Vail Valley women’s hockey tourney slidin’ up
Vail, CO Colroado
VAIL, Clolorado –Women’s hockey teams will square off in a six-team, double-elimination tournament in Eagle April 1, 3 and 4, and in Vail April 2.
The rinks will be decorated, admission is free and spectators are welcome to bring food and non-alcoholic drinks.
Some of the 93 skate-donning, puck-slapping ladies are new to hockey this season and others are veterans. Their ages cover a big range – some are in their 20s and one, a goalie, is in her 60s. Since January, they’ve played 10 games to face off at the tournament and besides putting a puck into a net, they have another common goal: to have fun.
Eagle Pool and Ice Rink Manager Sheryl Staten said the Western Eagle County Metropolitan Recreation District Mountain Women’s Hockey League is geared toward introducing people to the sport.
“Probably 20 percent have never played before and we try to get ’em going,” said Staten, who also plays in the league.
“Our return rate is easily 90 percent,” she said of players who come back for more seasons.
Ottalie Carlin, 61, has returned for the last eight years since a persistent friend pulled her into the sport.
“A friend I bike with had been playing for years and kept telling me to do it for what must’ve been four years,” Ottalie said. “I started as a forward and two years later I tried goalie position. I hated goalie at first but by the third year I was hooked. Now, I can’t imagine not playing.
“It’s very hard the first couple of years to do an adequate job defending the goal. It’s very frustrating with huge pressure. It’s a humbling position to play.”
As far as hockey-related injuries, Ottalie said she hasn’t had anything serious.
“I’ve had some substantial bruises,” she said. “Sometimes the puck manages to find its way between the protective gear.”
One entertaining memento she has from a flying puck is a “crinkle in her face cage.”
“I stopped that one,” she joked.
Ottalie bikes about 3,000 miles a year to keep her legs strong and stretches well for 15 to 20 minutes before each game.
“If you don’t stretch you’re going to be in trouble. As a goalie, you contort into so many extreme positions,” she said.
Staten, who has played league hockey intermittently for six years while taking time off to have children, obviously thinks well of Carlin and her abilities.
“She’s awesome, and she’s a good goalie, too,” Staten said.
Carlin moved to the valley 39 years ago from the Bronx, about the same time her husband of 23 years moved to the area from Indianapolis.
“We both moved here to be ski bums,” said Tom Carlin, 53.
Tom Carlin said he was fine with his wife starting hockey despite the occasional rough moments.
“I’ve seek her get taken out a couple times,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, no, she’s slow getting up from that one.'”
The couple has two children – a 20-year-old son at Mesa State in Grand Junction and an 18-year-old daughter at Eagle Valley High School. Tom said the kids are too busy doing their thing to think much about their mom playing hockey.
Ottalie Carlin said there are only five goalies for the league, so they rotate playing for different teams. That means she knows the games she’ll play in through the whole tournament but not the team she’ll be playing for in a particular game. A coin toss will determine the latter, as well as the team eliminations.
“We want people to know we’re a beginner’s league and we need goalies desperately,” she aid.
Staten said she has a gear rental program to help make the sport more available to anyone who is interested.
“$50 for everything but the skates and stick,” she said.
There are also off-season clinics in the fall, before league practice starts in December.
Staten said the league is not for former college all-star type players.
“Travel teams take those players,” Staten said.
The rec district has been running the league for four years. However, it was a longtime local goalie, Ginny Crowley, who brought a valleywide women’s beginner-intermediate league to life in 2003. Since then it has grown steadily.
“Dobson Arena was the only place to skate around here when I started,” Ottalie Carlin said. “We called ourselves the WARPS – Women’s Association of Recreational Puckers. Most of the gals were in their 40s, 50s and 60s then. The league kept getting younger and younger once we got the extra sheet of ice in Eagle.”
No one seems to regret the growth, though. After all they’re in it for fun and the more the better, which is why Staten and Ottalie Carlin both hope for a good spectator turnout at the tournament.
“I’d love to have a lot of people come down. It’s a lot more fun with all the screaming and yelling,” Carlin said.