Editors Note: As I am not qualified to write about what it is like to play hockey as a woman in a co-ed league, the wonderful Sara Garcia (@sara_lnr on Twitter) consented to step in as a guest contributor, and really make this website far, far more classy. Enjoy reading it, I know I did!
As a kid, I was never all that in to sports. Looking through old family photos, there’s me in a Kings sweater, but I don’t recall watching any games. When I got older, I did take to ice skating quickly and it became something I begged my mom to do every weekend. After moving to the Midwest, I continued the weekly tradition of going ice-skating.
I went off to Rochester Institute of Technology for a year and continued skating for a bit. Regrettably, I never attended a single hockey game for either the men or women’s teams, even though they were both phenomenal programs.
Then, I moved back home. Shortly after, there was the Blackhawks’ 2010 Cup win, which I and most everyone I know got swept up in. I continued to watch games when I had the chance. After the 2013 Cup run, I decided to get back on the ice by buying a pair of skates. Getting back on the ice felt kind of like going home after a while. It just felt right.
I joined a clinic for beginner’s hockey through one of the local park districts. It ended up being for all levels of skill, which was great! I was able to learn from and with others in the clinic and their abilities were in different places. One of the guys had actually sold my first pair of skates to me.
While I got the hang of the skating, positioning was a different story. I was placed on the wing, which had me skating forwards more than backwards. However, I constantly managed to forget where the lines were. I remember my coach asking if I knew what “being offside” was and I responded with a nod and realized that I was on the wrong side of the red line. Whoops. I can only imagine how players that are accustomed to playing on international-sized ice must feel when they come to North American rinks.
Another thing I remember being fairly difficult was actually getting the puck up off the ice. There was no way I was going top shelf, at least not for a while. The first time I actually did get some air under the puck, it was a big deal. I couldn’t remember how I did it for a while, but everyone seemed impressed at a girl having a half-decent shot her second time picking up a stick.
Learning how to play a sport that I enjoy watching was a rewarding and difficult experience. However, I was disappointed in the fact that I was the only woman in attendance for something was promoted as co-ed. Given hockey’s rise in popularity in my area, it was a surprise. I’m not entirely sure where the miscommunication was between my registration and the time I spent at the rink, but the park district never opened up the women’s locker room for me.
I never bothered to ask, because when it came down to it, I changed in/out of my lowest layer in the bathroom. It was inconvenient and part of a decision to stop playing for some time. The other factor in that decision was a hip injury that I’d sustained somewhere along the line.
Being in the gender minority shouldn’t stop someone from playing hockey, or any sport they care about, for that matter. While most locker rooms are relatively welcoming and open, I simply didn’t feel comfortable.
As soon as I feel good enough to get back on the ice after rehabbing from what caused the injury, I’m signing up for a quick refresher course and then the next logical step from there would be joining a rec league. I’m just hoping that I’ll have an open stall waiting, where I feel comfortable changing in and out of my gear.
If I had to give one piece of advice to someone learning to play hockey, it would be this: You’re not going to be Sidney Crosby on your first shift, even if it feels like you are. Don’t worry though, at least you won’t be as terrible as Tanner Glass! You’ll get better with time and practice.