Women’s rec hockey is a strange thing. There are usually no practices, no coaches, no consequences, no childhood experiences on which to draw, dare I say – no strategy. Some would read a description like that and file women’s hockey away under H for hellish. And others would look under P for pure. And still others would naturally go to F for fun. Let’s just say that there are different aspects and rewards that go into, and come out of, women’s recreational hockey.
The fitness aspect is about getting out once or twice a week to stay in shape. Skating can be a decent aerobic workout and a game is a surefire way to get your heart rate motoring. You can usually even find one or two players (per team) that will stretch before their games…
There’s also the skills aspect. A lot of women in recreational hockey come to the sport as adults and so are still adding to their hockey acumen. Mastering the backhand, strengthening the slapshot, nailing the poke check – these are weighty accomplishments and the hoped for achievement of said skills can sometimes be enough to ensure attendance at weekly games. Personally I always decide against taking the summer off for fear of losing what little mastery I’ve achieved!
Of course there’s an athleticism aspect to hockey, as well as the even simpler ‘love of the game’ aspect. Why play hockey? To feel akin with (or superior to?) Don Cherry. To imagine you’re a character in Roch Carrier’s book. To one day live-out your dream of scoring the winning goal in overtime. To skate down the ice, honking, in a V formation. Well, maybe not that one. I’m getting carried away. But my point is that a love of hockey features on most if not all women’s hockey benches. Another aspect, at least in Toronto, which I’ll call the distraction aspect, is playing hockey to take your mind off the dismal results offered by the Toronto Maple Leafs. (But we still watch the game highlights on TV in the bar, and after our own successful games … why do we do that??!)
And maybe the umbrella aspect to all of this is the social side of being on a women’s hockey team. To start with, it’s a team sport; it usually involves talking to other people. But it’s also a timeout from busy lives. It’s camaraderie and it’s a support system. It’s a sounding board for rants, stresses and uncertainties. It’s a celebration of promotions, unions and vacations. It’s friendship.
Over the years I’ve played on 5 or 6 different league teams, and probably a dozen different tournament teams. Yet in the 8 years that I’ve been playing hockey I’ve managed a single constant: one team that I’ve been a member of, year after year without fail. A team that over time has become a family. This September the Tigersharks (of Toronto) will celebrate their 10th anniversary of existence, and we fully intend to mark the milestone. As we speak a patch is being designed that will eventually be stitched to our jerseys, and, might I add, worn with pride.
For ten years the women of the Tigersharks have grown, both numerically and symbolically. I’d hazard a guess that around 75 different names have at one point been listed on our roster. But a core group of 10-12 women exist at the heart of the team. We’ve watched each other get married, have families, have miscarriages, go through divorce, lose jobs, start new careers, fight illnesses, bury our parents, buy and sell homes … the list goes on. It’s never quiet in our dressing rooms and hockey is only discussed some of the time. Some teammates see each other outside of our weekly games, and others are strictly hockey night friends. But the connection exists regardless. Speaking for myself, Tuesday is always a good day because I know at some point I’ll have a care-free moment with a fellow Shark, where I won’t be worrying about whatever is going on in my personal life – I’ll just be happy to be with my team.
We come together on Tuesdays and we catch up with one another. It’s time for ourselves, and time for each other. We put up with 11pm game times because we know if we can just make it to the arena, we’ll be happy. We leave behind whatever chaos is happening in our lives to lace up our skates, try to win, share our stories, go for drinks, and then head for home.
I leave feeling refreshed, having played the game I love and shared an evening with my friends.