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.