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Why I’m a fan of women’s hockey: Blame the goalie next door

From the Washington Capitals to the New York Riveters, a path to women’s hockey that travels 225 miles from Virgina to Newark and back.

Jen Silber’s love of hockey was mostly because of goalies: first a neighbor in college and then two fan favorites in the new NWHL.
Michelle Jay

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General hockey fandom was something that simply happened to me — my father was a rec-league soccer goalie, but in the suburbs of Washington, DC, in the 1970s and ‘80s, there wasn’t really any professional soccer worth watching. There was a professional hockey team, though — a team that, at that time, was desperately trying to attract fans — and hockey isn’t too much different from soccer after all (Just colder. And a whole lot faster). My family had a ticket plan with the Washington Capitals from the time I was about 10 years old. Although I always preferred the open, finesse game of IIHF rules hockey, those games happened a lot less often. NHL hockey was more accessible to fans in a nontraditional market, inasmuch as it existed at all.

I am not ashamed to say that when I chose my college, the historic and beautiful Sage Rink was a significant factor in my decision. I hoped that I would be able to finally learn to skate, at least. I had no idea that my next-door neighbor in the dorms during that first year would be an upper-classwoman who played goalie for the school’s (then intramural) women’s ice hockey team. I truly hadn’t known, until that moment, that women played ice hockey. I went to a couple of her games ... learned to skate, but not all that well... and I pretty much forgot about women’s hockey after she graduated in 1992.

Until about five years later, when someone informed me that women’s ice hockey would be making its debut during the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. I learned every damn thing I could about the Team USA women as the roster was finalized (Which wasn’t easy! Do you remember the state of the Internet in 1997?). During the Games, when there was no such thing as livestreaming and I was a young entry-level worker who couldn’t afford a cable TV subscription, I watched as many games as I was able. When Team USA won that first women’s ice hockey gold medal, well — I bought the Wheaties box and dumped out the cereal.

But women’s ice hockey was still an every-four-years thing for the next few Olympic cycles, even as I started paying a lot more attention to the NHL ... and as my disillusionment with the culture of hockey, and the NHL’s disregard for its players and its fans, grew.

When the NWHL was established, the timing was perfect. I was ready to make a break with the NHL. My mother and I attended one New York Riveters game during their first season (Jenny Scrivens! Nana Fujimoto! Can you tell I have a soft spot for goalies? My father, unfortunately, is no longer living, but my goalie love is eternal.)

In their second season, the Riveters moved from Brooklyn to Newark, NJ. It wasn’t a huge move for them, but it shortened the drive for me — coming up from Alexandria, VA — by about 20 miles and one bridge toll. I opted not to renew my ticket plan for the local NHL team, and my mother and I became season ticket holders with the New York Riveters. In the 2016–17 season, I didn’t miss a single game, traveling about 225 miles each way. Even with gas and tolls, it was still cheaper than seeing a dozen or so NHL games at an arena 7 miles away. And the seats are better. And the crowd is more engaged. And the game is just as fast, just as intense, and a lot more interesting to me.

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