Icing, Creases, Hat Tricks
This group of women have been slapping the puck for 20 years now
Photograph by Wendy Carlson
Not long after Karen Stier’s children graduated high school, she found herself with a heap of hockey gear. So when a girlfriend asked her to join a women’s hockey team, she thought she’d give it a whirl. She laced up her son’s hockey skates, strapped on his stained and stinky padding, and teetered onto the ice.
That was 19 years ago. Karen, now 60, plays right defense with the Washington Northern Lights, Litchfield County’s only all-women’s hockey team. “I’m the worst skater on the team, but I have a blast,” says Stier, a retired asset manager.
She spends two hours every Sunday rocketing along the ice at Rumsey Hall’s Lufkin Rink, approaching the game with a mathematician’s mind. “I’m a numbers person, so I love the geometry of the game,” she says, referring to predicting the trajectory of the puck. Standing only 5’3”, Stier looks more imposing in her son’s old hockey gear.
As does the rest of the team. In uniform, they jostle out of the locker room like gladiators readying for battle. “With all this padding, you do feel invincible,” says Liz Butler, 36, who started playing four years ago after watching her husband coach Rumsey’s hockey team and wondering what it would be like to play herself.
Despite their formidable appearance, there are more apologies than fisticuffs on the ice, even when a player checks or clips another player, says Ferris Gorra, who referees the games. “I have to remind them that there are no ‘I’m sorrys’ in hockey,” he says.
It’s the camaraderie rather than the competition that keeps players returning year after year. “We’re not out for blood; we’re out for fun,” explains Stier, who, like other players, has forged new friendships on the ice and established lifelong bonds.
“It also makes the winter a little more bearable,” says Butler. “Once I get out on the ice, all my cares and frustrations disappear for two hours.”
In all, there are 20 players on the Northern Lights roster. Since the team was founded in 1996, players have ranged from rank newcomers to former college players returning to the sport after years of building a career and raising a family. A circuit-court judge and a former gold medalist have been among the players, but the majority are hockey moms. They quickly discover that the game is more difficult than they imagined—and more fun.
Denise Arturi, 59, captain and founder of Northern Lights, gained respect for the sport after playing in a parent/child game in her son’s youth hockey league. Skating skills, she says, as well as a knowledge of the game are important for anyone joining the team. But experience on other team sports such as soccer or field hockey, being in physical shape, and having a desire to play also are factors to consider before signing up. “Many women may have rusty skills, but it doesn’t take long for them to improve,” she says. “We want to have fun, so attitude is a big part of the equation.”
Proving that it is never too late to start playing hockey, the team’s core players are in their 50s and 60s. Laurie Schiesel, 61, a lawyer from Kent, attended high school before Title IX, enacted in 1972 to provide girls an equal opportunity as boys had to play sports. She joined to experience competing on a team and to be part of the locker-room scene, where a victory is sometimes celebrated by popping open a can of beer.
The team plays about a half-dozen games a year, mostly against Simsbury’s Mother Ducks. Several women’s hockey teams in Fairfield County leagues, including the Battle Axes from Danbury and the Greenwich Blues, engage in stiffer competition.
But regardless of the intensity, playing hockey is a great aerobic workout, says Dani Gelfand, 35, a fitness instructor and mother of two hockey-playing children. Gelfand moved with her family to Brookfield six years ago from Germany where she began playing at age 20. “Hockey is much more of a team sport, and it’s so fast,” she says, noting that speed and quickness are necessary attributes.
In March, as the season starts to slow down, the team takes a timeout for potluck suppers and occasionally a little post-practice pubbing—but only if it’s not a school night.