Hockey’s not just for the boys
It wasn’t much of a decision, really. As she laced up her skates Saturday at the Aspen Ice Garden, 10-year-old Carly Fyrwald talked about how she always knew she was going to play youth hockey.”I wanted to play because everyone in my family played,” said Fyrwald, whose two older brothers, Ryder and Murphy, were the first in her family to play for Aspen Junior Hockey teams. “It just looked really fun.”Fyrwald’s fervor for hockey isn’t unique. This weekend, 16 junior teams from around the state have descended upon Aspen for the final weekend of Aspen Junior Hockey’s Fall Face-Off Tournament. Fyrwald’s U12 team is just one of five junior girls teams fielded by Aspen Junior Hockey. Fyrwald’s sister, Gentry, 14, plays on one of the program’s two U14 teams.While women’s hockey isn’t anything new to Aspen – the independent Mother Puckers started fielding a team in 1974 – girls youth hockey has enjoyed a resurgence since 1994, the year that a girls-only youth team named the Vixen was organized. According to Cathy Crum, who helped organize the Vixen, the team’s only predecessor was a youth team in the ’70s named the Ice Eaters.After the Ice Eaters disbanded, girls who wanted to play hockey in Aspen had to play on boys teams. Now, with girls teams in place at Aspen Junior Hockey for nearly every junior age division, and with plenty of competition around the state, Fyrwald and her female teammates don’t have to play with the boys. Unless, of course, they want to. The only difference between the girls game and the boys game is that there is no checking in women’s hockey. That doesn’t mean the games at this weekend’s tournament are hockey-light, however, tournament director Tim Ware said.”They still play physical,” Ware said. “They can brush people off the puck, they just can’t run them off the puck.”Ware said there are currently five girls in Aspen who play on boys teams – most on the Midgets (U17) team. Because of a lack of players, Aspen Junior Hockey didn’t field a girls team this season at the U19 or U17 level. For this weekend’s tournament, the older girls from Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs pooled together to field a U19 team – an outfit that plans to continue to play together this season.But for the older Aspen girls who are physically able, Ware said, there is also the option of playing with the boys.”There are quite a few girls who can play with the boys and when they do that, they have to play by the boys rules,” Ware said.Ware also noted that girls can play on the varsity and junior varsity teams at Aspen High.”There’s no restrictions,” he said. “If you’re good enough, they’ll take you.”
Watching a U12 game that pitted Fyrwald’s team against a team from Steamboat Springs on Saturday, it’s easy to see the appeal of girls hockey. On skates, the action moves a lot faster than a youth soccer game. There’s also the camaraderie on the bench and on the ice. In the entryway to the Ice Garden, there are fliers advertising myriad figure skating programs offered at the local rink.But Fyrwald’s father, Ernie, said neither of his daughters wanted to be figure skaters.”The appeal of playing a team sport is more fun, not only from playing on the ice but the traveling aspect and the practice aspect,” Ernie Fyrwald said. “Figure skating is a lot more individual and a lot more disciplined in terms of what you do yourself. The parents have a good time traveling. Hockey just has more camaraderie than figure skating offers.”Fyrwald’s teammate Jessica Tyler, 8, started playing hockey three years ago. While she couldn’t pinpoint what led to her decision to play, her father, Chris, said he had an inkling.Chris Tyler said his youngest daughter, Mikella, 7, has opted for figure skating over hockey. For Jessica, he said, the camaraderie of being a member of a team is what keeps her in pads and a helmet.”My youngest daughter is more of a princess,” Chris Tyler said jokingly. “Jessica is more of a sports fanatic. She’s into the hockey. What I really like about it is that it’s a team sport. I think the team aspect is really good because they get a lot out of it.”Chris Tyler also noted that growing up on the East Coast, he never saw any girls playing hockey. Now, he said, girls across the country grow up dreaming of one day playing in the Olympics for the women’s national team.”That’s what we tell our daughter is that if she wants to get to the Olympics, she’s going to do it paying hockey, not skiing,” he said. “We want her to keep doing it. She’s been doing it for a couple years and she just likes it so much.””There are more smiles out there with the girls than when the boys are out there,” Ware added. “The boys are always so serious. With the girls, they’re always having fun.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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