Every hockey player has a unique story of how they found the sport, or how the sport found them.
“I grew up in Maine with two older brothers,” Meg Fortier shares. “Like most little sisters, the most important thing in the world to me was trying to keep up with them. When they played ice hockey, I quickly followed suit. Most backyard scrimmages, I was stuck playing goalie so they could play 1v1, yet I still loved every second.”
Courtney Pensavalle had a similar experience, growing up playing ice hockey with boys in Massachusetts.
All the way across the country, Cherie Stewart got her start in roller hockey at the age of twelve, in Lake Forest, California.
Though they found hockey in different places and for different reasons, their stories intersected years later on the streets (and courts) of New York City.
With the nickname “concrete jungle,” it is no wonder that ball hockey is both an accessible and growing sport in New York City. It is the reason that these three women first found themselves part of the same hockey community. A community that – while stemming from New York City – reaches far beyond.
“Playing hockey in NYC has shaped me in many ways,” Cherie shares. “I learned how to play ball hockey here and it’s given me opportunities to play internationally (Switzerland, Czech Republic, Bermuda, Slovakia, and Canada) and for that I am grateful. Over the years, I’ve met some amazing people across the country through this sport and it’s expanded my hockey network more than I could have imagined. I’ve had the privilege to coach Team New York U16 girls team and introduced this sport to others as well which means a lot to me too. Overall, I fully embraced this sport and gave everything to it – it’s been quite a journey of wins, losses, and life lessons.
“While NYC hockey leagues can pose some challenges, if the compete-level or league culture isn’t aligned, if you find the right fit, then you’re golden,” Cherie continues. “The NYC hockey grind lifestyle might not work for everyone but if you can make it here…you can make it anywhere!"
“I likely wouldn't be playing ball hockey at all had I not moved to NYC!” Meg weighs in. “I was playing in a men's ice league at Lasker in 2019 when I met Becca Cohen who introduced me to the women's Thursday Night Skate. As our winter skate was winding down everyone recommended I join BTSH (Black Top Street Hockey) and here I am many years later. I had no idea how impactful ball hockey would be to my life, but the community has been so welcoming and so many of the individuals involved have become life-long friends; it's great to be a part of ball hockey in NYC and it's something I'll surely miss as I get ready to move.”
But before making the move from NYC to Colorado, Meg had one more stop to make: Quebec, Canada. On June 17-25, Cherie (#13), Courtney (#19), and Meg (#12) represented the United States of America as members of the US Women’s National Team. These elite female athletes who first played together in New York City, earned the chance to compete together on a world stage.
Before leaving for Quebec, they shared their thoughts on what the moment meant to them:
“Having grown up playing ice hockey with boys my whole life, I dreamt of playing on a team with all women and representing my country,” Courtney said. “I am so honored and excited to wear the USA jersey and to compete alongside elite female ball hockey players around the world.”
“It is such an honor to play for Team USA,” said Cherie. “Playing with and against some of the best players in the world and performing on the biggest stage. The feeling when you step onto the rink with the USA jersey on with your teammates, hearing the anthems, the lights, the cheers (and jeers!) – there’s nothing like it and I love it. Every opportunity to play for this team is a privilege and I want to play my best and hopefully make my family and country proud.”
The importance of family and community was something Meg highlighted as well.
“While my brothers have certainly been role models, my dad, a former collegiate hockey player, has really been my mentor, and at times my coach in the sport,” Meg shared. “He and my mom have traveled countless miles over the years to watch and support my journey. This week is no different as they make the trek up to Canada.”
As payoff for making the trek, Meg’s parents got to see her recognized as the Women’s Player of the Game after scoring team USA’s only goal during their first game against Canada. Cherie, Courtney, and Meg all competed hard in the following days, acting as key pieces in team USA’s victories against Slovakia, Great Britian, Lebanon, and the Czech Republic. Though they lost to Slovakia in the playoffs, coming in 4th overall, the competition was a testament not only to these three women’s skill and compete level, but to their leadership in the sport, and to their importance to the ball hockey community in New York City and beyond.
As Meg gets ready to move and bring her hockey expertise to a new place, she will forever remain an important member of the NYC ball hockey community. Cherie continues to be a force both as a coach and player in New York City and beyond. And Courtney is getting ready to captain a team in the first ever Women’s Ball hockey League in New York City.
“Competing at the National Ball Hockey World Championships was a special experience,” Courtney shares. “It was a honor to represent my country and to play at the highest level among my female peers. Furthermore, I appreciated the opportunity to meet players from all over the world and to connect through our shared passion for ball hockey.”
For these women, all the world truly is a rink: the possibilities are endless.
By, Ellie Milewski
By, Susie Lai
To fit in. That’s the only reason why 14-year-old me began watching hockey. Everyone in my classes were talking incessantly about the Tampa Bay Lightning making it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. I remember sleepovers at my friend’s house where there were Lightning magnets with schedules all over the fridge door. My family was one of the few Chinese families in my small town just north of Tampa, Florida, and the sport of hockey was something foreign to us, much like most of American culture. I knew soccer because my dad loved it, and I had periodically watched it with him growing up. But hockey? We had never even heard of it! However, while the concept of a sport on ice was pretty foreign to a place like Florida, the Lightning had somehow captured everyone’s attention.
So, to fit in with my classmates – none of whom looked like me – I started watching a sport where none of the players looked like me. But that’s not unusual. Despite the fact that AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) is one of the faster growing racial groups in the US, now at 35.5% as per the 2020 Census, there is still a severe lack of AAPI players in all major sports across the US, and hockey is no exception. When I started watching hockey the year Tampa Bay won it all, the list of AAPI players active within the NHL was so small you could count them on just one hand, with Paul Kariya (bet you didn’t know that!) being the most prolific of them all. But I didn’t know that back then. I just knew that hockey seemed like a fun sport, and it gave me something in common with everyone else. So I started watching.
I moved to upstate New York to go to Cornell for college. If there’s any sport that Cornell was good at (Ivy Leagues are usually atrocious at sports), it was hockey. I joined the pep band, so every Friday and Saturday night, I’d be right there cheering on our hockey team. I loved being a hockey fan at Cornell, and found a diverse community in the “Lynah Faithful,” the fans who spent weekend after weekend at Lynah Rink cheering on our men and women’s hockey teams. I loved that community and I started learning how to play, joining every intramural ball hockey league I could. I didn’t know what I was doing, yet relished every minute of it. (Shout out to my team “Rainbow Sunshine Lollipop Fairies.” We were the champions of the womens intramural ball hockey league 3 years running from my sophomore to senior year!)
When I moved to NYC right after grad school, I knew that the hockey community was one that I wanted to find. Joining a co-ed ball hockey league was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The team I joined was, at the time, made up of almost 40% AAPIs, which was rare! And while there still are not that many of us around the league, I’ve started seeing more and more AAPI players over the years. When I found this women’s hockey community, started by some of the AAPI women that I knew and admired, with its inaugural Hockaway Beach tournament, I jumped in head first. There was something about the energy of women’s hockey that felt different than playing in the co-ed league. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing co-ed ball hockey, but playing with women who actively included each other, helped teach each other, passed to each other, cheered each other on, and consoled each other when mistakes were made was so incredibly refreshing. This was a community filled with some of the most uplifting and inspiring women I’d ever met, all of whom had their own stories to tell.
I’ve never really shared my own experiences of being AAPI – I grew up immersed in two different cultures, and the reconciliation of that can be exhausting. However, because of the pandemic these past two years and the resulting uptick in violence against the AAPI community, I found myself seeking out the AAPI community within my own communities, in order to share stories and support each other. There was story after story in the news, but also story after story that didn’t make the news. Within the women in our hockey world, I was able to find understanding and, well, “community,” for lack of a better term. These women affirm, support, and validate my feelings.
There’s an unspoken joke that AAPIs tend to find each other, and in this community, I think we certainly did. I got to know quite a few of the AAPI women within ball hockey, and we all shared common experiences with each other in a way that felt cathartic. We sought each other out on the courts and it made the world feel a little bit friendlier.
There’s something really wonderful about belonging to a community, and there’s something about hockey that really embodies the phrase “hockey is for everyone”. I love the ball hockey community here in NYC, but really, it’s the women within it that have made playing hockey here one of the most joyful and fulfilling things in my life. I started watching hockey as a kid wanting to fit in in an unfamiliar environment, and I’m so happy where it has led me today: feeling like I’m in a community where I truly belong.
In the spirit of celebrating AAPI Heritage Month, I want to end with this joy: the town where I grew up in Florida has new ice rinks and new youth hockey programs. The next generation of AAPI kids (both boys and girls) now have the opportunity to learn how to play. I didn’t have that chance as a kid, and it warms my heart to know that my cousin’s kids who still live in Tampa now have that chance. The game is growing, and maybe one day soon it will be normal rather than noteworthy to see and root for AAPI players on our favorite teams and in our local hockey communities.
Now wouldn’t that be something?
Those are the two words Yuvia typed into Google when she decided it was time to try again. Not just “hockey,” but “women’s hockey.”
In Mexico, a country where soccer and baseball rule sports, playing hockey is not an easy path for anyone, let alone a young girl. There seems to be a misconception that hockey is dangerous and therefore can’t be for a woman. Growing up in Guadalajara, this challenge was what first drew Yuvia to the sport at age twelve: she wanted to prove that it didn’t have to be just for boys. In fact, it wasn’t.
While playing in co-ed leagues, Yuvia and her female teammates endured comments about how they—for the sole reason of being women—were unfit to play the sport. Though she still enjoyed playing co-ed, Yuvia fantasized about what it would be like to play in an all-female league. This yearning was partially a product of the obstacles she faced as a female player. But it also stemmed from a core human desire: the desire for belonging.
“Being with other people like you, more women…” Yuvia says. “It’s not because you want to show off in the case that you’re better than other girls or women, it’s because you belong.”
Unfortunately, the only time an all-female league was established during her youth was when the state fashioned a women’s field hockey team. Players were assembled and provided with space, time, and equipment. While the female camaraderie was what Yuvia desired, the different type of hockey was not. The short, curved stick felt unfamiliar in Yuvia’s hand. Rather than being for the athletes, it seemed that the athletes themselves were being used so the state could fill a female quota. But Yuvia did not see her femaleness as a token, and though she desired the special quality of being on a women’s team, she was unwilling to compromise her passion.
So Yuvia focused on opportunity rather than obstacle. Whether it was a lack of female teammates, the sparse and expensive equipment, or the crack of dawn ice times that called for 30-minute walks laden with gear, she showed up with gratitude.
“We didn’t care,” Yuvia recalls. “We were like, this is what we have, and we’re going to do it.”
Above all else, Yuvia never stopped dreaming of progress and representation in the sport she loved. Together, she and her friends would wonder, “What if there’s a world or there’s a city where you can, you know, have women’s leagues…?”
In her early 20s, that dream seemed on the cusp of reality. Yuvia was invited to be a member of the first women’s national roller hockey team in Mexico. At that time, she was also playing basketball, and had been for years. In fact, many of her friends and family assumed basketball was her chief passion, and Yuvia felt they didn’t understand just how personal hockey was for her: it held her heart. As a result, she decided that her next basketball tournament would be her last.
It was. But sadly, it was more than basketball that ended. During the tournament, Yuvia’s knee was seriously injured. Her athletic career came to a halt just as women’s hockey was emerging in Mexico, and after a long recovery, Yuvia decided it was too risky to start again.
Fast forward 15 years:
Those are the two words Yuvia typed into Google when she decided it was time to try again.
She’d been living in New York for about six years when the global pandemic struck. Difficult times have an uncanny way of uncovering silver linings and unlocking resilience. Yuvia found herself working out more from home and feeling stronger each day.
“Suddenly, I was like… what if I tried again?”
So Yuvia sought out the community she’d always dreamt of. The first thing to pop-up on her internet search bar was Women’s Ball Hockey NYC. Before she knew it, Yuvia was back on the rink as a part of the first all-female ball hockey league in New York City.
“It’s super fun for me,” Yuvia shares. “… and also kind of all I wanted, so you know, I’m trying to enjoy that feeling and see what it feels like, because it’s something that I always dreamed when I was with my friends. We were talking like ‘yeah, imagine if we could go do this and that.’ And now it’s happening. It’s already done. So I want to be a part of that.”
But playing with all women has not satiated her passion for growing the game, or satisfied the need she still sees for women’s hockey.
“There’s more support, there are more women trying and playing and pursuing this game but still here, what I’ve noticed, is that there’s not enough,” she says. New York City has an abundance of space, tools, and possibility. Yuvia believes in exposing more women to hockey, and she endorses the classic phrase, “if you can see it, you can be it.”
“If you see somebody doing it, someone like you—another girl, another woman—you can totally, totally feel and know that youcan do it.”
Although Yuvia is now recovering from another knee injury, her optimism and excitement are palpable and inspiring. Hockey is not just a hobby, but an intrinsic part of her nature. Everything from skating to the blade of the stick mesmerizes her. She could think about hockey all day, and over the course of these many years, she has never stopped doing just that. Now back, Yuvia is motivated to help grow the types of women’s leagues that the little girl in Guadalajara, Mexico, could only dream about.
By, Ellie Milewski
By, Tracy Miller
What does it mean to play women’s hockey? If you ask one of the women in our community who grew up playing on boys’ teams because there was no girls’ team to join, or who excelled on women’s teams in college and beyond, I’m sure you might get a different answer than if you ask me—someone who first picked up a stick at age 32 to join a coed rec league.
My experience on coed teams has been overwhelmingly positive. I was lucky to walk into an environment where male and female teammates alike supported me as I learned the game. Having that support from most people made it easier to brush off the times when I felt intimidated or superfluous around any others (mostly men, because coed hockey leagues are still mostly men) who were sometimes impatient with me because they were faster or more skilled or had been playing for much longer.
But even despite that mostly positive experience, when I first had the opportunity to play in an all-women’s scrimmage, my immediate thought was, yes! Sign me up!
Why is that, exactly? What, if anything, makes the women’s game different and exciting? If you had asked me before writing this article, I probably would have said “there’s just a different energy”--and vague though that may be, I think that many women would agree with me. Here’s my attempt at getting a little more specific about what makes our women’s hockey community special.
1. Women Want To Win As A Team
Never once have I played on a women’s team where the same person was expected to dominate every play, or where the bench instructions were “just pass to this one person so she can score.” Maybe this vibe is more specific to the recreational level, but I’ve noticed it and I’m here for it. When I play well, I’m not the only one who sees it—unfailingly, someone will give me a compliment. Even if someone is struggling, the team’s reaction is more likely to be “is she OK?” or “let’s work with her on this skill” than “get her off the court.” The sense of teamwork and collective accomplishment on these teams is second to none, even if we’ve only been playing as a team for a few hours.
2. Women Pass To Me
“But Tracy,” I can hear you saying, “maybe if you were BETTER AT HOCKEY, people would pass to you all the time, regardless of your or their gender.” That’s exactly my point. Women are more likely to pass to me when it’s the right move to make, rather than searching frantically for a better (or just a male) player to pass to instead. The bar to prove myself during a women’s game is being open. If I’m in the right spot, I’m probably getting the ball.
I know that this is not just my experience, because the joy of getting the ball more often is commented upon at most of the women’s games I’ve been part of. It is nice to receive a pass and feel like you’re there for a reason and not just there to fill some sort of boob quota.
3. Women Apologize (Or Not)
This can be refreshing, to have teammates that own their mistakes and care about each other’s feelings. But sorry is not always a good thing. On the ice, as in life, women are more likely to say “sorry!” even when it’s only questionably their fault or no one’s fault at all—I too am guilty of this (and of saying “oopsie,” because I’m from the Midwest).
Women’s hockey is a great place to unlearn all of that. If you hurt someone or lose your temper, an apology is lovely. But I don’t want my teammate to say sorry when she overshoots a pass or misses a shot. Don’t even say sorry if you step on my foot or check me into the boards or get a little chippy during scrimmage. Aggression is not to be apologized for. If this is your inclination, try replacing “sorry” with “sh@!” or “fc$k.” The general meaning is the same and it sounds better.
4. Women Welcome Beginners
After a few seasons of ball hockey, my female teammate and I wanted more, so we bought a bunch of used ice hockey equipment and signed up for the lowest women’s division at Lasker. And we suuuuucked. Oh how we sucked. We couldn’t skate backwards. We couldn’t stop. We couldn’t shoot with power on our shaky footing. Yet, the response to our sucking from our more hockey-experienced teammates was, genuinely: “That’s awesome you decided to try this. It’s so cool you’re here.” And so, instead of feeling guilty or embarrassed that we’d overstepped our abilities and were thereby ruining the season for everyone, we had fun and even improved a bit. That level of acceptance and welcome wasn’t something I’d found elsewhere.
Women are so great at this, at making other women feel like they belong on the ice. And I think that may be my favorite thing about women’s hockey. We all want to see more people like us playing this sport. We value inclusiveness as well as competition. We love taking the time to teach people the fundamentals, and then celebrating their progress. If only that energy permeated every part of life.
As for me, I’ll surely keep playing in coed leagues--but I embrace being a part of the Women’s Ball Hockey NYC community for whenever I need a dose of that unmatched different energy.
By, Ellie Milewski
For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived alongside hockey.
My parents are die hard New York Rangers fans and it didn’t take long for my older brother, Jack, to follow suit. A home movie of him (age 4) chasing me (age 1) around and knocking me over with a miniature hockey stick was early proof of that. Rather than calling a tripping penalty, my parents took a video.
Now don’t get me wrong, I always enjoyed hockey. Whenever we went to NHL games, I had a blast. We held shoot outs in our cul-de-sac and it was always fun to don a jersey and hunker down with my family to watch games in our basement. But I was clearly the least gung-ho of my family. When my parents talk about watching the Rangers’ 1994 cup run together as newlyweds, a nostalgic mist falls over their eyes. My brother became a hockey play-by-play announcer for a minor league team. But me? I liked the game, but saw little space for it in my life. I wanted to be an actor. A writer. I was dedicated to my pursuits, and too often in our hustle culture society, that doesn’t leave space for much else.
So while my family lived hockey, I lived alongside it.
Then the global pandemic struck.
I finished my senior year of college, graduated online, and was suddenly out in the world on my own for the first time. Except I wasn’t… I was quarantined at home.
While this certainly wasn’t what I’d planned, I tried to maintain perspective and recognize how fortunate I was: I had my family, a safe environment to live in, and time to dedicate to my creative writing pursuits. So as the days blurred together, I spent many of them lost in stories and my imagination. But my tendency to live in my head became more and more of a double-edged sword, because I was also getting lost in the world's anxiety. There was so much confusion, fear, loss, and anger circulating each day, and my mind was overflowing. I wanted out. I wanted something that would allow me to escape my thoughts, ground me in my body, and keep me in the present.
At the time, the NHL was in the middle of their COVID-shortened season and I thought, what the hell? Why not just watch a lot of hockey?
And let me tell you, I did. Hockey became my escape. Amidst the long days that lacked cohesion, hockey was something my family could put on the calendar and look forward to. The more I watched, the more I grew to love not only my team, but everything about the sport: The fast pace and fluidity, the athleticism and intelligence required to make great plays, the flow of the game which called for a constant switch between offense and defense.
My family joked that I had been abducted by aliens and replaced by some strange hockey fanatic.
Along came the summer of 2021, and my dad asked if I’d be interested in playing in a ball hockey league. Both he and my brother had played for years, and in response to the coronavirus, my dad’s league was putting together an outdoor season. This was a chance to get out of the house, be on a team with my dad, and translate my newfound love of watching hockey into playing. Win, win, win… I said yes.
My first scrimmage was nerve-racking. While it excited me to try something new, I also experienced that classic human fear of messing up. (Is this a good time to quote all-time hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, who said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”?)
Luckily, that fear didn’t last long because the game started and suddenly there was no space for being nervous. You had to be in your body and present. There was no time to be worried about what had happened earlier that day or what might happen the next day. There was only time to play, and that was a gift. I was hooked on hockey.
Throughout that entire summer, I looked forward to Monday nights when my dad and I loaded our gear into the car and drove to the rink. Hockey was quickly becoming an important part of my life. And it didn’t take up time that I “should” have been dedicating to work or something else. In fact, it created more balance in my life.
Hockey also provided me with a type of community I’d never experienced before. I’d spent a majority of my college years around arts majors like myself. While that was wonderful, we all existed in the same niche. Playing hockey, I met people of different ages, with different backgrounds, who had a variety of pursuits and passions… people I never would have met if it wasn’t for the game. Add the backdrop of a global pandemic, and that community—that connection with others—was more valuable that ever.
This became even more apparent when I moved to New York City in early September 2021. I’d always wanted to live in New York, but that didn’t take away from the fact that moving was going to be overwhelming, and it was going to take time to adjust and establish a new life. As it so happened, the commissioner of my ball hockey league back home put me in contact with the commissioner of a league in New York City.
Three days after the move, I subbed in a game and immediately felt welcomed by an entire group of people I’d never met before. It can be hard being the new person, but working together towards a common goal has a way of quickly breaking down barriers because you are, quite literally, on the same team.
After that first game in New York, some of my fellow female teammates told me about Women’s Ball Hockey in NYC. Two weeks later, I was playing in the Hock-away Beach women’s ball hockey tournament. And now? Now, as I write this article, I’m already excited for the next ball hockey season to begin.
It might sound cliché to say, but hockey has truly changed my life. The sport has brought me community. It has given me a greater ability to stay present in what I’m doing, which has improved other aspects of my life, such as writing and work. It’s brought me joy and better health. Hell, my brother even texts me more now because he knows I’ll finally understand all the Rangers’ news he wants to discuss!
Another joke my family now makes is that all it took was a global pandemic to get me to be a hockey fan. But in truth, all it took was hockey to get me through a global pandemic.
Want to be part of the discussion? Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story of how you found your way to hockey!
Interested in learning more about women’s ball hockey in NYC and how to join? Follow us on Instagram @wbhnyc or visit our website www.womensballhockeynyc.org