Hockey is a tough sport, made for tough people.
All the elements that go into the greatest game on ice—skating, stick skills, body contact, mental toughness—breed strong and sturdy athletes, and people.
Girls’ hockey is no exception.
“Guys or girls, you have to be a tough and competitive type of person to become a hockey player to begin with,” said Kristen Wright, USA Hockey’s manager of girls’ development. “If you watch any female hockey game, from the youth level all the way up to the women’s national team, you’re going to see a team full of tough and gritty players, battling in a physical game.”
But what does it mean to be “tough?” Wright examines five ways girls’ hockey players exemplify toughness.
Do you show up to the rink with a smile on your face, even after a rough day or a bad game? Do you give 100 percent every time you hit the ice?
“At the end of the day, toughness really comes down to the attitude of the player and what they’re willing to put in to get better in their game,” said Wright, a Minnesota native and Connecticut College hockey alum. “A player with the right attitude, they can face anything that comes at them on or off the ice. To me, that’s a sign of how tough a player or person is.”
Board battles are an important part of hockey. Games can be won and lost along the boards as teams fight for puck control and possession.
It’s also an area where you will see physicality and determination.
“Even though body-checking is not allowed [in girls’ hockey], that doesn’t mean there’s not body contact within the game or that there’s not a physical presence,” Wright said. “We want to win the puck battles and get into the corners and work hard. That’s an area where body contact is so important and element of physical competitiveness that we all love in hockey.”
Perseverance and Persistence
A player that constantly wants to improve is a player Wright considers “one of the toughest.”
“Having that persistence and perseverance is such a skill set to add to a player’s game,” said Wright. “It adds that little bit extra to really make a player’s game stand out.”
Eastview senior and University of Connecticut recruit Natalie Snodgrass knows firsthand how fearless you have to be to be successful on the ice. A player can’t be afraid to get a little gritty and show just how physical the girls’ game can and should be.
“There’s no checking [in girls’ hockey] but it’s definitely a physical sport,” said Snodgrass, who helped Team USA to two U-18 Women’s World Championships in 2015 and 2016. “Girls don’t just roll over and let you push them around. Battling in the corners and in front of the net, that’s what makes it fun. You’re going to get banged up a little bit but that’s the way the sport goes. Hockey is tough.”
“I think female hockey players can show their toughness on the ice by being willing to use their body contact and not being afraid to go into corners and battle for the puck,” she said. “They need to have no fear, go in, win the battle and make the play. That really shows that they’re able to have that extra piece of their game.”
It’s one of the toughest things about playing sports, but also proves an athlete’s toughness. When you and/or your team faces adversity, how you react and overcome speaks volumes.
“The mental skills are one of the main pillars that we teach our athletes,” said Wright. “Teaching players to have some resolve that they can come back from adversity is so important. We want players to wake up and want to become better every day, whether that’s on the ice, off the ice with strength and conditioning, or being a better teammate.
“At the end of the day it’s about finding that will, even if you have a setback, and remembering that you love the game of hockey. Knowing you’re going to get back out there the next day and work hard all over again and figure out a way to get better, that’s the definition of a tough player.”
And once you figure out how to be a tough player, being a mentally tough person comes naturally.