RICHFIELD, Minn. (KCAU) — After experiencing her first hockey game as a child, Meredith Lang was a fan for life. While she starred on the track, Lang played hockey in high school, almost always as the only woman of color on the ice. So when her daughters wanted to play at an early age, Meredith wanted to make sure her experience in the sport would be much different.

“That saying that we always say, ‘if you see it, you can be it,’ and that is so true,” said Lang “Not only in hockey but yes, in real life.”

That led Meredith to found not only Minnesota Unbounded, but the Hockey Ninas, groups that are focused on making the sport of hockey more accessible to the BIPOP, or Black, Indigenous, and person of color, communities in the Minneapolis area.

“There’s an access issue, and it’s not always financial. A lot of it is time. What I find in the BIPOP communities is that retention is the issue. That’s more of the problem,” she said.

In order to break those barriers and build retention, Lang has taken a grassroots approach to building the hockey community.

“If I have a captured audience, through my powers of persuasion you will at least come to learn how to skate. I mean I don’t care what I have to do,” said Lang. “If I have to do a house call to get you we are going to learn how to skate. The build it, it will come model is past. That is no more. You actually have to go into these communities and make sure your infrastructure is set up to have an environment for our players of color to learn to feel accepted, to learn to feel like they have a place to belong. Because there are already so many barriers that are in place before they even step out on the ice.”

Through Meredith and the rest of Minnesota Unbounded and the Hockey Ninas, it’s not just moral victories, but tangible results that are starting to show that make the long days all the more worth it.

“Right now we have high school seniors that are going on to play college hockey. I mean one of our girls is going on to play at Penn State. We’re so excited for her,” Lang said.

As Meredith continues to grow the sport, she’s caught the attention of those at the highest level of hockey, and is currently one of three finalists for the NHL’s Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award. It’s something she’s grateful for, but isn’t how she bases her program’s success.

“Success to us would be we move out of the way, and then the next generation of people start. So it’s our coaches, our high school mentors, and our players. And for us we’re just excited to see now our youth becomes the high school mentors. The high school mentors become the coaches. And that’s just what we want to continue to produce,” said Meredith.

This past year Meredith’s organizations have helped fifty families. A big jump for 30 just a year ago. And the more families they reach, the better the culture that will be in place for the next generation of hockey stars.