She shoots, she scores: Ice hockey players chase adrenaline rush

For these ice hockey players, it’s all about the adrenaline rush.

  • “I would put a stick in the hands of every 5 year-old girl in this country,” says Marcia Steckler, the goalie above, during a Dynamic Women's Hockey School clinic in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—Each week, about 10 to 15 women get out on the ice in Greenfield, where they learn basic skating skills, stick handling, passing, and shooting techniques. Students range widely in age and skill, from beginners to experienced players. Here, one woman wears a “super women” jersey during a recent clinic. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • “There’s nothing like that feeling of scoring a goal or making an amazing pass. It’s like all systems are firing,” says Kay Cowperthwait (shown in the distance) a former coach of Amherst College’s women’s hockey team and now the owner of the Dynamic Women’s Hockey School. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

  • Collins-Moylan Skating Arena, where the clinics are held, is at 41 Barr Avenue in Greenfield. Weekly clinics begin at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday through Feb. 27 and end at 8:20 p.m. It costs $185 to sign up for the full 8-week course, or $25 per class to drop in on a single day. The classes are open to players of all ages and skill levels. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Women's Hockey School Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Women's Hockey School Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Women's Hockey School Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Kay Cowperthwait, right, teaches stick handling during a recent Dynamic Women’s Hockey School clinic. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Kay Cowperthwait takes a practice shot on Marcia Steckler. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo—

  • Cowperthwait, in the foreground, demonstrates a skating drill during a clinic. Staff Photo/Andy Castillo

@AndyCCastillo
Published: 1/22/2019 5:07:05 PM

If Marcia Steckler had her way, every young American girl would put on skates and learn to play ice hockey. That’s because hockey, more than most sports, empowers women, she says.

“It gives women the illusion of speed and the illusion of power. Those are two things society does not give to women,” Steckler said. “I would put a stick in the hands of every 5 year-old girl in this country.”

Steckler, who is from Vermont, first took to the ice after giving birth to her third child more than four decades ago. She’s been playing competitively since then, and at one point coached the junior varsity hockey team at Northfield Mount Hermon.

Now 71 years old, Steckler, a goalie on the Pioneer Valley Vipers senior women’s hockey team, says she has no intention of stopping anytime soon.

“It’s the highlight of my week,” she said, referring to a weekly women's hockey skills lab hosted at Greenfield’s Collins-Moylan Arena by Kay Cowperthwait of Northampton, owner of the Dynamic Women’s Hockey School.

Each week, about 10 to 15 women get out on the ice in Greenfield, where they learn basic skating skills, stick handling, passing, and shooting techniques. Students range widely in age and skill, from beginners to experienced players like Steckler.

The program was started in 2003 by Cowperthwait, who learned the sport as a child and went on to play on Colby College’s team. Later, she coached Amherst College’s women’s hockey team for a number of years and currently plays and coaches the Vipers.

Out on the ice one recent Wednesday, Cowperthwait led a group of about 10 women, including Steckler and another player who wore a “super women” jersey, through a series of drills. At her direction, they stickhandled through cones before taking a shot on the goal. Their breath could be seen in the cold air. The sound of their skates cutting into the ice echoed through the rink. One player rang a puck into the net off the post.

Over the years, Cowperthwait says women’s hockey has exploded in popularity.

“There were so few girls playing it when I was growing up. And now there are girls playing everywhere,” she said. In “high schools and colleges, even in the 15 years since I left college hockey, the (skill) level has risen unbelievably.”

When Steckler first got into the sport, “we were a band of maybe five women,” Steckler said. Now, she said it’s becoming commonplace to see women in hockey gear. 

“We’re approaching an equal playing field,” she said.

For Johanna Rosen, 39, who also plays on the Pioneer Valley Vipers, Cowperthwait’s skills lab is a chance to focus on specific elements of her game.

“Kay is really great at breaking down what you need to do. She has this way of encouraging and explaining things that’s really helpful,” Rosen said. In 27 years of playing hockey, Rosen says she’s never had a coach as good as Cowperthwait.

“She really cares about having everyone improve,” she said, stressing that individual improvement is a big focus of the weekly practice.

Then there’s the excitement.

“(Hockey) really revs up your adrenaline system,” said Cowperthwait. “Hockey requires so much from you cardiovascularly. … You need to have balance to stay up on your skates, you need to have strength to skate fast,” said Cowperthwait, who’s also a pilates instructor at the Pilates Studio in Hadley and teaches a spin class at the Hampshire Regional YMCA in Northampton.

“I count on it to help me with interval training in the winter time — I love it — it does so much for me socially and physically,” she said.

The camaraderie that players experience is another benefit. Over the past decades, Cowperthwait says she has grown to appreciate team sports. During warmer months, she plays golf, but says solo sports just aren’t the same.

“Being able to play on a team as you get older is a really special experience. It’s something we think about doing mostly in high school and college,” Cowperthwait said. “There’s nothing like that feeling of scoring a goal or making an amazing pass. It’s like all systems are firing. It’s a mental rush.”

Cowperthwait says she experiences a similar rush as a coach when one of her students connects with the sport.

“(Hockey) encourages tenacity and strength,” she said. “It’s a mindset that you can apply to every day life.”

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@gazettenet.com.

How to connect

Collins-Moylan Skating Arena is at 41 Barr Avenue in Greenfield. Weekly clinics begin at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday through Feb. 27 and end at 8:20 p.m. It costs $185 to sign up for the full 8-week course, or $25 per class to drop in on a single day. The classes are open to players of all ages and skill levels. Each week, Cowperthwait says they focus on a particular skill or concept, while simaltaneously working on skating, passing, and team concepts every week.

Full equipment, including helmet with a face mask, is necessary. For those who might not have equipment but still wish to attend, she suggested borrowing gear that’s been outgrown or purchasing used equipment from, among other places, Bertelli's Skate Shop in Springfield. For more information visit dynamicwomenshockey.com.




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