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.
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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