At a time when hockey officials at all levels are working to expand the sport, particularly among minorities, four young girls in the Bloomington area have made it their mission, as well.
Introducing the Hockey Niñas, two pairs of sisters of color who are enjoying the sport while also encouraging others to join them. The four girls are part of the Bloomington Girls Hockey Club, which governs the sport in the hockey-rich suburb.
After a recent practice at Bloomington Ice Garden, the quartet — 11-year-old Adelyn Janzig de la Luz and her sister Elisa, 8, plus Aubrey Lang, 11, and her sister Mia, 9 — engaged in the typical, good-natured chirping about their games. Nearby, their mothers, Laura Janzig de la Luz of Bloomington and Meredith Lang of Richfield, exuded pride in their trailblazing daughters.
“That’s why we started the Hockey Niñas, because we did want to put a spotlight on girls of color that are out here playing hockey — a nontraditional sport for us,” Lang said. “They’re enjoying it and building friendships all the time. Other kids [of color] can see it. ‘Look, we have these players that are represented in hockey. Maybe it’s something we can try, too.’ ”
Added Janzig de la Luz: “The girls love it. They look so forward to spending time on the ice.”
Janzig de la Luz and Lang were introduced to hockey in different ways. A Mexico City native, Janzig de la Luz and her family moved to the United States when she was 5, and she later attended the Academy of Holy Angels.
“That’s when I learned about hockey, but I never really paid attention,” she said. “For Latinos, it’s soccer. You watch soccer, you play soccer.”
Lang attended Richfield High School, where girls’ hockey became a varsity sport when she was a freshman. After college, she lived in North Carolina before returning to Minnesota.
“We were moving to Minnesota, and Aubrey was like, ‘OK, I want to play hockey.’ I was like, ‘What?’ ” Lang said. “So, I just researched it, and that was the first thing we did when we got here. ‘If we’re in Minnesota, do like the Romans do. We’re playing hockey.’ ”
The Lang and Janzig de la Luz families want to see more people of color playing hockey. So does Glen Andresen, executive director of Minnesota Hockey, the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in the state. The organization falls under the USA Hockey banner.
“If you were to rank our focuses, No. 1 would be growing the game,” Andresen said. “We’ve been excited in the success in that over the last five to 10 years. However, if we were to be honest with ourselves and look at where we have more potential for growth, it’s with families of color or families with different ethnicities. We have prioritized that.”
Andresen said USA Hockey is in the early stages of tracking race and ethnicity in its membership, so complete statistics aren’t available nationally or in Minnesota. He said making people of color comfortable in hockey is important.
“As we’ve been meeting with families and kids who have played the game, one of the things we’ve come to realize is we can’t expect to grow the game much if we don’t change the culture of the experience for those players,” he said.
To make the game more inclusive, Minnesota Hockey started the Little Wild Learn to Play program; the Gear Up Minnesota! program, which supplies equipment to associations to provide to kids; and the Family Mentor program, in which established hockey families welcome new families to the sport.
“We have some more that are more diversity-focused programs that we’ll be launching this year,” Andresen said.
Welcoming new players
Lang said feeling welcome is important to people of color in hockey.
“There’s always minorities playing hockey, but is it an inclusive environment for minorities feeling welcome?” she said. “ … With all the things that are happening with racial injustice and civil unrest, it’s sparking a lot of conversation.”
She hopes that as opportunities for youngsters of color in hockey expand, discrimination on the ice will disappear to the point where they won’t have to warn their children about it. She has participated in focus groups with Minnesota Hockey about issues for people of color.
“We came with our own experiences, but it was really cool to see what everybody else experienced,” she said. “The hard thing to listen to are things on the boys’ side. They experience racial slurs when they’re so young. It’s to the point where some of the kids have signals to their parents in the stands to let them know this is happening.”
Minnesota Hockey on Sept. 30 announced a rule change that will assess match penalties for language, gestures or conduct that is offensive, hateful or discriminatory in nature.
Fun and inclusion
For the Janzig de la Luz and Lang girls, the fun aspect of hockey is front and center. They enjoy the sport and the friendships that have developed from it.
“In second grade, Adelyn came in and I gave her this piece of paper to join hockey,” Aubrey Lang said. “ … I liked that I had a friend playing hockey.”
Aubrey’s and Adelyn’s younger sisters, Mia and Elisa, respectively, relish being the “Littles” in the Hockey Ninas.
“We are strong, independent, cute, fashionable, expensive Littles,” the duo chanted in singsong fashion.
All the while, the quartet shows the way for others like them to become involved in the sport they love.
“It’s nice to see that joy where they’re saying, ‘I’m one of the first but not the last. We’re going to bring more girls of color to play hockey,’ ” Laura Janzig de la Luz said.