Monday, February 20, 2012

I Changed My Mind About Women's Hockey

Saturday night was the last game of the season for UMD's WCHA hockey season. (For the acronym-challenged, UMD is University of Minnesota Duluth, and WCHA is Western Collegiate Hockey Assn., and Assn. is Association, a rock band famous in the Sixties for pop hits like "Cherish" and "Along Comes Mary.") Well, guess what? I enjoyed it. I was impressed. It was not what I expected.

Beforehand I'd been led to believe that collegiate women's hockey is boring, that the women don't skate as fast and there's less action so it's more like watching paint dry than "real" hockey. By "real" hockey I mean the kind where men race around and slam into one another knocking, knocking eyeballs out and plastering human body parts against the boards. It's where manhood is achieved, and anything less is not "real" hockey.

Now here's a disclaimer. I did not grow up in Minnesota. My first experience of Minnesota hockey madness was when Susie and I went to house sit for a couple in Minneapolis back in the Seventies. (I arrived in Minnesota from the Jersey Shore* in 1976.) On that occasion we walked in the door of this Bloomington home where two women were dressed and ready for a fancy night on the town, but their two husbands were still stuck in the living room, on their knees eighteen inches from an enormous television, arms gesticulating, screams of joy or pain or whatever it was filling the room as they urged their hockey team on. The women patiently waited in the foyer, glancing at their watches every now and then as if this were all very normal.

Yes, hockey in Minnesota is a ritual men must be part of. I have a friend who is a sensitive prolific writer, good-hearted, compassionate, tender... but when I visited one evening during a hockey game... It's like Jekyll and Hyde up here in the Northland. I mean, guys turn on the TV for a hockey game and they want to start breaking concrete with their bare hands.

So, if you get your opinions about women's hockey from a guy in Minnesota, you have to keep in mind, these are not always reliable. I went the game with so-so expectations. There was hardly a crowd, sad to say, and it would be impossible for us to do The Wave, I could see that immediately. Despite the lack of a audience, the lights went down and these uniformed maidens were introduced, many on our UMD team having come from all over the world to be here. Why? One reason is that our coach, Coach Miller has led this UMD hockey program to many WCHA championships. It's a privilege for any student athlete to be associated with champions.

The game began in the usual way, with a puck drop. And I noticed something pretty quick. These girls could stake. They were fast, agile, focused. They also demonstrated incredible discipline and teamwork. I'd been a soccer coach for seven years and I knew they don't just automatically become a team. Someone has to instill this.

I was impressed, too, with their keen awareness of everything that was going on around them, 360-degree concentration. That puck would fly here and there so that quick adjustments and instinctual movements were required continuously. Because body checking is verboten in women's hockey, the key here is finesse and these girls had it in spades.

I went down to the glass and watched up close and saw something else about these girls. They were just ordinary-sized like my 5'4" daughter. Audrey Courmoyer was five-three and center Haley Irwin of Thunder Bay was only five-seven. Jamie Kenyon, who scored two goals that night, is only five-five. I expected six foot four Amazons, I guess, but they played with Amazon sized hearts.

It was a great game, and an entertaining evening as UMD beat University of Minnesota, Mankato, 7-1. Congrats!

So, don't believe everything you hear. You have to go and draw your own conclusions. Isn't that true about a lot of things? Besides, next time I go I want to do The Wave.

*I made this up about the Jersey Shore. I thought it might help my Google rank. I lived an hour from the shore in a much less acrimonious environment.

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