Murray and USA Hockey ADM Regional Manager Rich Hansen, before playing at Boston College.
It was in college that Moed realized the value of full skill development, particularly for late bloomers like she had been.
“I could really skate, move the puck, and I had a great shot,” Moed said. “As far as girls now, we constantly reiterate it’s still academics [first]. Hockey can be a tool to get somewhere they might not have gotten without it. It certainly proved true for me.”
In its three years of existence, Elite Girls teams have either won or appeared in the Mid Atlantic Women’s Hockey Association (MAWHA) finals while its first graduating class sent one player to a Division I school. The program has fully embraced USA Hockey’s American Development Model of age-appropriate guidelines and, beginning this season, will have two of the three practices per week will be station-based. The concerted focus of skill development reaffirms Moed’s commitment to making skill development a top priority for every player.
“We’ve never shied away from saying we are a skill-based program,” Moed explained. “It took a while for the parents to get used to the fact that this is the focus of our program. Yes, we’ll still have the competition, but we’re not sacrificing that skill element in lieu of the competition.”
While there are a handful of male coaches in the program, most are women who, like Moed, played at the collegiate level. Moed believes it is important girls receive training from coaches who are not only the best in the business, but can identify with the culture of being a female in a sport typically dominated by males.
“There’s enough of us [women] now who have played and have coaching experience, that we should be involved in the game,” Moed said. “When players see someone who has achieved their goals, that helps with aspiring them to continue in the sport.”
But on-ice development is not the program’s only focus. Players have access to video analysis, academic and college advising. Elizabeth Mooney, who played at Brown University, offers her experience as a college admissions adviser to guide girls through the process of choosing a school and making sure it’s the best fit for them. Digit Murphy, who coached at Brown for 24 years, gives player evaluations.
“We take those two sides and put them together,” Moed explained. “Hopefully, those two sides will come together to make a complete profile of where they stand academically with their hockey and will yield a short list of schools appropriate for them.”
As the program looks toward the future, Moed hopes to field more than one team at each age level. She’s been encouraged by the feedback from parents and the community.
“I think the parents have been appreciative of all the work that’s gone into this, and the vision we have for our program,” Moed said. “We’re still working very hard to get our name out there. I know there are a lot of girls, particularly in our 10U program, that would not be hockey players if it were not for us. That’s always a good feeling, to know that we did directly grow the game. It’s giving them a whole new future in athletics.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.