South Charlotte

Clinics aimed to get girls on the ice

Cara Toneys knows what it's like to be young, female and not have a chance to play hockey.

Toneys, a 32-year-old Charlottean who grew up in Wisconsin, didn't get to play hockey until she was a senior in high school. That's when her school offered a girls' hockey team.

Toneys and others have stepped up to help coach local school-age girls by participating in the most recent Girls Hockey Day at Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail on Oct. 2.

Facility leaders conduct the hourlong clinics in hopes of getting enough players for an all-girls team.

Extreme Ice Center currently has a handful of girls who play on co-ed teams in the boy-dominated youth leagues. Jim Aiello, parent of two girl players, has coordinated three Girls Hockey Days dating to last November. He says approximately 25 girls attended the first two clinics; 11 participated Oct. 2.

Aiello plays on adult co-ed teams at the center and the Pineville Ice House. From those teams he recruited female teammates to serve as clinic coaches.

Toneys plays with Aiello at the Pineville Ice House on the Loggerheads, in the C-2 division: a purely recreational level. Toneys says she played at Michigan Tech for a couple years.

"It's been such a male-dominated sport for so long," Toneys said. "I think women's hockey is starting to gain the respect it should be getting. ... Getting women and girls involved at a younger age, I think, is important because it is a sport you can play your entire life."

Toneys was one of the coaches assisting Girls Hockey Day head coach Damian Decarlo, who led the girls through basic drills and a half-rink scrimmage. Another coach was Sara Abrams, who played with Aiello on the a C-2 team called Blue Steel.

Abrams, 27, grew up in Long Island, N.Y., playing street hockey. She picked up the ice equivalent during her high school years after her family moved to Charleston, S.C. She also played four years in college.

After moving to Charlotte a few years ago, Abrams joined the Lady Checkers, an amateur team not affiliated with Charlotte's professional American Hockey League team.

Abrams has volunteered at two Girls Hockey Days. "I think it's great for (the youths) to see there are other players around. It would be great if they had enough to create a team," she said.

At last week's clinic, Toneys had at least one moment in which she made a special connection with a youth player. Toneys recognized the long face of 7-year-old Julia Oriani and tried to cheer her up.

"She said, 'I'm not good at hockey,' " said Toneys. "I said, 'That's not the truth. You have good crossovers.' "

Coming off the ice at the end of the clinic, Toneys followed up with her new student.

"I said, 'See, you did a really good job, you're a good skater,' " said Toneys. "She said, 'Yeah, yeah, I guess I am.' "