Providing Sanctuary & Life Lessons

By Alexis Bohlinger / Photography by Mike Ferdinande

In the world of competition, the term “sports” simplifies the essence of two teams engaged in a battle with a singular objective – to emerge victorious. For some, it’s merely a game, a pastime; but for others, sports transcend this simplicity, holding profound meaning and shaping the very fabric of their existence.

Raised in the embrace of an athletic family, sports are more than a pursuit; they are a way of life. In the tapestry of my childhood, sports emerged as a constant thread, offering an outlet for boundless energy and a refuge from the confines of homework.

As a little girl, I played many sports. I had supportive parents who gave me encouragement to try them all. After a few years of competitive figure skating, I was quite good at balancing on tiny knives, and I couldn’t get enough of it. But something was missing? A stick and a puck, perhaps? Sprinkle in some teammates, a lot of speed and roughhousing with a bit of camaraderie, and you have my favorite sport in the world: ice hockey.

Hockey continues to be a beacon throughout my life providing direction, opportunity, friendships and sanctuary for life’s unexpected curveballs. Now, years later, I’ve had the privilege of coaching female hockey players from the youngest to the collegiate levels. I am a coach developer for USA Hockey and I still play with my friends every Friday. What started as a simple game has grown into a way of life for me and an opportunity to inspire young female hockey players to pursue their passions no matter what obstacles stand in their way. But I’m not alone.

While many of my former players hung up their skates, some still remain tied to the sport. Jenalyn Pangborn, who also switched from figure skating to ice hockey and was a player on the high school team I coached, is now the head coach of the newly formed St. Clair Shores Lakers, the unified high school team. She always knew she wanted to coach. “Growing up in a hockey family, it was something that bonded us together,” said Pangborn. “Hockey season always gave me more confidence. Now as a coach, I encourage the girls to step up and become leaders for their team.” As a young coach, Pangborn hopes to instill perseverance “teaching them the value of effort, even when the game isn’t going their way.”

Another local coach and St. Clair Shores native, Anna Kuehnlein, grew up playing hockey and played Division 1 at Wayne State University. Known in the hockey world as Coach Anna, she’s also a hockey mom and a physical education teacher at St. Joan of Arc School.

Her biggest takeaway from playing hockey, “Learning resilience at such a young age. Being a goalie, it taught me how to show up for people, be a good teammate and be aware of the energy you bring into a room.” She continued, “With sports you get the chance to learn about success and failure in a controlled environment and how to hold yourself accountable.”

Kuehnlein explained how the resilience she learned from hockey not only directed her professional life, but has also greatly aided in her journey as a mom. “One of the ways I speak my kids’ love language is to be at the rink with them, coaching them, and cheering them on,” said Kuehnlein. “I have been where they are and felt the frustration of a tough loss. But with sports you can help young kids realize that they have more power than they know. Just when you thought the tank was empty, you push yourself to that next level.”

Another local female mentor making waves in girls’ hockey is Coach Tina Ciraulo, girls’ hockey director for the Metro Jets organization at Mount Clemens Ice Arena and owner of T2 High Performance Training.

After playing NCAA Division 1 at St. Cloud State, Ciraulo pursued a career in athletics and never looked back. She passes on her love for the sport by encouraging the growth of girls’ hockey and training young ladies to be mentally and physically strong in their pursuit of athletic excellence.

“This sport is much more than just a game. It has given me the opportunity to give back by mentoring, coaching and developing young hockey players,” said Ciraulo. “Throughout my playing and coaching career, I have travelled all over the world and met so many great people and now I get to give back my experience and my knowledge of hockey to young athletes.” Ciraulo’s fierce approach to coaching has inspired many female hockey players to continue playing at the college level and pursue their own careers in athletics.

Hockey has laid the foundation that ultimately encouraged each of us to pursue what we love and have confidence doing it. And, because of the female mentorship we are providing, little girls throughout Macomb County are getting the opportunity to play hockey and work toward a common goal, in a team environment, learning life lessons that will stick with them well into adulthood.

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