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International Women’s Day: The camaraderie and growth of the YK Robins

Even though sports can benefit everyone, it wasn’t always widely accepted for women to play.
Karen Brown poses with the Stanley Cup at the Ed Jeske Arena during the Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada event in 2020. Photo courtesy of Karen Brown

Even though sports can benefit everyone, it wasn’t always widely accepted for women to play.

Karen Brown, president of the Yellowknife Women’s Hockey Association, started playing when women in hockey wasn’t the status quo.

She says that she’s better because of the sport, her team and the people she plays alongside.

“We’ve encouraged each other and have grown in many different ways together,” says Brown. “It’s just an opportunity for us to come together, to be a little bit competitive (and) develop ourselves as leaders, as mentors, as athletes and as people.”

Brown recalls when she began playing hockey as a young girl.

“Growing up, I was very much encouraged by my parents to play hockey when hockey was not cool for girls,” she says. “I have fond memories of being a tiny little girl on the ice with my little bob skates and my Chicago Blackhawks jersey, and wanting to know so much more about the sport.”

Her father would bring her to the rink to play with a full set of hockey gear.

“Although I was accepted, or I thought I was in hindsight, I was a bit of an anomaly out there.

“To see women in sport now and how much women in sport has grown, it’s a huge achievement for women worldwide,” Brown says. “It gives me a sense of pride.”

She joined the local women’s hockey league when she moved to Yellowknife in 1994.

“Back in 1994, we had maybe about 14 to 20 women who were playing hockey but not in any organized fashion,” she remembers.

The league grew vastly over the years. She credits the late Robin Mercer-Sproule, one of the association’s founding players, for being instrumental in growing women’s hockey in the NWT.

In 2018, the women’s hockey league rebranded to “YK Robins” to honour Mercer-Sproule, who died in 2020 at age 56.

The YK Robins grew to be a more competitive group, Brown says.

They would start playing in tournaments in small towns such as Fort Smith, Hay River and Fort Simpson.

To further highlight the growth of the YK Robins, she mentioned one player in particular, Shakita Jensen, who just attended in the Canada Winter Games in Charlottetown as a coach-in-training.

“(It’s) really exciting when we start to see players branching out into other areas of hockey and becoming mentors themselves,” says Brown.