Last month roughly 40 women strapped on hockey gear, laced up skates and stepped out on the ice to experience the sport they love in a new way. Thanks to the Seattle Women’s Hockey Club’s Try Hockey for Free event, these new players had a chance to try hockey for the first time as adults.
One of the biggest barriers to playing hockey is the up-front cost. Hockey gear and ice time are expensive and it can be hard to commit financially if you’re not sure if you’re going to stick with it.
To eliminate this barrier, the SWHC provides all the hockey gear and skates for players at their event. Outfitting a large group of potential new players is difficult, but the club tries to make it easy for women who are interested in playing hockey.
“We really just want to be as open to anyone who wants to try it out,” SWHC board member Joylene Aguirre told me recently over the phone. “We want to be a welcoming environment.” The club has a stash of used gear for the event and gear loaned from club members makes up the difference. Before the event, every new player is fully outfitted.
Growing the game for women in Seattle
Interest in the Seattle Women’s Hockey Club and Try Hockey for Free has grown with the increased visibility of women hockey players. The U.S. Women’s National Team’s gold medal run during the 2018 Winter Olympics was a major force in driving interest but the excitement around the new NHL Seattle team is also a factor. Most of the women I spoke to at the event are season ticket deposit holders for the new Seattle team.
However, Joylene Aguirre is the first to admit that hockey can be an intimidating sport to pick up as an adult. “You have to learn a whole new way of moving: ice skating. So if you’ve never done it, the skating part can be so intimidating.”
But she believes the ice skating factor isn’t always a negative one. It can help level the playing field between long-time athletes and sports newbies. “I like to say that hockey is really humbling,” said Aguirre. “Most people can run, and some people run faster than others, but skating definitely levels the playing field because everyone needs to learn to skate.”
Another factor that could keep women from giving hockey a try is the physicality. Even though most Seattle-area adult leagues don’t allow body checking, there is always some degree of incidental contact. Being on the ice with players that are similarly sized might make the game less intimidating. One of the reasons Aguirre joined the SWHC is because she likes knowing that she “won’t have 200+ lbs guys running into me during games.”
The NHL and USA Hockey have thrown their support behind growing the game of hockey for girls and women. Last Friday, the NHL and NHLPA announced the formation of a Female Hockey Advisory Committee, an organization “dedicated to accelerating the growth of female hockey in North America while also ensuring more women and girls have the opportunity to experience the benefits that hockey offers.” On the local level, the SWHC has the same goal: to make the sometimes intimidating and inaccessible sport of hockey as welcoming for women as possible.
A community for women who love hockey
The Seattle Women’s Hockey Club started a little over 20 years ago as a place where women could gather and play the game they love. The club tries to host Try Hockey for Free events as often as possible to grow the game for women.
Many women at the even that I spoke to were long-time hockey fans, but never had the opportunity to play until adulthood. This is the case for Joylene Aguirre too, who followed hockey as a fan of her hometown AHL team, the San Diego Gulls. She only recently started playing after moving up to the Seattle area.
“I was always interested in it,” she told me. “My experience with hockey was mostly watching it. But hockey is even less popular in southern California so there weren’t many opportunities to play.” After moving to Seattle, she finally found a welcoming playing community with the SWHC.
This was also true for Aya, who I met at Try Hockey for Free. She followed hockey when she was growing up in Colorado. She learned to figure skate when she was younger but never played hockey. None of her Seattle-area friends play hockey either so she admitted that playing hockey was outside her comfort zone but was excited to give it try.
I also spoke with a woman named Jordan. Her whole family plays hockey. Her fiancé is a member of the Greater Seattle Hockey League and her daughter plays on a Washington Wild team. Jordan was hoping to make new friends through hockey and find a sense of team at the SWHC. “I’m excited to try something new. I’m always running around doing errands and things for my family. I’m looking forward to having something just for me,” she told me while suiting up.
Anastasia was already involved in the local hockey community before the SWHC event. She is a manager of the University of Washington hockey team and brought four of her fellow managers with her to try hockey. Anastasia told me about growing up in a Russian family with hockey always on TV. When she was a girl, hockey wasn’t viewed as feminine so she was encouraged to figure skate instead. As an adult, she’s finally stepping out on the ice to try and play the sport she loves.
A sense of community plays a big role in the SWHC. Even though there is about 100 total members and six teams, the club feels like one big family. There’s a lot of opportunities to substitute during games and get to know club members of other teams. Hangouts after games are common and being a part of the club is a great way to meet new people.
“The camaraderie we have as women is a big factor. This is just a no ego, no B.S. kind of environment where people enjoy the game that they love to play and play with women who also enjoy it. It’s just a good time so they keep on coming back,” said Aguirre.
About the Seattle Women’s Hockey Club
The Seattle Women’s Hockey Club plans to host their next Try Hockey for Free event in July 2019 and hopes to encourage more women to lace up their skates and get out on the ice.
The SWHC season runs from September to April every year on rinks in the North Seattle area. Practices are included in memberships, with a practice-only membership option offered to new members for the first two years. To find out more about the SWHC or the next Try Hockey for Free event, be sure to get in touch with them at firstname.lastname@example.org.