Unlike in more populated areas of B.C., the women’s recreational hockey teams of Smithers have felt the need to combine the age categories ranging from Midget to Senior in order to fill their rosters. At a Prowlers or a Road Warriors game you can expect a girl of 15 to be on the ice next to a woman in her 60s, brought together by a love of the game.
I had opportunity to speak to several players between games during a tournament held on Dec. 1.
“There’s only so much women in the community and so we don’t have enough women to divide into age groups, or our teams would be tiny,” said Dawn Hanson, who plays forward for the Smithers Road Warriors. “So we just create an environment that encourages all women players and then we welcome everybody onto the ice.”
“In the winter it brings you together and you just know everyone,” said Prowlers goalie Nelsie Schaefer. “For me, with work, it’s an outlet because work is stressful. You just step on the ice and forget about it.”
“My son played hockey. He aged out of midget last year,” said Cindy English, who plays left wing for the Prowlers. “I was the typical hockey-mom, yelling from the stands at my kids, ‘Two hands! Stick on the ice!’ My son was kind enough to come to a game. He bellowed out as loud as he could ‘Two hands, mom! Stick on the ice! Skate! Offside!’ Everything that I ever yelled to him.”
“I just turned 53, it’s a great way for me to stay in shape and get out,” said Chris LaFrance of the Prowlers. “What people maybe don’t realize so much is what a social event it is.”
Of all the players I spoke to, it appeared that Chris LaFrance had the most experience playing the game. LaFrance has been with the Prowlers for five seasons. Before moving to Smithers, she played on the Toronto Police Women’s team — a team that would occasionally play in exhibition matches against Canada’s national women’s team.
“I played with them for 10 years, maybe a bit longer. I had my son, then I stopped playing for about 10 years, then I came here,” said LaFrance. “When I came here and slapshots were in the game, that was a bit of an adjustment,” LaFrance told me. “What they had done in Toronto is that they had taken slapshots out and were allowing ‘snap shots.’ ”
LaFrance explained to me that what separates a slapshot from a snap shot: In a snap shot, the blade of the stick is raised no higher than the knee before hitting the puck.
The league is eager to accept new members into the fold. Layna Watson, the Road Warriors’ newest player, joined up shortly after enrolling for skating lessons from SkateCanada’s CanSkate program.
“I just took my last one yesterday,” said Watson.
She tells me there will be another six-week CanSkate program happening at the arena in January of the new year.
“At the beginning of every season we have a three-week intro to women’s hockey and we provide gear for everybody and it gives women an opportunity to come out and try and see if they like it,” said Katt Johnson, goalie of the Road Warriors.
This three-week introductory period is affectionately referred to by many players as the “try-hockey.”
“My sister-in-law invited me to come to the try-hockey, which she had seen on Facebook,” said Cindy English. ”It was free, and they would help you with gear if you didn’t have it, so you could come out and try and decide if you liked it and if you liked it then you could sign up. Honestly, if we never had the try-hockey I never would have had the balls to step on the ice.”
English was eager to play, but much like Watson, she also felt nervous about her lack of experience when she started.
“Me and my sister-in-law thought this was fun, something we both want to do; but we’re both over 40 and this was the first time we played hockey ever. I don’t think I ever played pond hockey as a kid. We just played ice tag. And then I didn’t skate for like, 25 years.”
“If there’s women out in the community, you don’t have to skate good, you don’t have to know how to play hockey,” said Cindy Johnson. “If you are interested come out and watch, and maybe next year come out and try out if you want to play. It’s competitive, but it’s also friendly so that it’s not competitive-nasty, for lack of a better word.”
“Let’s get everybody out and enjoy ourselves, that’s the whole goal of how we run our team and our objective when we get on the ice,” said Dawn Hanson. “We want to learn and have fun, and so we encourage each other. To anyone who is wondering we say be brave, come on out, and give it a go.”