It’s fitting that the Minnesota Whitecaps will play their first games as the newest team in the National Women’s Hockey League during this weekend’s International Ice Hockey Federation’s “World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend.” Because as excited as Whitecaps players are about the team’s entry into the league, many seem just as inspired by the impact it will have on growing the game. “I think it’s just important for little girls to have role models, and see women be able to do these things,” Whitecaps player Winny Brodt Brown told an editorial writer.

Many of those girls and young women have already been inspired by high school and college players, or the gold-medal-winning U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team. Now they’ll be able to learn from, and look up to, the Whitecaps. The expansion team, which will join four established East Coast teams, has been playing an independent schedule since its start in 2004. It now joins the NWHL with a deep roster, including 22 out of 25 players who were born in, or played college hockey in, Minnesota.

The first big test will come against the defending champion, the New York area-based Metropolitan Riveters, in front of a capacity crowd at the 1,200-seat TRIA Rink in St. Paul. The new Wild practice facility isn’t the only thing the two teams will share: The NHL’s Wild will help with marketing, promotion and communications efforts. The impact will be felt in St. Paul on Saturday when the Whitecaps drop the puck at 4 p.m., followed by a Wild game at the Xcel Energy Center at 7 p.m.

Minnesota’s status as the “State of Hockey” can be seen in both teams and in youth participation rates: Despite a significantly smaller population, Minnesota has the nation’s highest number of girls aged 8 and under, which is a key metric used to measure youth participation.

Many maintain their passion for the game and play on one of 119 high school teams, or one of the five NCAA Division I or other state-based college teams. In fact, 152 Minnesotans were playing at the top college level last year, more than double the 72 from Massachusetts, the second-highest total. The Whitecaps’ entry into the NWHL is “going to have a huge benefit,” Glen Andresen, executive director of Minnesota Hockey, told an editorial writer. “It’s another thing for girls to be inspired by.”

Girls, yes. But boys, too. And no doubt many adults who become fans of the Minnesota Whitecaps, a true “home” team.