As 10-year-old Bria Bauersfeld stepped onto the ice at the Bell Centre last week, there was one thought on her mind as she looked around at the professional hockey players surrounding her.
“Oh my god, I want to be like this. I want to do this forever.”
Bauersfeld has been skating just about since she could walk. She lives and breathes hockey, and one day she wants to go pro. She was invited to take to the ice ahead of the Ottawa Senators vs. Montreal Canadiens game last Saturday as part of a tribute to girls’ minor hockey. Bauersfeld represented her team, the Rockettes du Suroît, which has been home to 22 Kahnawa’kehró:non players this season.
When Bauersfeld heard the news that she was selected to represent the Rockettes on the ice, she had just returned from practice.
“I was very scared when they called,” she said. “My mom had the phone on speaker to her ear, and I just heard a little mumble say ‘Bria’ and I thought, oh no, am I in trouble or something? And then she told me that it was the National Hockey League (NHL) organization people, and they were wondering if I wanted to go. So I immediately said yes.”
For Lionel Deer, who is the girls’ hockey director for the Kahnawake Minor Hockey Association (KMHA), seeing the Rockettes get recognition on the rink represents a shift in the hockey world, where young girls are finally getting the attention they deserve to advance their sporting careers. Before the Rockettes were formed, girls from the community had more limited options for local hockey teams.
“The girls and the boys usually start out together playing minor hockey, but at some point there comes a time where it’s just not that feasible, because the boys get bigger and stronger,” he explained. “So what used to happen was that the girls would get kind of pushed out of hockey.”
Deer explained that for the past five years, he has been taking girls from Kahnawake to play hockey in surrounding communities, often having to travel long distances for practices with other teams.
“We decided that it would be more feasible for the girls to start our own association on this side of the river, as opposed to going over the river every day for practices,” he said. “And that’s how the Rockettes were born.”
The Rockettes play at every level, from U7 to U18. Next year, Deer hopes to recruit even more girls from the community, so they have a chance to continue fostering their hockey careers.
“We’re definitely heading in the right direction, and it’s definitely getting more serious. Girls were always put on the backburner, never given the proper ice time,” he said. “They never had the things available to them like they have now. Hopefully we can keep the momentum going and next year get maybe 35 or 40 girls to play.”
Bauersfeld’s mother, Brandy Diabo, has been excited to see the renewed energy for girls’ minor hockey.
“Bria is so devoted to hockey, she puts a lot of effort into her games and working on herself, and I know her goal is to make it as far as she possibly can with her hockey career, even though it’s just starting to blossom,” she said. “To see her out there was a proud mom moment. It’s showing that her hard work is recognized by people and she’s getting rewarded for it. I’m just really proud of her. I’ll do whatever she needs to get to where she wants to be in hockey.”
For Bauersfeld, the biggest challenge of the night was hiding the truth from the professional Habs players she stood by – that she is a Bruins fan.
“I was scared when one of the guys was talking to me. I thought, ‘You better not ask which team I go for!’” she joked. “And after I got the call from the NHL people, I phoned my dad and told him I got picked to go to the Habs game and present something. I said, ‘I don’t know if they’re making me wear a Habs jersey or not, so don’t get mad at me!’”
After skating on before the game, Bauersfeld took to the press box to watch the game, where she enjoyed unlimited free hot dogs.
“She was more interested in the free food than taking pictures with the injured players that were in the box!” said Diabo.
Before settling into the best seat in the house for the game, Bauersfeld made sure to wish Montreal Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki good luck.
“He made a really good goal after that. He was using my magic fist bump!” said Bauersfeld. “And I was making fun of him because I was nearly as tall as him!”
With minor hockey celebrated on such a big stage, Deer and the rest of the Rockettes’ organizers are delighted to see their efforts finally pay off.
“I’m just glad, because I originally had this little family of six to eight girls that I’ve been coaching. Those girls are girls I taught how to skate,” Deer said. “And now they’re in the U18. They’re 18-year-old ladies. So to me, these players are all my extended family, and I know all the parents, so they’re extended family too. It’s just really nice. It’s so fulfilling. It’s totally rewarding.”