By S.V. @hockey_wench
With the advent of the NWHL and the ongoing success of the CWHL, as well as the rising interest in Women’s Olympic hockey, this is a great time to be a female hockey player and/or fan. I was barely a teen when the USA sent its first women’s team to the olympics; since those early years I have been so fortunate to see the sport grow from something girls “just didn’t do” to a sport that girls and women absolutely (and should!) do, not just here but all over the world.
I’m writing this from the perspective of a rec league, intermediate-level player who will never play professionally, but who loves the sport just the same. My family moved here from South America in the 80’s; unsurprisingly ice hockey was never a part of my culture until it found its way into my life in Middle School through gym class floor hockey. My fandom of the sport since the age of 14 has taken me down a path that I am so grateful to still be on; hockey has shaped my life in ways that I am still happy to be experiencing.
Hockey has taught me fortitude; it’s motivated me to have a loud and meaningful voice in my personal life. It has shown me that even in the most desperate of times, taking a shot at your target from even the oddest of angles can yield a positive result. I could have easily become an undisciplined teenager at 14, being the product of a broken home and no real stability. It could have been easier for me to channel my anger at something destructive or meaningless; instead, the sport I have come to love so much somehow found me at just the right time and changed me forever. It gave me focus and a voice at a time when I needed to find these two things the most.
This sport has taught me resilience, leadership, and fairness. It has shown me that injuries in life are to be expected and that patience is necessary to overcome them. It taught me that a winning team isn’t led by who bangs the loudest drum on the bench, but rather, those players who lead by example and consistency. It has taught me that even when you think your team deserved to win, life isn’t always fair: there will always be a disappointing loss that you need to overcome even if you were the better team on paper that night.
Hockey has taught me that even if you’re the smallest player on the team (which I often am, because I’m only 5’ 4”), you can make a difference by using strong mental knowledge. As it applies to so many life situations, being at the right spot at the right time can make or break an outcome. Making quick decisions on the ice while anticipating where the puck is going to be and where everyone else is in relation to your position is not just Hockey Smarts, these are scenarios that have been applicable to my professional life many times, and with success.
Without ever being shown a way (I’ve been told my entire life that “Latinos just don’t play ice hockey”) or without the support of coaches (my family could never afford to put me on a youth team), I somehow found a way to let hockey become my own life coach. I often wonder, how many other kids has it had the same effect on? Without knowing that exact figure, I can’t help but smile knowing that there are countless other people out there who didn’t exactly have a strong support system growing up and yet, a sport has been able to change their lives for the better. I believe that whenever possible, we should support our local hockey rinks, especially for minorities and under-funded teams. I for one, look forward to becoming a coach once I can’t play anymore so I can pass on even the most basic of skills to the next generation of skaters.
Now that I am older and continue playing for fun in rec leagues and participating in tournaments, I can reflect on the many ways hockey has been a positive influence and how it has allowed me to meet some of the most amazing and diverse group of people I have ever known. Hockey attracts people from all walks of life and backgrounds, and in New York City there is even more of this great diversity among the teams I skate with.
As the window of opportunity for me to keep skating on the regular gets narrower with each passing year, I can’t help but get a tear in my eye reaffirming that despite never making it to a professional stage or despite all the injuries my body has sustained through the years, I wouldn’t change a thing, because the rewards have absolutely justified the means. Long live hockey.