My route is in some ways familiar - men's hockey to women's hockey. In some ways it's very different - it's the story of a female hockey player's parent.
I had grown up in a fairly traditional sports family - football, basketball, baseball were always on the TV and we all played something - soccer & lacrosse, mostly. I grew up on Long Island, and the NY Islanders were in the midst of their incredible four Stanley Cups in a row streak, but no one in my family could skate, much less explain what on earth Icing was.
My sophomore year of college, I lived next door to the Men's Hockey team goalies. They were both seniors, long-time friends from their youth hockey days and just fun to hang out with. My roommates and I went to as many home games as we could - laughing, cheering when one of them made a great save, drinking vodka hidden in water bottles and generally behaving like stupid college kids. Once the guys graduated, it was a bit harder to get us to games, but we could be found at four or five a season.
A few years after I graduated, I found myself in law school and working as an intern for a Federal Judge in New York. The Judge was a die-hard NY Rangers fan. I was working for him when the Rangers won the Cup in 1994. Their ticker-tape parade was held three blocks from the courthouse. The Judge closed chambers that day so all of the young people working for him (two clerks and 3 or 4 interns all in their mid-20s) could go to the parade. It was incredible! Yeah, I jumped on that bandwagon and 23 years later, I'm holding on tight. 2014 and the Kings still hurts.
Over the next 5 years, I'd find myself at one or two Rangers games a year. The father of a good friend had season tickets and she could usually convince him to give them to her every so often. Then I met my husband. He was a die-hard, bleed Rangers blue kind of guy, much like the judge I had once worked for. In short order, we were sharing a pair of season tickets way up in the rafters with some friends.
My husband started taking our daughter to Rangers games when she was 3. By the time she was 6, she was standing in aisle near our seats, pointing at the ice and saying "I WANT TO DO THAT!" When she was 8, I was tired of hearing it, so I made a critical mistake. I told her "If I can find a girls team that's near home, you can try hockey." My error was in not checking to see where there were girls programs before I made that promise. Little did I know that the only girls hockey program in New York City was based at Lasker Rink in Central Park, a 15 minute walk from our front door - shorter than the walk to school. Oops.
I had a phone conversation that summer with Alan Strachan, the Program Director for the Central Park Lady Hawks. I will always remember what Alan said to me "I will never, ever tell a 9 year old that she is too old to start playing hockey. Get her some gear and I'll email you when I know the details for the first practice." In the middle of that first year, she started playing goalie. She never looked back.
Over the years since, my daughter has been invited to clinics where members of the US National Team were guest coaches, signing autographs, taking pictures and encouraging the girls to reach for their dreams. Members of the inaugural New York Riveters team were regulars at Lasker Rink that first year of the NWHL. They are tough as coaches, but truly lovely human beings.
The young women who play at the top levels of the sport have been amazing role models for my daughter and her friends - demonstrating what hard work looks like and what success looks like - and showing the girls that it looks just like them. With earrings, ponytails and stinking, sweat-stained equipment. When the women of the National Team came together to demand fair treatment for themselves from USA Hockey, they made a point of including demands on behalf of the girls my daughter's age. They asked for better development programs for these girls, not just for themselves. Megan Duggan will not go through the USA Hockey development program again, but my daughter might and it will be a better program for her, thanks to Megan and her teammates.
As a hockey fan, the skill level at the top of the game is astounding. As a parent, the young women who play it are spectacular. They have a fan in me.