Devised by men, perfected by women
Blades slice through the ice and a quick change of direction sends shards spraying across the surface. A stick slaps at the black puck and sweat drips from under a helmet. Padded bodies slam into each other, and into the boards. A shot, a stretch from the goalie and GOAL!
This scene isn’t from the latest Avs game, but from the Mountain Women’s Hockey League here in Eagle County.
Three years ago, Ginny Crowley decided her pick-up hockey games with a women-over-40 recreation league, weren’t enough. She wanted the competition, and the camaraderie, that only an organized hockey league could provide. So, Crowley put some notices in the newspapers, booked some ice time and hoped for the best under the guise “Hockey – a game devised by men, perfected by women,” which is proudly stated on the website.
On the first day of training camp, almost 60 women showed up, all different ages and abilities. Some could barely skate. Current captain of the First Bank Checkers, Jen Steane was one of them.
“I didn’t realize how long it would take me to put my gear on,” she said. “By the time I was done, everyone was standing in the middle of the ice, and I was still hanging on the boards,” or the side of the rink, for those non-hockey fanatic readers.
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But through coaching, dedication, and some tough falls, Steane, like many others, not only learned how to skate, but how to play the game.
At age 55, Crowley first picked up her son’s hockey gear from the garage and gave the game a shot. Ten years later, she is starting her third season as a goalie, and she said can’t believe the increasing interest for the sport from women in this valley.
“It’s interesting to me that a lot of women have not had the chance to play a team sport,” she said. “The league teaches cooperation, teamwork, how a play develops and it really provides a unique opportunity.”
Reigning champion coach Rob Sawcett of the Benderly Economic Eagles, agreed. Coaching since 1979 and playing all his life, Sawcett said he believes that hockey is the ultimate sport to learn how to function as a team and instill a work ethic into everyday life. He is also surprised at the high level of interest. But now that his wife is on a team, he said, he has enjoyed watching friendships blossom up and down the valley, from practice times to locker room chats.
The league was expected to almost double this year with the first day of training camp on Sunday, Oct. 16. The newbies will be divided into novice and intermediate levels, mixed in with the veterans. Coaches and captains of the five teams, the Eagles, Checkers, Gore Range Brewsers, Buckhorn Valley Wild, and the Sandbar Sports Bar Shooters (and possibly the Frozen Assets, if the numbers allow) will perform a draft, picking their new players, and trying to preserve their old teams. Sawcett is looking forward to meeting his new team members. One of his favorite parts of coaching is “seeing ladies that are pure never-evers, improve and learn how to play the game,” he said.
Crowley’s teammates and opponents have improved since the league began. Her confidence and love for the sport is growing, too.
“I’ll be in the goal, and be thinking, ‘look how well so-and-so is handling the puck,'” she said. “And then all the sudden, oh gosh here they come!”
On the ice, the women are as competitive as they come. “You don’t believe how competitive you get when someone takes that little black puck away from you,” Crowley said.
But off the ice, the women are the best of friends. Time in the locker room is where a lot of the camaraderie occurs.
“A lot of women never experienced time in the locker room where you really work on developing team spirit,” she said.
The women are out to have some fun as well as get some great exercise. “Hockey is great because it’s a sport and not just a book club or lunches. You can go out and sweat, laugh and giggle, and then go have some beers afterwards,” Steane said.
Growing up playing sports, Steane said she knows that some people come out to play and have fun, while others really want to learn the game. She remembers watching a lot of men’s hockey games and thinking, “I can do that.” As an athlete, she found herself in unfamiliar territory, not knowing the game or any of the techniques. But through her first training camp, she realized, “I loved the sport so much, I wanted to do more than just come and skate. And now, two years later, I’m a captain.”
As anticipation mounts for the start of the season, which runs from late December through early April, Steane for one, can’t wait.
“Games are so exciting. Your adrenaline is pumping and you want to score,” she said.
Her Checkers won the championship game the first year and she is looking to clench the title again.