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Breaking the ice: a woman’s foray into adult hockey

For some, tonight marks the official start of the hockey season. But for me, its already night Three. The difference is that Im moving beyond life as a spectator and trying out a new role… as a player.

Im only just starting to learn about off-sides and icing as part of my indoctrination into what is apparently the fastest growing sport in Canada womens hockey.

Now, I may be a rookie on ice, but Im a veteran of shivering in cold arenas as the mom of a hockey-mad boy. Not that I want to complain much; this has been time well spent. Id read the newspaper, catch up on neighborhood gossip and bitch about the inadequacy of the so-called heat lamps.

Id occasionally glance down at the little Timbits wobbling on their blades. As my son graduated to a more competitive league, Id glance up only during his shift, sip my coffee and seek out his helmet and jersey.

I never suffered stick envy; not once did I crave to be carrying the puck over the blue line or slapping one in from just inside the face-off circle.

Its not that Im a hockey hater. Some of my favourite family members are hopelessly devoted to the game and over the years Ive faked my way actually  producing a couple of TV current affairs docs. A dash of Kevin Sylvester in the morning and a sip of Roy McGregor often led to story pitches at Metro Morning.

I know the mantra, hockey is our culture, arenas the Canadian equivalent of cathedrals, blah, blah, blah. I even sort of bought into it: one Christmas, I gave my husband a copy of Peter Gzowskis book about the Edmonton Oilers and Wayne Gretzky, The Game of Our Lives, and then devoured it myself during a snowed-in Sunday.

The book sufficiently moved me to write my first and only fan letter. A few weeks later, Peter dropped into the CBC Radio newsroom in Regina during a trip out west and banged out a response using my own typewriter.

So I wasnt hostile to hockey. It just never made in onto my top hundred priorities for the upcoming week.

But last winter when my sons team entered a weekend tournament, clearly cast as the sacrificial lamb, only to emerge on Sunday afternoon as victors, I was bitten, perhaps even smitten.

As these 11-year old boys slapped each other on the back and held their trophy aloft while skating around Weston Arena, I felt a twitch of envy for their genuine camaraderie and unadulterated joy. Id never imagined playing a team sport, but suddenly it felt like I wanted to be part of something, that pure.

I may have known little about hockey, but at least I had experience lacing my skates. While living in Ottawa for nine years, I became addicted to morning workouts on the Rideau Canal. Every winter morning, I’d sneak onto the ice at 5:45 a.m.(well before opening) and traverse the entire 8.5 kilometer route then double-back for a glorious 17 km glide. It ensured that no matter how the day went, I could conjure up a smile by recalling my early morning skate.

After moving to Toronto three years ago, I tried Nathan Phillips Square and Harbourfront, but the small diameters left me dizzy rather than high.

This summer I ended up on an e-mail list, soliciting players for a brand- new womans hockey league. All levels welcome, they promised. I sent in my money, scrounged some equipment and put on a Jilly (pelvic protector) for the first time three weeks ago.

It has been, truth be known, a humbling experience.

It turns out only a handful of us are true rookies. When other players tell me they played a few years in university, I try to evoke their sympathy by telling them women didnt have the same opportunities in my day.

Skating forward was supposed to be my strength. But wow, is this ever different from the canal. My ability to evenly push out 17 km in 55 minutes does me little good. Hockey involves quick sprints, changes of direction and screeching to a halt.

Don’t even get me started on skating backwards! About the only good thing I can say right now is that my daughter, who is also just started playing hockey at 15, and me have one humiliation that we can share.

Before I headed out to the rink on my first night, my son gave me one piece of (unsolicited) advice: when passing, aim the puck ahead of your teammate.  Unfortunately, my stick has yet to be introduced to the puck, although I can see other women acting on Jacobs advice.

Im hugely remorseful at having squandered my many days reading in the stands when I could have been learning the arcane intricacies of  the dump-in, the forecheck and playing the puck off the boards. I mean soon enough I will actually touch a puck during a game! Once all the physical issues resolve themselves, I don’t want to be hobbled by mental limitations.

I keep hearkening back in my mind to those boys on the ice, smiles frozen on their faces, arms high in the air. And I think to myself  thank you Adrienne Clarkson for creating a new cup for womens hockey. I cant wait to drink champagne from it.

The new league is still looking for women to join this season. See the website: www.leasidegirlshockey.org/houseleague/womens.html

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