NHL to SEATTLE

Snohomish native Lexi Bender reflects on Women’s Hockey in Seattle ahead of 2018 NWHL season

Lexi Bender has been all around the hockey world.

She developed into an elite hockey talent at the prestigious Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota. She made runs at NCAA championships at Boston College and ended up sticking around Beantown to play for the NWHL’s Boston Pride.

However, despite all of her travels, it’s easy to find her roots.

After all, the first words of her Twitter bio are “Snohomish native.”

Born and raised within a stone’s throw of downtown Seattle, Bender grew up with the game of hockey, but had to take her talents elsewhere in order to pursue her hockey dreams.

With the city on the cusp of becoming the 32nd NHL market, Bender hopes that girls will be able to pursue their hockey dreams in their hometown on the banks of the Puget Sound.

“I loved going to Shattuck St. Marys, it was an amazing opportunity,” Bender told NHLtoSeattle.com “But, to do it again and if I had the opportunity to be in Seattle, I don’t think I would have left home at 14 to go to the Midwest. Hopefully, the next generation of girls can do everything at home and won’t have to go through those winters.”

From Seattle to Shattuck

Bender was introduced to hockey at the age of six by her father, who played at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Given a lack of girls hockey programs in the area, she played with boys teams until she was a teenager and broke her collarbone in a game.

At that point, she left to pursue her hockey dream at Shattuck St. Mary’s, where she played with the girls team earned her way into a spot on the Boston College Eagles. A few years later, she was drafted 15th overall by the Boston Pride in the inaugural NWHL Draft in 2015.

Even though Seattle is her home, she fell in love with the hockey passion in Boston.

“I wanted to go to Boston College since I was in fourth grade,” she said. “So, that was a dream come true to me. And then to go to three out of four Frozen Fours, a national championship game, I had a blast here. I kind of fell in love with how much people get behind their sports in Boston.

“Hopefully it’s something if we get an NHL team in Seattle we can kind of implement that at home. I just fell in love with the fans out here, the hockey and of course the opportunity to play in the NWHL. It’s the first league in North America to pay female players, so I knew it was something that I had to be a part of.”

Growing the Game

Since she left Seattle, girls hockey opportunities have expanded significantly. According to Bender, there are now three viable girls hockey programs in the area, which is three more than there were when she was growing up. In addition, the Washington Wild girls program is now part of the Jr. NWHL network, making it an official youth organization of the NWHL.

“I don’t really know specifics of what that’s going to entail,” Bender said of the partnership. “But any exposure you can get, any connection nationwide and showing girls that there is a community and connecting players from all different parts of the country will only continue to grow the game.”

That’s exactly what this partnership will do. According to the Wild’s website, “The goal of the Jr. NWHL is to connect future draft picks to our current players. With exclusive access to NWHL resources, the Jr. NWHL is the premier network for youth hockey. By connecting the NWHL with grassroots hockey programs, we strive to continue the growth of hockey at all age levels.”

Bender thinks that, given all of the hockey buzz on the men’s and women’s side, Seattle is ready for a women’s hockey boom.

“I think just because it’s such a young market,” she said. “Minnesota, Massachusetts, those markets continue to grow, but they’ve kind of had the initial boom. I think Seattle is right on the cusp of that.  I think that as soon as there’s something to focus on and push, then it’s going to take off. Especially with the proximity to British Columbia and everything like that.”

Hockey, the Lexi Bender Way

Even with all of these new opportunities for women’s hockey in Seattle, Bender is grateful for the way her hockey career developed and how she has been able to represent her hometown with pride.

“I’m very much a roots person,” she said. “You are where you come from. Growing up in Seattle, I mean, I love my family, I love the mountains. But also the diversity of growing up playing with the boys, running up to Canada every other weekend, getting my collarbone broken, things like that shaped me into the player I am. The boys I grew up with, I’m so thankful for them for hitting me in the corners and not taking it easy on me. I’m just so proud to be from Seattle and I just want the best for the hockey community.”

With her third NWHL season on the horizon, Bender is ready for another run at the Isobel Cup with the Pride. Boston won the Cup in 2015 before Bender joined the team, and she’s amped to get the season started.

As she put it, hockey can’t last forever. She knows she won’t be able to play the game forever, so she plans on giving it her all to bring Isobel back to Boston, and eventually, to her native Snohomish.

“I’m starting to move on professionally and finishing off law school in the next few years and can’t really be a lawyer and do the hockey thing,” she said. “So, I definitely want to win that before I go and have a summer with the cup.”

The Boston Pride will launch its campaign to re-claim the Isobel Cup this Saturday with a matchup against the Metropolitan Riveters. For more information on the NWHL, visit www.nwhl.zone.

Cutler Klein
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