Equal Time

Girls are no longer iced out of competitive hockey.

USA Hockey divides the country into eleven regions. Colorado is in the Rocky Mountain division, which includes nine states from Arizona to Montana. When it comes to female stick-handlers, the area boasts a strange split: There are more registered adult-women's hockey teams here than anyplace else in the country. Ellen Yeiser, a founder of the Women's Association of Colorado Hockey, says a women's hockey league has been around in one form or another for nearly three decades. Today the WACH boasts thirty teams, including the Aspen Motherpuckers and the Steamboat Springs Chix With Stix.

At the same time, the number of area girls' teams has lagged far behind the rest of the country. As recently as 1995-96, USA Hockey records show not a single girls' team in the Rocky Mountain region. That year, however, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Colorado and, as the newly named Colorado Avalanche, won the Stanley Cup in their first year. As of last year, there were nearly twenty girls' hockey teams in the Rocky Mountain region.

Team spirit: Colorado Select founder Dan Minnick and 
his daughter, Evan.
John Johnston
Team spirit: Colorado Select founder Dan Minnick and his daughter, Evan.

An old shaving commercial shows an executive proclaiming, "I liked the company so much I bought it!" The short history of girls' hockey in Colorado has been one of individual parents declaring that the experience was so essential to their daughters' happiness that they started their own teams. The problem has been that, when their daughters stopped playing, the teams generally left with them.

One of the girls' hockey pioneers was Cathy Crum, an Aspen mom who played for the Motherpuckers. When her daughter Ali started to show some promise on the ice, there was no place for her to participate. So Crum began showing up at development camps across the region and buttonholing the few girls -- or their parents -- who were in attendance, trying to convince them that a local hockey team for girls only made sense.

For many girls who grow up playing hockey with and against boys, the joy of the game disappears by the time they reach fifteen or sixteen. By then, hockey is more about survival than skill. The boys have grown noticeably bigger and stronger.

"The boys' testosterone kicks in," says Ian Dennett, who has two hockey-playing girls. "It's a mighty drug. At a certain age, the girls are really playing against men."

For Crum, the idea of starting a girls' hockey team was partly for Ali's pleasure and partly for her advancement. With no real girls' squads in the area, she recalls, "no one [from colleges with hockey programs] was scouting our region -- and there were starting to be a lot of opportunities for girls who wanted to play in college."

The Aspen Avalanche debuted in the 1997-98 season. The team had been gathered from all over the Rocky Mountain region, with members coming from as far away as Wyoming and Montana and Utah. Indeed, the distances made it impossible to practice. Instead, Crum would arrange for everyone to meet at the site of some tournament in Minnesota or Michigan or New York. A local business helped defray travel costs for the girls who couldn't afford to pay. Once there, the girls would gather on the ice and play -- strangers at first, teammates eventually.

The first year, recalls Crum, "we were terrible." But as news of the team spread and better players showed interest and began trickling in, the Avalanche improved. During the next three years, the team earned a spot at the national championships; two of those years, they made it to the final four.

By 2001, Crum had achieved her goal: Ali was admitted to Harvard University, in part because of her hockey skills. Another girl made it to Brown. A third got into the University of Vermont to play hockey. With Ali now in college, Crum asked the other girls' parents which one of them wanted to take over management of the team.

"No one did," Crum says. "So it went by the wayside."

Pam Erickson was the next mother to build her daughter a team. "One day when I was six or seven and we were looking for something to do on a weekend, my dad said, 'Let's go ice-skating,'" remembers Lacey, Pam's daughter. She loved it from the start. When her godfather bought Lacey her first pair of skates, they were for hockey. "I've never been the girly type, so figure skating just wasn't that interesting to me," she says.

She started out playing on boys' teams, but soon after she hit her teens, she found that the game being played by the boys was leaving her behind. "I wasn't growing as big as them," Lacey says. "I couldn't get my skills out on the ice; I couldn't even muscle my way through the boys. The checking wasn't a really big deal, but it was getting rough."

So Erickson, working with another parent from Colorado Springs, formed the Colorado Xtreme. The idea, she recalls, was to "get the best girls from Colorado and put them on one team and take them on the road." At first, recruiting went slowly. One reason was cost. Unlike Crum's Avalanche, the Xtreme had no sponsors. Erickson estimates the annual tab of shlepping one girl to tournaments in places as far-flung as Minnesota, Texas, Seattle and California ran about $10,000.

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