I’m still unsure which pads went on first, but once I was in full ice hockey gear, I felt like a gladiator ready for battle. As a youngster growing up in New York state, I had no jock tendencies, preferring books to pucks. Thus, the only pads I was familiar with were the plastic shin guards hidden in my tube socks that one season I played under-12 girls soccer. I ran track in high school, but having chosen a sport that was void of any contact, I was indeed a newbie when it came to gear.
So nothing had prepared me for the head-to-toe armor I was encased in that summer afternoon at the Kingsgate Ice Arena at 14326 124th Ave NE in Kirkland, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.
On August 8, the Seattle Women’s Hockey Club hosted a GHAT (Give Hockey A Try) session for women over 18. Each veteran paired up with a beginner, like me, to help her put on her pads, lace skates, and provide encouragement. About 25 beginners showed up for the free event.
I was paired with Josie, who snapped the three straps on my helmet and adjusted the size for a secure fit. At 5’4″ and 145 lbs., I was one of smaller players but Josie worked some magic with athletic tape on my kneepads and ill-fitting pants. Once you’re on the ice, skating is all that matters.
We did a drill practicing getting up after falling, one of the most important skills. After I got the hang of it, I just went for it. You’ll only become a better skater by skating, I thought. You can watch YouTube videos and talk about it all day, but it’s all about ice time. Unlike men’s hockey, women’s hockey has no checking, but the sport inherently has contact, falling and wipeouts. Even the best players lose footing, catch an edge and land on their face, or another player.
So where can women play hockey in Washington state? In the east, you can try the Spokane Women’s Hockey League, which says on its website: “Ice Hockey really is a sport that anyone can participate in. Young or old, skilled or just beginning, there is a place for you on the ice.” Centrally located, the Wenatchee Banshee Hockey league is another rec league that has players from 18-50+: “The Banshees are all about getting a good workout, learning more about the game, and MOST importantly, having lots of FUN!,” according to its website.
If you’re in Whatcom County, you can play with the SHL, which skates in the Bellingham Sportsplex at 1225 Civic Field Way in Bellingham. It’s a no-checking recreational league that has players of all abilities. According to the Washington Girls’ & Women’s Ice Hockey Teams website, women’s hockey leagues exist in Tacoma, Shoreline, Vancouver, Wash. and other cities, along with girls leagues too: http://www.whockey.com/state/wa/teams.html
For most of the adult leagues you must be at least 18 years old. Registration, which includes ice time and insurance, can be a bit pricey (between $250 and $400) and of course you will need to plunk down another few hundred dollars for protective pads, skates and jerseys. But think of it as a long-term investment into your health and well-being.
On October 11, the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League) began its inaugural season. The first paid professional women hockey league in North America is paying its players on four teams in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut and New York. You will get chills (literally) watching the inspiring 45-second video on their home page to see where the future of women’s hockey is going.
So for my first time playing hockey, I didn’t score any goals and I was super sore the following days, even those muscles in my neck. But I thank those veteran players for being so encouraging and helping us newbies get on the ice and giving hockey a try. At 45, I probably won’t be trying out for the NWHL, but I’m definitely going to be watching their games.
For more info:
Index of women’s & girls’ hockey in Washington state: http://www.whockey.com/state/wa/teams.html
Jennifer Karchmer is a writer in Bellingham, Wash. Read more of her work here: http://www.jenniferkarchmer.com/essays.html