For some girls, this sport's way cool

The Baltimore Sun

At 5:30 in the morning on a school day, Bryn Mawr senior Jay Greene is already gliding across the ice at the Mount Pleasant Ice Arena.

Greene occasionally has a few moments alone before ice hockey practice, and one of her favorite memories is of the quiet that made her realize why she likes the sport so much.

"This one time, I got on the ice at about 5:15. There was still fog on the ice, and you couldn't see to the other end. It was completely silent. There was no one else in the rink except the manager. It was kind of like, it's this whole separate world when you play hockey that I just didn't find with other sports. As much of a team game as it is, it's so mentally individual."

The distinctiveness of the sport has a hold on Greene, the top high school player in Baltimore and a member of the area's top club team, the Washington Pride. But it also has been a draw for many of her high school peers.

Ice hockey - especially for women - is much more popular to the north, but the Washington-Baltimore-York, Pa. corridor does have a thriving, albeit small, girls club scene. Only three area schools sponsor girls varsity teams - Bryn Mawr, Archbishop Spalding and St. Timothy's - but all have growing rosters that include approximately 75 girls.

At those schools, ice hockey seems to be the cool winter sport.

"I really like the unique nature of it," said Spalding senior Stephanie Johnson, who plays for the Navy Youth Hockey girls club team. "Everywhere you go in Pasadena, lacrosse is huge. Every girl at my school plays lacrosse. I like the fact that ice hockey is so different. People don't really expect it. It's a whole different world. It's rare."

Many of the girls come out just because they're curious.

"I played basketball for a while, and since we're required to play a winter sport, I decided to try something different," said Noomi Grootens, a St. Timothy's senior from Miami. "Especially being from Florida, I figured I would never play again. I fell in love with it."

The Susquehanna Rapids club program has about 110 girls ages 6 to 18 from central Maryland and southern Pennsylvania playing on three levels from developmental to elite. There is also the Navy club, and there are several others around Washington.

On the high school level, however, it takes someone who knows the sport and is willing to coach to maintain a program. Bryn Mawr coach Maureen Walsh, the school's headmistress, grew up skating in Rhode Island and laughs when she says she has coached ice hockey at every job she has had.

Spalding coach Mike Stapleton is also from Rhode Island, and St. Tim's coach Dan Casella hails from New Jersey but played at prep school in Boston.

The local high school teams play in the Maryland Scholastic Hockey League girls division along with Washington-area teams Holton-Arms and T.C. Williams. In tomorrow's 5 p.m. championship game at Laurel Ice Rink, Bryn Mawr will try to end Holton-Arms' run of titles at five.

Holton-Arms coach Ned Hengerer, the MSHL girls division commissioner, said reactions such as Grootens' are common among newcomers.

"It's a rush. It is so fast," Hengerer said. "It's constant motion and the ability to do things with the puck is much greater than in other sports. ... It's the ultimate team game and everybody's involved, because the puck just moves around so fast. The girls all just love it."

The MSHL includes about 1,000 players, said commissioner Joseph LaCour, but only about 5 percent are girls. Most are on the five girls teams, but some play on boys teams.

Elsa Manning, a sophomore at Dulaney, plays for a Susquehanna Rapids girls club team and is one of two girls on a club team of Dulaney students that is not affiliated with the school.

"The guys actually have checking, so it gets kind of scary at times, but it's fun to hit them," Manning said with a laugh. "That's the best, when you know you check some guy over. ... I like playing for both teams, though. They're both really fun."

While a few girls in the high school league will continue on to play in college, including Greene at Division III Bowdoin and Johnson for Maryland's club team, most won't play much, if at all, after high school.

But even Greene, who travels the country with the Pride and has been to select national age-group camps, takes a lot away from her high school experience.

"Hockey is about having fun," said Greene, who chose a smaller college because she didn't want the sport to become a job.

"I think it's such a fun sport, and I think that I have a lot of energy and I love to help people learn how to skate and how to play. I think everyone should try it."

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