Women’s hockey league gains popularity
By Ann Archambault, Standard-Times correspondent
They might never see their faces on a box of Wheaties, but the members of the Cape Cod Women’s Hockey League agree the Olympic triumph in Nagano brought validation to their sport.
Until now, women’s hockey has been “something that’s been hidden,” according to player Angela Kukatz of Buzzards Bay.
Women in the Cape Cod Women’s Hockey League come from all over the Cape, Wareham and Plymouth, and range in age from early 20s to late 40s. Though they haven’t yet drawn crowds to equal the Olympics (or even high school boys’ games), the 2-year-old league is growing and improving, thanks to Andrea Bennett of Falmouth.
Ms. Bennett, like most of the other league members, always dreamed of playing ice hockey. She was too small to play with the boys as a child, and as an adult found it difficult to get into women’s leagues, which wouldn’t take beginners.
“When I wanted to learn how to play, no one would teach me,” she said. So she signed up for a hockey clinic with a bunch of teen-age boys. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience, she said, but she learned.
Wanting to get play time, Ms. Bennett distributed fliers and advertised in local papers to drum up interest, and that’s how the Cape Cod Women’s Hockey League got started. Ms. Bennett insisted anyone with a desire to play should be able to join, no matter how inexperienced.
David Jacobson, the league’s president and coach, got on board last year when his wife, Elaine, started playing center. A former high school and college hockey coach, Mr. Jacobson began by helping the goalie, and wound up running all the drills.
There are few differences between men and women’s hockey, he said; the main one is that women’s hockey does not allow body checking.
So much for the thudding sounds of bodies slammed against the boards.
Ms. Bennett soon found out she wasn’t the only woman in the area who had always wanted to play ice hockey. Whether mothers, business owners, pest control technicians, or nurses, women of all walks of life finally found their way to the ice.
“I was told as a kid, ‘You’re going to get hurt if you play with the boys,'” league member Lynn Bacci of Wareham said.
She, too, always wanted to play ice hockey. Instead, she figure-skated on frozen bogs and played in street hockey and pick-up games whenever possible.
Ms. Bacci said the other women are supportive.
“The experienced players help the others; there’s a lot of support. You don’t have to be a college player,” she said, although some did play in college.
Since there’s no body checking in the women’s version of ice hockey, the style is a bit more nurturing. Ms. Bacci said when players accidentally bump into each other, they often pause quickly to ask, “Are you all right?”
For Cheryl Gorveatt, owner of Best for Less Pet Center in Wareham, ice hockey was a welcome break from “standing behind a counter all day.”
A mother of two, Ms. Gorveatt said she never feared getting hurt while playing ice hockey. Seated on a changing room bench, she showed off her padding — knee pads, elbow pads, shoulder and chest pads, a helmet with a mask, and gloves. She said she was well protected, and felt secure about keeping her teeth.
“With all this gear on, I’m never afraid of getting hurt,” she said.
Tracy Smith of Bourne discovered that she, like others, had always wanted to play ice hockey.
“Initially, it really was for exercise, but then I realized what a big part hockey played in my family,” she said. Growing up surrounded by five brothers who all played ice hockey, Ms. Smith substituted field hockey and street hockey until now.
There were other reasons women joined. Joanne MacLellan of Harwich described herself as “a mother of four, desperate to get out of the house.” Jodi Cardoza of Chatham said, “Are you kidding? I would weigh 200 pounds if I didn’t play once a week!”
Tricia Devine of Chatham has been a hockey player for 25 years, and helped found the women’s ice hockey team at Northeastern University. She skated in other women’s leagues since college. Asked whether she thought the U.S. women’s Olympic gold medal could be the boost for women’s hockey that it was for women’s basketball, Ms. Devine said she hoped so.
“It would be great if people could earn a living at something they love,” she said. Ms. Devine’s efforts at Northeastern helped break ground for women to use hockey as a ticket to education through scholarships.
Leaning over the water cooler as she filled her bottle, Beth Schnitzler of Bourne smiled through her mask.
“I’m one of the newer players – it’s quite obvious,” she said. “But it’s fun, really fun.”
As the high school boys’ teams left the ice, the crowd of parents in the stands followed. The noise lessened, and the women, shouldering mammoth equipment bags, got on with the serious business of preparing to play.
Watching from the stands as the first two teams began, Ms. Bennett smiled with pleasure when a relatively new player shot the first goal.
“She’s only been playing two months,” Ms. Bennett said.
At times, men want to play hockey with the women in order to improve their stick skills, she said. Because they can’t body check, women must become more adept with the hockey stick.
Somewhat ironic, but it must be gratifying for Ms. Bennett, who as a small child was not allowed to play hockey with the boys for fear she might get hurt.
Last year the league consisted of about 12 to 15 women, and now it’s grown to around 50. The four teams play each other on Saturday nights, starting at 9 p.m. in Falmouth.
Games are free to spectators; every fourth week is practice. Rink time is precious, requiring a $10 fee from each player each week, and membership in the league is $50.
Equipment can be expensive, but Mr. Jacobson said anyone who just wants to try the game can borrow some equipment until they decide if it’s for them or not.
Photos by John Baptista
Top: Elaine Jacobson of the Wolf Pack, left, gets a stick in on the Nor’easters’ Elise Texiera of Falmouth. Middle: Cape Cod Women’s Hockey League goaltender Donna Harris of the Wolf Pack makes a save. Bottom: Ms. Harris takes a break.
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