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Six talented players on Little Caesars AAA U19 Girls Hockey team will continue playing the game they love, now as Division 1 collegiate athletes. Recently, high school seniors Sidney Jackel, Teagan Vaughan, Ella Blackmore, Kaia Malachino, Cassie Hall and Ava McIllmurray gathered with their families and coaches at their Little Caesars Arena practice facility and officially committed to play hockey at Division 1 schools.

Some of the players began hockey as young as four years old, looking up to older siblings who played the sport, and professional players like Manon Rhéaume, who was an important role model for many young women interested in hockey. Rheaume, coined as the “First Woman of Hockey,” coached U12 hockey and served as the Little Caesars AAA Girls Program Coordinator. Rhéaume began working with the Little Caesars league seven years ago, sharing a start time with three of this year’s signees. “

When I started seven years ago, my goal was to make a difference in those girls’ lives. Hockey taught me so many life lessons and I knew it would do the same thing to them,” said Rhéaume. “To see them along the way, facing adversity and to keep going and finally get to their dream of going to college is the most satisfying part.” 

For Andrew McIllmurray, Manager for the U19 Girls team, this year is exceptionally special since his daughter is one of the college signees. “It’s amazing how quickly the time has gone by, and it’s been incredible to see how hard each of these girls have worked to get to this moment, which to me means that deserve it. And for us parents, it makes us proud to have watched them set a goal and achieve it,” said McIllmurray. 

While each player has personal reasons for wanting to attend their respective colleges, they all have a shared goal to expand access to hockey for women. We sat down with them at their signing event as they reflected on their hockey journeys. Here are their responses along with their throwback hockey photos:

Ella Blackmore, this year’s captain, started playing hockey at age 4 and is attending Northeastern University in the fall. 

“I love hockey. It’s a huge passion of mine, and it lets me have a goal while I work hard and build great friendships.”

Cassie Hall started playing hockey at age 4 and is attending the University of Wisconsin – Madison in the fall. 

“I wanted to play hockey in college to continue playing the sport that I love while getting better and being surrounded by the best players.” 

Sidney Jackel started playing hockey at age 4 and is attending Lindenwood University in the fall. 

“I want to be the best player I can be, and play at the highest level that I can, and college is the next height.” 

Kaia Malachino, one of this year’s assistant captains, started playing hockey at age 4 and is attending Colgate University in the fall. 

“My favorite hockey memory is winning the national championships back-to-back, and I’m excited to be a college athlete and hopefully keep winning.” 

Ava McIllmurray started playing hockey at age 5 and is attending Lindenwood University in the fall.

“I love hockey so much, and all the friendships that come with it. Keeping that in college is exciting and something to look forward to.”

Teagan Vaughan started playing hockey at age 8 and is attending Assumption College in the fall. 

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in college, and I always knew hockey was for me. I never want to quit. My goal has always been to go the farthest I can go in hockey, and right now, that’s college.”