Women’s hockey: the team with all the guts, none of the glory

Ashley Potts

Hockey is a somewhat under rated sport in the United States, which makes sense since it’s a Canadian-bred sport.

Of the “big five” sports leagues in the USA, the National Hockey League ranks fourth: ahead of Major League Soccer, but behind the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.

Ad

Hockey culture is growing in Colorado—with the official advent of the hockey highway, a successful NCAA program at the University of Denver and a major turn around in the Colorado Avalanche performance—but it’s still not a state that makes one automatically think hockey.

That glimpse of hockey culture, while only 20 to 60 minutes away from campus, hasn’t quite made it’s way to Colorado State University. While there are two teams competing in Division I of the American Collegiate Hockey Association and one competing in Division II, there isn’t much of a CSU hockey fanbase on campus.

That doesn’t stop the athletes on CSU’s club teams from doing what they love though. And one of the teams is up against one more layer of unpopularity: the women’s team. 

Women’s hockey is also growing, with the U.S. national team bringing home a gold medal in the Pyeongchang Olympics and many of those players joining National Women’s Hockey League teams. But it’s no secret that women’s sports are generally less popular.

The women who take the ice in the back rink of Edora Pool and Ice Center do it anyway.

It’s like a family. I see them every day.Katie Hurley

They practice on ice three times a week at obscure times like 6 a.m. and 9:45 p.m., do dry land workouts twice a week and play games almost every weekend.

They don’t even have their own locker room and have to wait for local users to leave before using the public locker rooms. They love hockey and are used to playing it under less-than-ideal conditions, many of them growing up playing on boy’s teams because girl’s teams simply didn’t exist.

“I grew up in a family of hockey players, mom, dad, brother,” forward Katie Hurley said. “I was a rink rat for the first six, seven years of my life, and then finally I was like  ‘Why am I just watching? Why can’t I play?’ So when I was seven I started playing guys hockey, and I played boys hockey up until college when it’s no longer allowed.”

Stephanie Talone faces off against a Buffs player during the Rams’ game against the University of Colorado Dec. 1 at EPIC. The Rams fell to the Buffs 9-0. (Ashley Potts | Collegain)

 

A pair of Hurley’s teammates reiterated a life of hockey. 

Ad

“I played boys hockey until I graduated high school,” captain Kristen Perry said. “And I also played on a girls AAA travel team in high school. I played on three hockey teams at one point.”

“My high school didn’t have a team so I had to play club,” forward Stephanie Talone said. “Which meant I had to drive hours in order to just get to practice, which really sucked for me, but it was fun.”

Forward Carline Forsmo said she played on a girl’s high school team, but the team had to combine players from other schools in the area to fill out a full roster.

“I’ve never even heard of a girl’s high school team,” Talone said.

In order to play on the CSU club team, each player must try out. Upon making the team, there are dues that can reach $2,500. Those dues cover things like ice time, referees for games and travel.

That figure doesn’t cover team apparel, jerseys or gear, which each player must provide themselves.

“Hockey is an expensive sport,” Perry said. “A lot of girls have probably walked away from this team because they heard $2500. These girls work hard and do it for themselves. Many of the girls on the team have jobs on top of their school and hockey schedules.”

The team also raises money through programs like RamRide and a Yankee Candle fundraiser while also trying to get local companies to sponsor them.

“It’s hard to field a team with that (price) hanging over your head,” Hurley said. “We play teams where their school is all in. They have on-campus ice rinks, they have everything provided for them.”

The fee associated with buying additional ice time for practice is large.

“(Teams with) on-campus ice rinks don’t have to pay for their practice ice,” said Perry. “That’s a huge fee, like $200 an hour.” 

Kristen Perry clears the puck out of the Rams’ defensive zone during the Rams’ game against the University of Colorado Dec. 2 at Pepsi Center. The Rams fell to the Buffs 9-0. (Ashley Potts | Collegain)

Many players also noted that many of the teams in their league come from universities that give money to their hockey programs, even though they’re club sports.

There are teams in their league with very successful NCAA hockey programs, including the University of Denver, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota and the University of Massachusetts to name a few.

The support means that those teams can offer scholarships to players, whereas at CSU, “we pay to do what we love,” Forsmo said.

That means the team has to do a lot of recruiting. They go to tournaments and recruit from local teams as well as come out for “Night at the Rec” at the beginning of each school year to try to find athletic people who are either freshman or new to CSU.

“The teams that have won back-to-back championships have 20 plus players and we’re at like 15 right now,” Talone said. This year’s roster stands at 19, but three of those players are goaltenders, leaving 16 skaters. This means each player gets a good deal more ice time, leaving them frequently more tired than their opponents.

The added playing time often takes a toll.

“It’s hard to compete when you get to the end of the second period and you’re giving it your all, but you’re just so gassed,” said Forsmo. “It’s really hard to come back to that third period and come back and win.”

Perry added that this season is an improvement from last year when they were left with only nine skaters at one point.

Perry also noted that this season and last have been rebuilding years for the team, just trying to stay afloat. They have a lot of young players and the team is still working on their chemistry.

With their youth, several younger players are handling the responsibilities normally allocated to upperclassmen like being on special teams for power plays and penalty kills. 

“We’ve got the talent and skill, it’s just taking time to mold together and work as a team,” Hurley said.

Through all of the struggles of playing tough teams and being a women’s club team in a state that’s only scraping the surface of hockey culture, it’s clear that the girls on this team love hockey.

They have spent time and money on their sport to play for few fans and little recognition. Each of them has a story of someone telling them “I didn’t even know we had a women’s hockey team,” but they each have a story of their favorite NHL team or going to hockey clinics in the summer anyway.

They put their bodies and their schedules through hell to keep skating and made friends along the way.

“We’re with each other so much,” Talone said.  “We get to the rink an hour or two before practice, we warm up and play and we travel a lot and then we hang out with each other when we’re not playing hockey.”

“It’s like a family,” Hurley said. “I see them every day.”

Perry, despite the struggles, yields few requests for changes. 

“I wouldn’t do it any other way,” Perry said. “I like these girls.”

Ashley Potts can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ashleypotts09.