Girls and women’s hockey participation in Seattle and the PNW is moving at high pace like a rush up ice. Kraken committed to growth, dedicating Tuesday’s home game to women in hockey — By Bob Condor
On Feb. 1, the Bush School here in Seattle staged an event in honor the 37th annual National Girls & Women in Sports Day. As associate athletic director, Mel White “had the joy of leading” the presentation, which included developing the roster of speakers.
She decided to include herself – and for good reason. White is not only a sports participation leader at the city’s only independent K-through-12 private school, but she also doubles as head coach of the University of Washington women’s hockey club, founded in the 2021-22 season and currently playing out of Kraken Community Iceplex as its home rink.
“I play hockey,” said White to the student assembly. “And here’s my team I coach.”
After the event, a third-grade girl ran up to White, happy to share: “I play hockey too!”
When Coach White and her UW hockey team, decked out in team jerseys, attended the Rivalry Series game between the U.S. and Canada women’s national team late last year at Climate Pledge Arena, all sorts of young girls stopped the players to take photos with them.
“Actually, I just got a text message yesterday from another coach,” said White on Thursday. “He said, ‘hey, a friend of mine’s daughter wants to start playing’ … It’s really cool to see all the support and awareness about girls and women in hockey.”
The Kraken organization is committed to being part of growing girls and women’s hockey throughout the Pacific Northwest. To that end, Tuesday’s home game against Anaheim is the team’s official “Women in Hockey” night, featuring special warmup jerseys the players will wear during warmups and then to be auctioned to benefit the One Roof Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Kraken and Climate Pledge Arena. There will be a variety of moments celebrating the impact and growth of girls and women’s hockey in WA, including a celebration of the record-breaking attendance at the USA v CAN game at Climate Pledge Arena November 22nd, 2022.
Local artist and illustrator Erin Wallace was selected to design the jerseys, providing her artistic take on the primary “S” mark, the secondary anchor logo and the player numbers and lettering. As a Capitol Hill resident these days who was born and raised in the Central District, Wallace brings a self-described “art nerd” childhood for perspective.
“It’s definitely something I call myself,” said Wallace about the term. “It’s a way to own my infatuation with it. I think being able to own being a nerd for your interests can be your power. It gives me a whole world to explore.”
In her work, Wallace likes to “contrast organic shapes and bold graphic values” and looks to incorporate animals and plants. For the jersey, Wallace found inspiration in Sanrio characters and stationery and stickers found in local Uwajimaya stores, plus decided on a clear mission to upturn feminine stereotypes. The result is an “S” mark in the shape of a butterfly and an anchor reimagined as a rhododendron flower.
“There’s never going to be one way to display or represent women,” said Wallace. “I could think feminine-strong like a bird of prey, but I wanted to take obviously feminine in this stereotypical way and subvert it in a playful way. That’s why I chose to draw a butterfly … in my research, I came across folklore across the world, like a swarm of butterflies would often be seen as an omen [visiting team beware]. It’s mythical like the Kraken.”
As for the anchor, Wallace similarly paired it with a flower, “another stereotypical icon.” But her choice, the rhododendron, has a double meaning. It is Washington’s state flower and its poisonous if consumed in large quantities.
“The rhododendron is another kind of hidden meaning behind the image,” said Wallace. “I don’t feel necessarily it represents any toxicity as much as it is overtly physical [another visiting team beware sign].”
For numbering and lettering, the Seattle illustrator “leaned into patterns found in plants and animals” while devising an abstraction of the spots and stripes often serving as camouflage in the wilderness. The warmup jersey features two blues from the Kraken brand and transitions “Red Alert” Kraken eye into an “autumnal orange.”
Both Wallace and White will be on hand for Tuesday’s second-annual “Women in Hockey” night, along with Western Washington Female Hockey Association youth participants on the ice at intermission. For White, her identity as a hockey player and now coach started with watching NHL games on television with her dad at “six or seven.”
“I’m not sure who was playing [in that first game on TV], my dad would know,” said White, laughing. “But I told my parents, ‘Hey, this sport looks like fun. I want to try it. They had no idea where to start, but luckily we little up north [Snohomish] and we were close enough to Sno-King [Ice Arena] in Kirkland.”
White played on boys teams until she was 12, definitely noticing but not wavering because she was the only girl in early years – it was rare to even face a girl on the opposing team – then a couple female teammates joined at ages 11 and 12.
By high school, White was playing year-around and joining co-rec tournaments “just to get in more ice time.” A couple of her coaches suggested she could play college hockey, though it would likely have to be on the East Coast. A good friend and teammate, with family in Buffalo, suggested Division III Buffalo State as a possible destination.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of recruiting also done on the West coast particularly, especially in Washington [in 2009 and 2010],” said White. The idea to even play college hockey came when I was a freshman in high school. I didn’t even know where to start. I was doing research on my own and making a few connections with people.”
Fast forward and White is coaching at UW, mentoring players of all skill levels, stoking a passion and commitment to sticks, skates and the full-on teamwork the sport requires. Her sister, six years younger, is a hockey player and clearly grew up with a role model.
When the so-called hockey gods aligned and White was named head coach of the University’s women’s hockey club, she was prepared.
“I had started coaching youth hockey previously,” said White. “I knew where to pull some drills and what I wanted to see out on the ice. But really the biggest part was finding out, hey, what did these players want out of this? I want to make it the best experience, whether it’s falling in love with the game or continuing to play because they love hockey so much. We had a big contingent of players coming out and playing for the first time. It was definitely the most challenging practice plan I’ve built.”
Before getting back to work at the Bush School, White took a moment to reflect on the growing girls and women’s hockey movement across Seattle and the PNW.
“It’s great for all of us,” she said. “I’m really excited to realize we’re starting programs at high levels for girls. And, beyond that, to literally have people from all walks of my life saying, ‘Yeah, my daughter just started ‘Learn to Play’ and she wants to keep skating and playing’ … For women and girls to say, ‘I play hockey,’ and not be second-guessed, but to be supported, it’s just such a huge, huge step.”