My first year, my first day, my first practice. I remember it all vividly. Before the first practice of the 2022-2023 season started, the head coach of my team called a team meeting in one of the upstairs banquet rooms at the rink. I didn’t know what to expect, this was my first year playing on a team and it was only the first practice of the season when that meeting was called. When the team arrived in the banquet room, we were told to line up facing all of the parents. Not by height, not by age, just get in a line and look at the parents. Then, we introduced ourselves one by one, that was our team, the team that I would be the only girl on.
To really come to realize that I was the only girl on my team and that I would remain the only girl on the team for the duration of the season definitely took a while. There were definitely some days where I would be in denial and tell myself that there were more girls on the team, they were just skipping practice. But there weren’t any, it was just me. I didn’t know how to act around boys, let alone a team full of boys, and I wasn’t sure if they knew how to act around me. As the season went on, I realized both of those thoughts were true. The boys didn’t know how to act around me, and I didn’t know how to act around them.
In my first season I felt isolated most of the time. None of my teammates really talked to me except for maybe one or two teammates who always wanted to make sure that I felt included and felt like I was a part of the team. Just like how the boys didn’t know how to act around me, I didn’t know how to act around them either. I didn’t know how to talk to them or how to jump in on their conversations to be included so most of the time I just didn’t say anything. I just stayed in my own bubble the duration of the season because learning how to talk to them and act around them never got easier. We played in the 14U division, almost all of us were in middle school except for me and two other teammates who were all in high school. With the variety of different ages on our team, it was no surprise that there were different maturity levels which were a factor in how we were able to act around each other. I loved my first season of hockey, I just didn’t love how alone I felt.
Being the only girl on an all boys team has its ups and downs such as not knowing how to talk to the boys and how to act around them. But another one that some may not think of is how much I’m pushed. Being pushed on the team is an up and a down. Being pushed makes me work harder than I usually do. I have to really push myself hard to keep up with everyone since it’s so much more fast paced in 18U than 14U. I have to push myself to keep up with their speed and keep up with the drills. I have to push myself to work off the ice to try to catch up my skill level to my teammates. I have to push myself to be the best I can be and push myself hard enough that I can make a noticeable impact on the ice during practice and games. Being pushed makes me stronger but it also makes me weak.
I can push myself as hard as I can and notice a positive difference in my overall skill and game, and I can push myself hard enough that I break down and feel weak. Pushing myself takes a toll on my body physically. I can deal with being sore, I can deal with being tired but, sometimes it gets hard to deal with the toll that pushing myself takes on me mentally. Yes, pushing myself makes me stronger, it builds me up, but it also breaks me down. I push myself to be the best that I can be and to keep up with everyone but sometimes it’s exhausting. When I constantly push myself, I want to be perfect. I want to catch every pass, score every time the puck touches my stick, skate as fast as I can and make perfect passes. But, if I mess one thing up, it takes a toll on me. If I mess up one thing in practice, then at the end of the night, it’s a bad practice for me even if practice was going well prior to the mistake. To everyone else on the ice, that isn’t a big deal. But to me, it is. I want to be as good as all of my teammates and when I push myself and I mess something up, it makes me feel like less of a player.
I went into the 2023-2024 season playing in the 18U division with high hopes that things would be different than they were last year in 14U. And right away, it became clear that my hopes turned into a reality. Everything was different in the best way possible. For the first time, I didn’t feel alone on the team. My teammates talk to me and it’s easy to engage in their conversations. Everyone has such an amazing sense of humor and there’s never a dull moment with them. All of them made sure I felt included and they still do. They always make sure I never feel left out. With this team I feel like I’m a part of the team.
Going into the 18U division, I felt nervous. I knew I would be playing with kids older than me and twice as big as me. Standing at 5’4, lining up at the faceoff dots next to someone who is easily 5’11 is intimidating. These boys are used to playing with boys so what goes through their minds when they’re facing off with me, I’m not quite sure. My biggest fear is being crushed by one of those boys and getting hurt. Not only are these boys taller than me, they weigh more than me. And being crushed and injured by one of them is my biggest fear. But, my teammates look out for me which is a comforting feeling when I’m playing with boys who are almost 6 feet tall on the opposing team. I know if something happens, they’ve got my back.
At the end of the day, my teammates aren’t just my teammates, they’re also my family. Although I may still be quiet around them and sometimes don’t say much, I still feel like I’m a part of the team, I feel like I’m included in the family that this team feels like. Talking to them has gotten a lot easier and I feel comfortable around them. Sometimes, it feels like they’ve taken me under their wings as a little sister almost, especially with our leadership group. Overall, playing with the boys has taught me so much. It’s taught me resilience, patience, strength, and mental toughness.
I think I started my hockey career off on the right path. Although my first year playing with the boys had a lot of downs, I don’t think I would be the player I am now without that experience. Playing hockey with the boys is incredible. The game is competitive, high paced, challenging, and fun. I love getting to be a part of this team and play with them every weekend. I love my teammates and everything about the team. Playing hockey with the boys as the only girl on the team has its ups and downs. What I can say about this season so far is, its only been ups.