All-girls hockey hot

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STOWE, Vt. (AP) –Here’s Kayla Colang’s idea of a perfect afternoon: careen around an ice rink with stick in hand, passing the puck to teammates or drilling slap shots at a goal.

Colang, 17, of Fairbanks, Alaska, started playing hockey at age 5 and never stopped. She competed against boys before they outgrew her, joined a girls’ team at 12, and then as a teenager, followed her dream all th e way across the country, to the North American Hockey Academy.

Here, she and 39 other teenage girls study and skate from October to March, honing their skills at what its founder says is the nation’s only all-girls’ hockey high school.

The school, which charges $23,000 a year, has no trouble finding applicants. About 100 girls are turned away annually.

Its popularity mirrors that of women’s hockey, which made its Olympic debut in 1998 and has quickly taken root at the high school level.

At least 50,000 girls and women now play, up from about 6,000 in 1991, according to USA Hockey, Inc., the sport’s national governing body.

“If you look at collegiate number of teams that have gone varsity as well as club programs, it’s exploded over the last decade,” said Michele Amidon, USA Hockey’s director of women’s ice hockey operations.

In Vermont, 23 high schools have added girls’ hockey since 2002, according to Bob Johnson, director of student activities for the Vermont Principals Association. Some did so in response to incentives offered by former Gov. Howard Dean, who offered to raise $10,000 in private funds for any high school that started a program when he was in office.

Not everyone has access to a team or league, though.

“A lot of girls here run out of opportunities,” said Bill Driscoll, director of the Hockey Academy. “We really feel this fills a void.”

Driscoll, a former player and coach, founded the Academy in 1999 when a friend’s daughter wanted to continue her ice career but didn’t want to go to a prep school. It had 14 girls the first year, and 24 the next. Now, 40 girls attend, enough for two teams.

Among assistant coaches are Kim Beneduce, a 2001 graduate of Northeastern University who played four years for the Huskies; and Joe Milan, former women’s hockey head coach at Williams College.

Former Boston Bruins goalie Vincent Riendeau works as a consultant at the academy, teaching goaltending skills. He played two seasons for Boston before being released in August 1995.

Living in a converted ski inn near Stowe Mountain ski resort, the girls spend their mornings on academics, working one-on-one sessions with teachers in office-like cubicles, with the teachers trying to match the curriculum from the girls’ home schools.

The girls are serious about their studies. They have to be: If their grades fall below a B-, they can’t play.

After lunch, it’s practice, workouts at an offsite fitness facility, chores and a two-hour study hall before lights go out at 11 p.m. In between, the girls lounge around with friends, watch videos or log onto their laptops.

“Everybody here is working toward the same goal of playing college hockey,” said Teddy Fortin, 18, of Brunswick, Maine.

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