Aubrey Kenny-Smith needed to tilt her head straight up to just about anyone she talked to on Saturday. The eight year old has the ends of her long, brown hair dyed turquoise. She said she’s been playing hockey her whole life.

Her favourite thing about the sport is simple: the quality time it brings. 

“I really like spending time with my friends and I think I might’ve met some new people here.”

Although there were no official games happening at TD Place, the building was anything but quiet. Music, cheers and the clash of hockey sticks fill the arena for the EmpowHER Hockey Fest. 

It’s the event’s second year and sees girls between eight and 13 working with players from the Ottawa 67’s. The all-day event splits the kids into groups. If they aren’t on the ice developing their skills, they’re taking lessons from some talented players. 

And there is plenty of talent to go around including members of Ottawa’s professional women’s hockey team, and some other special guests such as four-time Olympic gold medallist and current associate head coach of the Concordia Stingers women’s ice hockey program, Caroline Ouellette, who showed up to lend a hand. 

Four-time Olympic gold medallist, Caroline Ouellette, was also here on Saturday to help out. [Photo @ Devon Tredinnick]

Head coach for the PHWL Ottawa team, Carla MacLeod, was smiling ear to ear as she stepped off the ice, following a cluster of stumbling kids.

“I just love the purity that kids bring, it’s just joy. It’s not about anything other than they enjoy being out there. They put a smile on my face because of it.” 

MacLeod said it was incredible to have this many young girls participating. She added she’s grateful for the opportunity and what it means.

“There’s really no question, a bunch of girls on the ice is very normal now. And that’s growth.”

Jincy Roese, who plays defence for PWHL Ottawa, showed up on Saturday as well. She helped teach a group of young girls about what it means to be a great teammate. As great as it was for the youth, it also was great for her, she said.

“These things we’re teaching kids, we’re role models, those are important for us to be living those out as well. So it’s a good check, ‘Am I doing these things that I’m telling these kids to do as well?’”

Roese added that girls get very excited at the sight of both her and her team and the feeling she gets from that might never wear off.

“I don’t think we’re used to it, and I don’t think that’s something you ever want to get used to. The true appreciation and joy you can bring to someone because of what you do is very special.”  

Greg Amiel, with Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), helped organize the event. He was also here for the first last year. 

“The first year (of EmpowHER Hockey Fest) was really awesome for many kids to have the chance to come here. But we only had just under 100 spots and there was such a high demand that we knew in Year Two, we had to make sure we could open this up even more.”

Amiel stressed how important it was for days like Saturday to be long-term.

“We want this event to become a staple in our community, an event that every single year the capitol region looks forward to,” he said. “From there, who knows what’s next. We’ve been very fortunate to have discussions with other hockey teams who want to do something similar and maybe this is an event that’ll grow across the Ontario Hockey League.”

As for Kenny-Smith, she’s got high hopes for a future career in hockey.

“I want to be in the Olympics.”

Kenny-Smith said her goal comes from having met one the women’s players who also played in the Olympics. Although she can’t remember the name of her inspiration, it doesn’t take away from what she’s gained.

“I really think I learned from her and that I may have a chance to be like her.”