Three girl dads, three supporters of growing the game of women’s hockey.
Earlier this month, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Trevor Lewis took the ice with the LA Lions youth hockey program, a program for up-and-coming girls players. The Kings trio of veterans skated with the 12UAA, 10U and 8U programs, as they joined the players for a practice as a part of the organization’s annual Rink Tour.
It’s not the first time these guys have been a part of the tour, as this organizational tradition goes all the way back to the beginning of their respective careers with the Kings. Heartwarmingly, Kopitar, Doughty and Lewis each noted how much they enjoy getting to spend time with those who’ve supported them since they came into the organization.
Key Number One for a program like this – growing the game.
Throughout their time with the organization, Kopitar, Doughty and Lewis have skated with their fair share of youth hockey practice. Regardless of who they’re out there with, they’re focused on growing the game in the community they live in.
Kopitar – I think it’s great. Obviously, in our case, there were girls, but we’ve done a bunch of these with guys and boys. It’s very easy for us to take an hour of our lives and spend some time with people and kids in the community I’m sure that this creates memories for them, obviously, for a lifetime. I know I would have enjoyed it if I had the pleasure of skating with an NHL guy growing up. I know when my dad took me to his practice, that was one of the coolest things that I’ve done. So I can imagine that for the girls and boys around this area that it was a fun time for an hour on the ice. Memories for life hopefully.
Lewis – It’s awesome, especially getting to work with kids and kind of help try to grow the game. They support us all the time so it’s fun to just see the look on their face when we get to go out there and support them. To just get even an hour in with them and just skate around and have fun with them is really fun.
Having been around the area for a while now, the trio have seen game of hockey grow exponentially in Southern California.
When Doughty first got to Los Angeles, he didn’t see the level of girls hockey that he does now, or the number of different communities that have been able to play the game and experience the game.
“The game of hockey has just grown a lot, I think in LA and California in general,” Doughty said. “They set out for a girls program with the Kings only 10 years ago, so that’s wild, it’s really cool. A lot of sports are growing in the woman’s category. I think it’s great and they deserve it. I’m just happy that I was able to kind of help grow it, in a way, I think that us winning the two Stanley Cups [made] a lot more women play hockey and I think that’s really, really cool. I’d like that they have more avenues to play and stuff like that. Getting to communicate with the girls out there today and talk to them about stuff, I had a lot of fun.”
Kopitar, Doughty and Lewis were all integral pieces in the Kings’ two Stanley Cup victories. The attention and exposure that the Cup victories brought to the great LA market has been exponential.
The numbers seem to back what Doughty believed to be true.
It’s no coincidence that just before the pandemic, hockey in California boomed at the youth level. According to USA Hockey affiliate membership reports, California saw the largest increase of 8U players in its history, up 25.2 percent to 3,553. Participation among girls was particularly impressive, jumping 49 percent, a new record high. USA Hockey’s data has consistently shown that growth among players ages 4 to 8 has a positive impact on retention in the larger 9 to 14 age group.
“When I first came here in 2008 there wasn’t too much of girls hockey,” Lewis said. “It’d be probably the girls sprinkled on some boys team and stuff like that, but now they’ve got their whole teams and leagues, they said there are a bunch of age groups and everything like that too. To see all the girls out there today that are getting coaching, they’ve made huge progress over the years. They were flying around out there. It’s cool to see how advanced it’s become and just how big it’s grown.”
The LA Lions program is currently up to 93 registered participants.
Women’s hockey in Southern California has given girls an opportunity to follow their dreams if they so choose the route of playing this amazing game. Hosting an event like the Rivalry Series between the national teams of the United States and Canada gives an opportunity to see the best of the best up close and personal. A partnership with an NHL organization only expands upon that.
“I think women’s sports in general is growing and getting more attention, which is great, hopefully we can grow this even more for hockey, specifically here in Southern California,” Kopitar added. “I think it’s been trending upwards a ton and it’s great to see all the girls come out and most importantly having fun. It’s not just being out here to be out here. It’s so they can say that they play hockey, but they’re having fun, they’re enjoying themselves and that’s key.”
As the three men have seen the growth in girls and women’s hockey, it’s come as all three have started families of their own. All three players have daughters and all three will see their daughters have more opportunities than they might have when they arrived in Los Angeles.
Part of that comes down to events like this, with the Kings engaged in the community.
“We’ve done a bunch of these not being dads and now we’ve done a few being dads,” Kopitar said. “It hits different for sure. I think you appreciate it a lot more as a father. You understand the kids a lot better.”
With their kids all around the same age, Kopitar, Doughty and Lewis had continued to bond in the latter half of their careers.
Reflecting on life as a parent alongside his friends, Lewis gleamingly spoke on being able to be a father. It’s something he’s touched on before, noting the growth they’ve all shown, from younger players when they first arrived to dads now in the back-half of their respective careers.
“It’s very cool. We got to experience the young, single side of life together and just coming back to LA for me, we all have kids and families and we can hang out with all the kids and get them together,” he said. “It’s fun to be a parent with these guys and it’s great being able to help kids in the community. It’s different when you’re a dad, very gratifying.”
“We love doing things like this, I love both of those guys, I couldn’t have a better group for today than to have it with those two guys,” Doughty added. “We had a lot of fun out there and I think the kids had a lot of fun too, and obviously that was the most important thing to us.”