Citizen Staff Writer
Women prove they can cut it on the ice. Gateway Center has co-ed youth and adult hockey.
By PATTY MACHELOR
Citizen Staff Writer
“Say ‘go!’ ” my brothers would shout from the living room, waiting for my mother to start the next round of table hockey.
During the summers of my childhood, they played street hockey and games in the basement, where “Hockey Night in the Cellar” was painted on a ceiling beam. And during the long winter months, make-believe Stanley Cup Playoffs were held on a neighborhood pond while real tournaments were played in nearby Niagara Falls, N.Y.
As the youngest, I often tagged along. Sometimes I puttered around on my own skates, and even took some figure skating classes. But, it wasn’t for me. I was more interested in watching through the plexi-glass as my brothers whipped up and down the ice chasing a puck.
What I didn’t realize then is that I, too, wanted to be a hockey player.
A few years ago, after discovering that women are now also enjoying this sport, I purchased $300 worth of used gear and began the challenge. First it was rollerblade hockey and now it’s on the ice with the Chilly Peppers, Tucson’s women’s hockey league.
The league has been in existence about five years and has traveled to play in numerous West Coast tournaments. This weekend, the Chilly Peppers will host Tucson’s first all-women’s hockey tournament at Gateway Ice Center, 7333 E. Rosewood St.
There are about 30 women in the league, a diverse group ranging in age from 18 to 56 and including all skill levels. It’s a close bunch bonded by a passion for this exciting, exhausting sport.
League President Jackie O’Bagnati played hockey in college in Rochester, N.Y., but didn’t lace up again for nearly 18 years before joining the Chilly Peppers a few years ago. She laughs remembering her first embarrassing attempts at being a hockey player.
“I didn’t realize that we needed suspenders and my hockey pants fell down,” said O’Bagnati, 41.
The players who gather to practice each week say they enjoy the camaraderie the league offers. Three players have gotten married in recent years, four have had babies and two have lost parents, and each life event is recognized by teammates.
Joe Hubbuch, a lifelong hockey player and experienced coach, started working with the Chilly Peppers about 18 months ago when his wife became interested in playing. It’s the first time he’s coached a women’s league.
“Male players are afraid to ask as many questions as women, who sometimes ask too many,” said Hubbuch, who owns Gateway’s pro-shop, Total Edge. “(But) women are more committed to getting better and are more committed to being a team.”
Amy Kelaher, 30, couldn’t wait to get back to playing after giving birth to her son, Keegan, 14 months ago.
“I was so excited. It probably took me a couple of practices to get back into the swing of things,” said Kelaher, who missed being part of the team as much as the sport itself.
Kelaher, a skilled field hockey player, started learning ice hockey in college. She had never skated before and, like O’Bagnati, remembers her first year with humor. “I had to use other people or the boards to stop,” she said.
Learning as an adult can be challenging, but many members of the Chilly Peppers are doing just that. Kelly Warren, a 42-year-old team captain who started playing about 10 years ago, advises beginners to start rollerblading to strengthen their ankles.
“Once you get good at that, then move to the ice,” Warren advises, recalling how she began by playing roller hockey.
Ana Henderson, one of the league’s founders, decided she wanted to play after watching games at the Tucson Convention Center about seven years ago. For more than a year, she played hockey with men.
“For a whole year, I had stage fright,” said Henderson, 33. She said she often skated with her head down so she wouldn’t see the other players circling around.
“They were three times my size, but they treated me like I was one of them,” she said with a laugh. “I loved it . . . the blisters from tightening my skates, the stinky gear . . . ”
Not all of the women on the league started playing as adults, however. Teammate Amanda Moors discovered hockey when she was 8 and skating with her Brownie troop at a Houston rink. During those early years, she was often the only girl on a boy’s team.
Moors, now 35, played for the University of New Hampshire before moving to Globe about eight years ago. She recently returned from Switzerland, where she spent a year as a guest player on a Swiss team.
For the first five years Moors lived in Arizona, however, she didn’t play because she’d have to commute to Phoenix or Tucson.
“And then I couldn’t take it anymore. I kept dreaming about hockey,” she said.
FACTS & LINGO
Haven’t a clue about hockey? Here’s some facts and insider lingo to get you in the game:
- The surface of the ice is 85 feet wide and 200 feet long.
- Six players per team are on the ice at one time, including a goaltender, right and left defensemen, a center forward and right and left wing forwards.
- Games are 60 minutes long, with three 20-minute periods.
Assist – A point awarded to a player for helping set up a goal.
Boarding – Driving an opposing player into the boards with an excessive body check.
Breakaway – A clear scoring opportunity where no defensive player is between the puck carrier and the goaltender.
Breakout – Starting an offensive rush by passing the puck out of the defensive zone up into the neutral ice zone.
Charging – Taking a run at an opposing player using more than three strides to build speed.
Cross-checking – A check or blow delivered by a player with both hands on the stick and no part of the stick on the ice.
Face-off – The act of dropping the puck between opposing players to begin play.
Game misconduct – The suspension of a player for the balance of the game, but the penalized team does not have to play short-handed.
High-sticking – Striking your opponent while carrying the stick above shoulder level.
Holding – Clutching an opposing player’s body with hands to impede progress.
Hooking – Using the blade of your stick to hook an opponent from behind.
Icing – When a player shoots the puck across the center red line and past his opponent’s goal line, and it is touched by a defender.
Interference – Impeding the progress of an opponent not in possession of the puck.
Major penalty – The penalized player must sit in the penalty box for five minutes and, depending on the situation, the team must play with one less player. These more serious offenses include checking from behind, fighting, high-sticking and spearing.
Minor penalty – The penalized must sit in the penalty box for two minutes, and the team must play with one less player. This is known as a power play for the team with the extra player. Minor penalties include boarding, charging, elbowing, high-sticking, holding, hooking, interference, roughing, slashing, spearing and tripping.
Misconduct penalty – Usually called against a player who uses excessively abusive language. Although the player must sit out for 10 minutes, the team does not play short-handed.
One-timer – A shot toward the goal in which the shooter receives a pass and shoots the puck without stopping it.
Roughing – A small scale punching or shoving bout.
Slashing – Striking your opponent with your stick.
Spearing – Jabbing your opponent with your stick.
Tripping – Placing a stick or body part in such a manner that it causes an opponent to fall.
WAYS TO PLAY
Interested in learning to play? Here are some ways for girls and women to get started:
- Bladeworld, 1065 W. Grant Road, offers rollerblade hockey for women 18 and over, as well as coed youth leagues. For more information call 624-1234, or log on at www.bladeworld.com.
- Gateway Ice Center, 7333 E. Rosewood St., has co-ed youth and adult ice hockey as well as skating classes and pick-up games. For more information call 290-8800.
- Tucson Women’s Hockey League offers women 18 and over weekly practices at the Gateway center. For more information call Jackie O’Bagnati at 574-7524 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the league website at www.AutoFlight.com/ChillyPepper.htm.
- Joe Hubbuch will present free co-ed rollerblade hockey classes beginning in December for children 12 and under at Ott Family YMCA, 401 S. Prudence Road. For more information, contact him at 296-2303.
The Tucson Chilly Peppers will be host to the first all-women’s ice hockey tournament in Tucson Saturday and Sunday at the Gateway Ice Center, 7333 E. Rosewood St.
The University of Arizona Icers and teams from Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif.; and Phoenix will play in the games, which run from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Playoff games start Sunday at 11:30 a.m. Admission is free. Call 290-8800.
PHOTO CREDIT: TRICIA McINROY/Tucson Citizen
CUTLINE: Alissa Bustamante tries to get a shot past goalie Nikki Liechty during Chilly Peppers’ practice.
CUTLINE: Hockey players Amy Kelaher (left) and Pamela Lambert suit up in protective shoulder pads.
CUTOUT: (Jackie O’Bagnati, a member of the Chilly Peppers, at a team practice)
CUTLINE: Chilly Peppers coach Joe Hubbuch talks with players during practice.
CUTLINE: Citizen reporter Patty Machelor (right) squares off against Diane Roberts during practice with the Chilly Peppers.