Lexi Bender looks for questions after giving instructions at a women’s hockey clinic she co-hosted Friday afternoon at Xfinity Arena in Everett. Bender, who is from Snohomish, is a professional hockey player with the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Lexi Bender looks for questions after giving instructions at a women’s hockey clinic she co-hosted Friday afternoon at Xfinity Arena in Everett. Bender, who is from Snohomish, is a professional hockey player with the Boston Pride of the National Women’s Hockey League. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Snohomish native Bender inspires local women’s hockey players

As a young girl, Lexi Bender of Snohomish had a chance to meet Brooke Whitney and Kelly Stephens, two Seattle-area women who were among the nation’s best female hockey players.

Whitney, who is from Snohomish, won the 2002 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top player in NCAA women’s hockey in her senior season at Boston’s Northeastern University. Stephens, who grew up in Shoreline, won a pair of national championships at the University of Minnesota and received a bronze medal with the 2006 U.S Olympic team.

“My dad set it up for me to meet both of them,” Bender said, “and that was extremely influential for me in what I wanted to pursue.”

Indeed, her goal was to become an elite hockey player herself, and after getting advice and encouragement from Whitney and Stephens, she set about making it happen. Bender moved from Snohomish to attend high school and play top-level hockey in Minnesota, and then went on to play four seasons at Boston College, which has a strong women’s hockey program.

The 23-year-old Bender, an All-Hockey East first-team selection as a senior in 2015-16, graduated from BC in the spring and is now playing professionally with the Boston Pride of the second-year National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). But having never forgotten how meaningful it was to meet elite players such as Whitney and Stephens, Bender has likewise tried to encourage and support the next generation of up-and-coming players.

Last Friday, Bender appeared at a free holiday skate for female hockey players ages 13-22 at Everett’s Xfinity Arena. She was joined by former Ohio State star Natalie Spooner, who won a gold medal as a member of Team Canada at the 2014 Olympic Games.

“The looks you see on these girls’ faces when you do these events … they’re so wanting to learn,” Bender said. “They want to get where you are, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes. They’re just beginning to understand all the work that goes in and they’re willing to do it.”

Bender’s hope is to see the continued growth in girls hockey in the Puget Sound area. The idea, she said, is that younger girls in the future will have more opportunities here at home than she herself had years ago.

“I mean, I love my experience (in hockey),” she said. “But if there had been an opportunity for me to stay home when I was 14 (instead of moving to Minnesota), I would have done that. So for girls to be able to have opportunities (to advance in hockey) and to give girls the opportunities to stay local and pursue their dreams, that’s very relevant to me.”

Bender was chosen to join the United States national team program while still at Boston College, and in 2014 she was named to the U.S. Under-22 Select Team for a summer series against Canada. She had hopes of being on the American team for the 2016 Winter Olympics, but was cut from the program last summer.

Being an Olympian “was a dream I had for a long time,” Bender said, “so that was incredibly disappointing.” Still, she found consolation from conversations with a mental skills coach, where “a lot of what we talk about is bringing your best every day and letting that be your measuring stick.”

Though the disappointment was severe, “you’re also able to look at yourself in the mirror and know that you gave it everything you had, and then you can look back with no regrets,” she said.

Bender, who left Boston College with a double major in geoscience and economics, works today as a sales associate for Tradition Energy in Boston, where she monitors the energy market and interacts with clients. But hockey still takes a good bit of her time, given that her NWHL season runs from September to April with one and sometimes two games on most weekends.

The league “is so new that I think the potential isn’t capped,” Bender said. “There are still a lot of possibilities and a lot of unknowns. But we put a great product on the ice, and the fans have been incredibly dedicated to seeing our growth.

“With everyone working together, I think we have a chance to (create) something really special.”

Talk to us

More in Sports

Mariner's Jailin Johnson chases down a loose ball through Glacier Peak's defense Thursday evening at Glacier Peak High School in Snohomish on May 27, 2021. Mariner won 64-36. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Boys basketball season review: Mariner dominates Wesco

The Marauders were a force on offense and defense on their way to a perfect record this past season.

Trina Davis watches the while playing a game for ASA Tel Aviv in Israel. (Moshik Oshri)
She fled rocket fire in Israel for the safety of Marysville

MPHS grad Trina Davis was enjoying her first professional soccer season when the fighting broke out.

Silvertips' Cole Fonstad attempts a shot with Chiefs' Mason Beaupit defending during the final home game Friday night at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett on May 7, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
WHL plans full season at full capacity in 2021-22

The Silvertips will begin a 68-game schedule on Oct. 1 and playoffs will return to the old format.

AquaSox's manager, Louis Boyd, Funko Field at Everett Memorial Stadium in Everett on July 28, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
AquaSox fall in big hole, lose to Canadians

Everett allows eight runs in the first two innings in a 9-5 loss to Vancouver.

The Herald’s Athlete of the Week poll.
Vote for The Herald’s Prep Athlete of the Week for June 7-13

The Athlete of the Week nominees for June 7-13. Voting closes at… Continue reading

Community roundup: EvCC announces 2021 Hall of Fame class

Plus, locals compete at NCAA track and field finals, disc golf is coming to Stanwood and more.

Report: Racial comments targeted Mariner basketball players

Investigators found Lakewood fans’ behavior created a “racially charged” situation during tense May contest.

Julio Rodriguez (pictured last month) compiled another impressive series at the plate as the Everett AquaSox took four of five games from the Eugene Emeralds last week. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
AquaSox weekly update: J-Rod returns, Sox leap into 1st place

Julio Rodriguez and others continue to excel at the plate as Everett climbs back atop the High-A West.

File photo
AquaSox can’t come up with clutch hits in loss to Canadians

Everett leaves 19 runners on base in a 4-3 loss to Vancouver on Wednesday.

File photo
AquaSox bats erupt in series-opening road win over Canadians

Everett pounds out 15 hits in a 16-9 victory over Vancouver.

Everett Community College athletic programs emerged with four official North Region championships and two unofficial region titles. (Daniel Acosta / Everett Community College)
Everett Community College completes banner year in athletics

The Trojans emerged with four official North titles and two unofficial region crowns this season

File photo
AquaSox bounce back with win over Emeralds

Everett pitchers shut down the Eugene bats in a 6-1 victory on Saturday night.