VANCOUVER — Nicola Froese says she has always loved playing sports, but hockey was never on her radar because there are so many upfront costs to just trying it out.

That changed last week, when the Vancouver teen stepped on the ice for her first practice with a new team that aims to remove any barriers for girls wanting to play the game.

“I had never really thought about it as an option mostly because getting gear is so expensive, so I never wanted to make the commitment of buying all the gear if I didn’t know how far it would go,” Froese said.

“When the opportunity came about to play without having to buy all the equipment that seemed like a really good option.”

Froese is one of the Tupper Tigers, a team of girls in Grade 8 through 12 at Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School in east Vancouver that recently formed.

Coach Todd Hickling created the team with a particular idea in mind: cost shouldn’t be a barrier to trying out Canada’s national winter sport.

Hickling put out calls through his network asking for donations of used hockey gear so that any girl at Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School could join the team.

“One of the reasons that a lot of players don’t get to experience what it’s like to play hockey is the cost,” he said.

Hickling said he has been overwhelmed by the support of the community, which has made enough donations to create a “gear library” and ensure the fees are covered for the fledgling team.

“Girls come in who don’t have equipment, we fit them with used hockey gear that’s just right for them, and that removes one of the large barriers,” he said.

The school’s parent advisory council raised enough money to cover the team’s fees and Abbie’s Sport Shop also donated new “jills,” which are groin protectors and cost $50 each alone, he said.

The Tigers had their first two practices last week in preparation for their first game in January as one of eight teams in a high school league.

Hickling, who has two kids at the school, said he believes there should be more opportunities for “late beginners” to try out the sport, especially girls who often have fewer opportunities to play.

“I’m excited to get the season started and see what we can do. We’ve been on the ice twice and it was fantastic, the girls who can play can mentor the girls who are just learning,” he said.

“Some are learning basic skating skills, others can skate a bit and are learning stick and puck skills. It’s nice to see everybody working together.”

Ella Ryan-Thompson said she had figure skated a few times in her life, but never used hockey skates before borrowing them from the gear library.

She was nervous getting on the rink, she said, adding that it took half an hour just to get all the gear on and trying a new sport at age 16 came with some anticipated social pressure.

But Ryan-Thompson said she only fell once and her teammates are helping one another out.

“It was better than I expected. I was stressing out about getting to know the other girls on the team and not being the best, but once I stepped on the ice, I realized no one really cared about that. They just cared about having a good time,” she said.

It can be hard to start a new sport at her age, because beginner sports teams are typically geared toward either younger kids or adults, she said. But she’s already hooked.

“I’ve only had two practices but I’ve already gone to the rink with my friend with my hockey skates,” she said.

“I’m getting close to obsessed with it, it’s a really fun sport.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press