By Radha Agarwal
A group of B.C. ‘Winterhawks’ are taking the world of girl’s hockey by storm, representing the province for the first time ever in the 64th annual U13 World Championships in Quebec City this week.
But for coach Karen Kos and her North Shore Winter Club team, this feat not only represents the tireless efforts of each individual player – it’s a highlight in the journey of women’s hockey.
The 11-day long tournament was initially in tandem with Quebec Winter Carnival. It has been a growing ground for NHL legends, like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, along with prominent players like Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. Due to its long and rich heritage, it is also described as hockey’s version of the Little League World Series.
After six decades, it was just last year in 2023 that the series added a Female Division.
“It goes back to when I was young myself and I wanted to play hockey. I was told I couldn’t play because I was a girl,” says Kos.
For the coach, taking part in the tournament marks a significant benchmark of transformation and growth for women’s and girl’s hockey.
“These girls were just siblings running around a rink when their brothers were playing at the North Shore Winter Club. Here we are today, with this phenomenal group of young ladies pursuing their passion. It hits my heart beyond belief.”
Kos has coached these girls since they were five and six years old. Now 11 and 12 years old, they are part of the 15-player squad at the winter club. They crushed the Pacific Coast Amateur Hockey Association Tier 1 U13 League, taking first place.
“I really believe in mentorship,” Kos said. “When these girls are walking around the club, they’re getting high fives from young girls that are aspiring to be like them. It’s really important that they’re not just trailblazers in their sport, but set a really positive vibe for the younger ones, and mentor them throughout their journeys.”
The Winterhawks are playing their first exhibition match on Feb 7, and officially competing against the “Suisse Romande Chouettes” from Switzerland on Feb 9.
Kos believes that their team is well-equipped for some stiff competition this year. She was fortunate enough to visit Toronto in January and familiarize herself with what’s to come.
“We do know there will be some great teams there. I think we’ll be okay, we’ve a great skating group which understands the game, their roles and their positions,” she said.
Their foremost strategy is to maintain the hunt for the puck and keep possession. In Kos’s informed opinion, there is something special about this group of girls, and when they hit the ice it’s magical to watch. She says they’re highly competitive and feisty, while also being very respectful and trusting towards one another.
She’s preparing the team to have over 10,000 fans on the bleachers in Quebec.
“We’ll have lots of hockey and lots of fun. But most importantly, we’ll do our best to make B.C. proud.”