Mariella Drossos and Zita Molnar, who skate for the Clearwater Cyclones and are part of the Florida Alliance girls hockey program, may not be ready to join the pro women’s hockey ranks just yet.
Nonetheless, the girls who have trained and played games at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar and Clearwater Ice Arena, might have a head start.
Drossos, 10, and 7-year-old Molnar recently took part in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association Secret Dream Cap Tour. Both were flagbearers before games played at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel.
Not coincidentally, they envision playing professionally one day.
“She wants to be a hockey player,” said Molnar’s mother, Hedvig, who got emotional watching her daughter take a few laps around the ice while carrying a team flag. “I was crying the whole time.”
“It was easy,” said Zita, adding that getting to skate on the ice with the pro women’s teams “was my dream.”
Drossos, who began playing hockey as an 8-year-old, appreciated the opportunity for her pregame skate with a flag and standing in line with the professionals.
“I felt like I was finally recognized,” she said, adding that as she skated off the ice, Olivia Mason, her girls hockey teammate, shouted, “Go Mariella!”
Games at AdventHealth Center Ice marked the second time for women’s hockey to make its mark locally. Team USA trained there in 2017 then won gold medals in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. The recent three-day PWHPA showcase served as another significant promotion for the sport.
“Hockey in Florida’s exploding, on the girls side as well,” said Lee Zerfuss, who coaches three girls teams with the Cyclones.
The PWHPA’s nine-city tour, which has upcoming stops in Virginia and California, began in October and concludes in late March. The Tampa Bay Lightning has partnered with the PWHPA, as has other National Hockey League teams.
“We always felt very appreciated here, by the Tampa Bay Lightning and the community,” said Kelly Pannek, a two-time U.S. Olympian who also played on a national championship team at the University of Minnesota.
Zerfuss said the women’s hockey players coming to the area gives local girls something to strive for: “It gives them a vision. It gives them a path. Now they have role models.”
The Florida Alliance girls program consisted of just two teams and 23 girls statewide when it started five years ago. Now, there are nine teams and 170 players.