The longtime Lady Ducks player returns after college to take on an important role with the club.
Something about helping out younger players, regardless of their ages or skill levels, took hold with Lilli Marchant.
It began with helping Kathy McGarrigle, the Lady Ducks’ director, and her mother Caroline, the LDs’ general manager, with spring and summer clinics. It continued during her time playing Division I hockey at Lindenwood University, where she and her teammates would partner with youth associations in the St. Louis area to run clinics after their season.
“Those little pieces, seeing the impact you can make, was appealing to me,” Lilli said. “I love working with kids. Changing one piece of their game can make all the difference.”
A fixture at the Rinks ever since her father Todd was traded to the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2006, Lilli is spending more time than ever there because of her dual roles as head coach of the LDs’ 14U AAA and 19U AAA teams this season.
Lilli completed her playing career at Lindenwood in 2020 after serving as an assistant captain and graduating with a biology degree. Graduate school and a future somewhere in the medical field seemed like the next opportunities to hop over the boards for.
Still, coaching stayed with her. She helped Jen Friedman and Zealin Cronk coach the LDs’ 14U AAA team last season while working full-time.
“Kathy and my mom kept asking me, ‘What do you want to do?’ “ Lilli recalled. “I wanted to do more and help out any way I could. I’ve always been in leadership roles on teams, so head coaching eventually was what I wanted to do.”
This past offseason, tomorrow met today and Lilli took over the 14U AAA team. After a summer appeal to USA Hockey re-opened the door for the Lady Ducks to ice an 19U AAA team, Lilli found herself suddenly double shifting.
“Let’s try it,” she said, adding, “I have a great support system with my family and the program.”
McGarrigle said Lilli has both the head and the heart for coaching. Neither of those have been overnight developments.
“A lot of girls come back and want to be involved, but it’s a side burner activity,” McGarrigle said. “Committing to it full-time is a big ask. You have to be able to handle parents respectfully and assertively. Lilli had the hockey knowledge and is mature ... but, she really took to both player and parent communication like a veteran coach.”
It makes complete sense that the hockey bug bit Lilli early on. Born in Edmonton while her father Todd was playing for the Oilers in 1998, she was on the ice at 18 months. She began playing for her mother Caroline in a co-ed in-house league in Columbus while her dad was on the Blue Jackets. She was in third grade when the Ducks acquired Todd.
“At that time the youngest Lady Ducks team was 12U,” Lilli recalled. “I played for a Rinks in-house team. My sister Ashley (who played at Chatham University) was on it at some point, but there were times I was the only girl. I also took a lot of lessons.”
The hard work paid off. The LDs added a 10U team the next season, and Lilli made it and even had opportunities to practice with the 12U team.
Of course, there was another milestone event during that 2006-07 season that left an impression on her – the renamed Anaheim Ducks winning California’s first Stanley Cup.
“That was super cool,” Lilli said. “Even though I was 9 I remember quite a bit. It was so cool to see my dad go through that experience. You realize what a grind it is. There were times he was barely here. I remember going to all of the home games. It was so fun.
“The wives and kids of players on that team were super close. We’d have team parties during the away games.”
There was a collateral benefit, she added, that has served her well throughout her own hockey career.
“I learned a lot from it,” Lilli said. “We saw first-hand it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get to where you want to go.”
Those were hallmarks in the Marchant household as well.
“Lilli was always a hard worker,” McGarrigle said. “Caroline is very demanding. There was no special treatment. All of their kids (younger brother Tim plays at Lindenwood as well) had to do the work. You could see Lilli always was motivated.”
Lilli is excited for what the future holds for the LDs. The club has expanded from three teams when she and her sister began playing in 2006 to 16 this season.
“More and more girls realize they can play what people used to call a boys game,” she said. “It’s a girls game now, too. We can’t go and hit someone and take the puck like the boys can, so we have to play a little differently, but it’s hockey.
“Obviously the sheer number of girls playing has grown tremendously, and that is so cool to see.”
It’s not just quantity, however. The quality of play has improved, too.
“It used to be if you were a top-line player for a girls AAA program, you almost automatically had a D-I offer,” McGarrigle said. “That’s not the case now because there are so many more girls programs, and it’s gotten more competitive for those spots. Division I has been slow to expand, but D-III has added a lot of programs, so there still are great places to continue playing hockey.”
Given Lilli’s recent experience with going through the process of selecting and then playing at an NCAA program, she could have an E.F. Hutton air to her when addressing her teams.
“Her having just left Division I, she can look to her left or to her right on the 19U team and tell them what they need to do,” McGarrigle said. “They know she just did it.”
That has been Lilli’s message to parents as well as players.
“I was in their shoes not too long ago,” she said. “I probably had the same questions their girls did at 13 or 14. It is possible. No matter what, you can play. The level you play at is up to you, how hard you want to work.”
Another difference for girls hockey players is now the path to adult leagues can be delayed because of the advent and staying power of professional women’s hockey leagues.
“The (NHL) Ducks are a big part of why kids want to play,” Lilli said. “But women’s hockey has pro leagues now. We have 5-, 6-year-olds who will say to us, ‘I want to be them.’
“That’s why my love of the game is so strong. I’m glad we can provide opportunities. It’s huge that the Lady Ducks and the Jr. Ducks have lots of levels for kids to play. It’s opening doors to so many options for them to try out.”
Lilli’s role with the Lady Ducks also includes social media work and communication with parents.
“What’s great to see is she has this mindset of ‘I want to help these young people be better hockey players and people,’ “ McGarrigle said. “She has really shown that she has the ability to take on more responsibility, and she has all the markers of someone who can handle it.”