Christine Reuss, Hampton (Photo by Deb Cram, Seacoast Media Group)
In today’s Seacoast Sunday newspaper:
By Amy Kane
Who is that masked woman in pads, gloves and helmet, stick in hand, blades sharp, ready to do battle on the ice?
She might be your mom.
Every Thursday morning at The Rinks at Exeter, a group of women meet to practice the fundamental hockey skills of skating, stick handling, passing and shooting. These beginner-to-intermediate level players must be older than 18, but are generally 30-something to 50-something.
Some of the women were first exposed to the sport as schedule managers, chauffeurs and laundresses for their hockey-playing kids. With gear bags stowed in the back of the family vehicle, many hours of the chilly season are spent driving to and from practices, games and tournaments.
Stephanie Leclerc, 35, of Dover, makes the trip to Exeter five to seven days a week during the season. Three of her four sons are enrolled in ice hockey programs at The Rinks. Leclerc got a bag of gear and a stick for Christmas. She enrolled in the Women’s Hockey Skills Program in January. She had never worn hockey skates or played the game before, but it was love at first ice.
The intense concentration needed to coordinate skating, stick handling and game awareness is what is most appealing to her.
“It’s a mental reprieve,” said Leclerc. “With four kids, I’m going all the time. This is the only place I don’t think about anything else — because you can’t think about anything else.”
She has now enthusiastically added Thursday mornings to her rink schedule. No wonder the program motto is “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
Ice hockey runs in the family for Alicia Zampitella, 46, of Ipswich, Mass. She skates regularly with a group of friends who travel to Exeter to practice fundamentals. Her husband coaches hockey and her teenage son and two daughters all play on teams.
“We have five hockey bags in the garage. It’s a way of life,” she said. “There’s nothing better than going up to Montreal for a tournament, meeting friends there — it’s a social life.”
Catherine Meinen, 35, is a 5-foot-tall slender blonde who had never played sports before she signed up for hockey in January. She was surprised to discover her favorite part was the physicality of the game.
“It’s not just the exertion, it’s the contact,” she said.
Women’s ice hockey rules do not allow for checking, but there is plenty of accidental bumping and knocking around as players scramble for the puck.
The Greenland resident was a middle-school teacher at Portsmouth Christian Academy. She is now a stay-at-home mom of her 15-month-old daughter. Her husband sometimes comes to watch her play.
Meinen is a beginner, but she dropped in for coed pickup games at Stick and Puck a couple of Friday mornings.
“I had the time of my life,” she said. “My feet were throbbing and sore, there’s so much footwork and muscular engagement. It’s a good workout and it’s good for my mental health.”
Christine Reuss of Hampton loves to work out too, but what initially drew her to hockey was watching her son, a Winnacunnet High School sophomore, play the game. His enthusiasm was contagious.
Reuss is originally from Cocoa Beach, Fla., and she has never really learned to love the cold weather, she said. “But now I’m trying to embrace winter.”
Kurt Mallet, director of hockey operations at The Rinks, started the over-18 women’s program in late fall. The second session is under way and the third begins in early March. Pre-registrations for the six-week sessions are $90 and walk-ons are $20. A limited amount of gear is available to loan, but most women purchase new or used gear. Currently about 18 women show up each Thursday morning from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.
“It’s turning into something special,” said Mallett. “We’d like to have a women’s team some day and host a tournament, maybe in a couple of years.”
One or two evenings will be added in spring, to accommodate women working during the day, and to add more ice time for those interested. Mallett teaches the program, aided by Peter Tufts, an instructor who is responsible for scheduling and team building, and Mark Farrington, director of skating and a power skating instructor.
On a recent Thursday, Mallett and Tufts directed drills focusing on crossovers, turns, using the inner and the outer edge of the skate, stick and puck skills, followed by passing practice and a partial game.
Tufts, who has coached both men and women at the college level, said it is a pleasure working with these women.
“They listen and do what you ask, evaluating what you’re saying to make sure it makes sense, and asking questions if they don’t understand,” he said.
For information about the Women’s Hockey Skills Program, visit www.therinksatexeter.com or call Kurt Mallet at 775-7423.