GLASSBORO, NJ – Rowan University has a Women’s Ice Hockey team today because a small but determined group of players held firm to their belief that they were not alone…that there were other women on campus who would revel in the thought of playing intercollegiate hockey.
I have a team that believes one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed… that all hockey players are created equal….I have a team.
I have a team that attends the Men’s games; proudly wearing our own Rowan hockey jerseys… in true support of our comrades….I have a team.
I have a team that is ending decades of resistance to women’s sports… and that will now walk hand in hand with their brethren…as equal brothers and sisters of the ice…I have a team.
I have a team that defies all odds, overcomes all obstacles, and now looks at the arena from the other side of the plexi-glass….I have a team.
A team at last…A team at last…Great God Almighty…we have a team at last!
Rowan University has a team today because one young woman who, at the urging of a friend, was attending her first hockey game and happened to run into the Rowan coaching staff during a women’s hockey game in Philadelphia.
Rowan University has a team today because when this young woman was asked if she was interested in participating as a player, and not as a curious spectator, said ‘Yes’.
That young woman is Sammi Mazzi. Zero hockey experience. Zero skating experience. Tons of heart.
That young woman, Sammi Mazzi, along with the others that formed the team’s nucleus, had already endured the times when it appeared that their team would not have a sufficient amount of players, when the amount of available ice time seemed to be insufficient, and when the costs involved turned out to be prohibitive for almost half the group.
Apparently getting hit with pucks would be easy by comparison. Sammi, who owned not one single piece of goaltending equipment, declined the invitation to be a first year ‘dump and chase’ winger and instead opted to be one of the team’s goalies.
This past Saturday night…only 3 weeks and 5 practices after being formed…the Rowan Women’s Ice Hockey team would take to the ice. If it takes years to become a solid goalie what do we say of someone who has never played the position before, but can conjure up the strength to venture out there in front of a packed arena, against a team with some experienced players, who can shoot the puck with authority…and who have a general disregard for the opposing goalies?
What do we think when watching the starting goalie take total ownership of the crease while knowing that you have never even stood inside the blue paint? Liz Ditzel, experienced, poised, confident, and highly impressive, yields only one goal after the first two periods. Liz protects the net much like a mother hawk protects her nest. Always quick, always defiant in the face of danger. She successfully nurtures a two goal lead… now it is Sammi’s turn.
With all of those five practices under her belt, Sammi leads her team out for the final period. Whether she is ready to play at this level or not has become a mute point. The bell has rung. The opposition stalks across the rink…they are looking for a knock out. Everyone is keenly aware of this.
There is a slight loss of balance on one shot. Then a rebound lying in the crease can not be discovered. Rowan’s two-goal lead evaporates. The arena takes on an awkward silence. Gum is chewed, nails are bitten, players on the bench gyrate, parents in the stands pray, and coaches prepare for overtime….until Rowan Captain, Laura Gedrimas, scores late in the 3rd.
A time out is called by the other team. They remove their goalie in favor of a 6th skater. You do not need to be an NHL coach to see that they have sent out only their best players. The big, the quick, the hungry…all experienced, all determined.
They control the puck…move it with poise and with purpose…and get it to the best shooter in the entire game…who, with only seconds remaining on the clock, unleashes a shot heading into the far corner of the net.
Rowan University has a ‘team’ today because Sammi Mazzi made that save. She flung out her pad and kicked that puck out of harms way.
For good measure, Sammi stopped the rebound too. The final buzzer rang. Her team mates mobbed her. The sisterhood sang, it embraced, it choked back tears, it spit out the bitter past, and then, in unison, it stood tall…no one was bigger than the 5 ft 1 inch Sammi Mazzi.
Her Rowan team mates gave her the game puck. She brought her heart to the game and handed us back a life long memory.
It took Sammi and her teammates over a year to start this team. That Saturday night will remain forever.