Montgomery hockey league gives women a chance to compete


The Hot Tamales huddle at a game against the Green Devils at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel. The winter season mixes players from beginners to advanced, using an evaluation session of each player and a draft to balance the teams’ experience levels. (Lindsay A. Powers/THE GAZETTE)
January 18, 2013

Kristin Grue scored her first ice hockey goal this winter.

“I was so surprised I started screaming, and then started apologizing for screaming so loud,” said Grue, 43, as she sat in her team’s locker room prepping for her next hockey game.

In contrast, one of her competitors, Julie Sandberg-Bernard, once played hockey at Penn State and has played five seasons of recreational hockey.

Despite their difference in experience, the two players both skate in the Women’s Division of the Gardens Ice House Adult Hockey League in Laurel.

The women’s league is in its seventh winter season, with four teams who are not terribly concerned about points during their weekly Sunday games.

“This is a league not about goals or competition,” said Sandberg-Bernard, 23, of Takoma Park. “It’s about fun.”

The in-house hockey league’s winter season roster comprises players ranging from about 18 to 40 years old, from Baltimore to Montgomery to Northern Virginia, who work as veterinarians to comedians to stay-at-home moms.

The 60 core winter players (there also are substitutes who fill in certain games) also vary in their experience with hockey, but hardly their enthusiasm for the league and the game.

An eight-team summer season also runs from June to August and includes players from Maryland, the District, Virginia, Philadelphia and Delaware.

The pool of players, however, shrinks dramatically after the summer, when many players return to a college or travel team, said John Scavilla, the league’s manager and former head coach of the University of Maryland women’s ice hockey team.

While the summer season consists of an upper division and a lower division based on skill level, the winter season mixes players from beginners to veterans, using evaluation sessions of individual players and a draft to balance the teams.

Players pay about $400 to join the league (goalies pay about $200) and usually provide their own equipment. Those unable to afford the pricey gear, however, can take advantage of the league’s collection of donated equipment.

The league continued its November-to-March season starting Jan. 6, with the Hot Tamales taking on the Green Devils for Game One and Tidal Wave and Team Go facing off in a second game.

Those momentarily sitting on the Hot Tamales’ bench before taking their spot in an offensive or defense line on the ice shouted and banged their sticks against the walls and the floor. Meanwhile, their teammates and the Green Devils players called to each other over the scrape of skates against the rink.

Although some of the women sported pink gloves or partially pink hockey sticks, they were not afraid to give a hard shove as they fought for the puck.

Throughout the three 15-minute periods, the team captains and others provided advice, and the players encouraged and jokingly chided one another.

“Words of encouragement!” shouted one player at a loss for another cheer.

Kristin Wienold, who has been a captain of the Green Devils for 11 seasons, said she is a retired semi-professional soccer player and decided to take up hockey in Colorado at age 28.

“My husband was like, ‘You’re competing with me on every little thing. We have to get you into some sport,’ ” Wienold said. “And so he taught me how to skate, and I picked it up pretty quickly and started playing.”

Wienold said she and the other captain make sure everyone gets equal playing time and that winning does not matter as long as the players are enjoying themselves.

“My co-captain and I have the mentality that it’s all about fun,” she said. “This is our time away from spouses, our time away from kids, work, you know, doing whatever, and it’s just a great time to hang out with a great group of women that we all have something in common with.”

Another captain, Melissa Mumma, on Tidal Wave, said she grew up watching the Washington Capitals and loving hockey. She said has been playing for about eight years in the league’s summer and winter seasons.

“No one takes it seriously. It’s not like travel hockey,” said Mumma, 37, who also plays on another team with her husband.

“The higher-skilled players help the lesser-skilled players get involved in the game,” the White Marsh resident said of the winter season.

Several players, both those with and without much experience, echoed Mumma.

Grue, of the Green Devils, said she has learned from her fellow players in the league.

“They’ve helped me learn how to play, ’cause I have played other team sports, and I did know how to skate, but I had no idea how to play hockey other than watching my kids,” Grue, who lives in Columbia, said. She joked that she got the courage to play after seeing that her kids took on the sport and “didn’t die.”

Mary Kearney, 58, of Bethesda, said she enjoys skating with players of a variety of ages and skill levels and has seen more experienced players helping out those with less ice time under their belts.

“It’s fabulous to just watch the more experienced players,” said Kearney, of Team Go, who has played in-house hockey for about 15 years. “It’s a great way to shed the frustrations of the week.”

Erin Evans, 23, of Damascus was subbing for one of the regular players on the Hot Tamales on Jan. 6 and was familiar with some of her opponents on the Green Devils: Both her mom and sister were skating that game.

“It’s definitely different,” said Evans, who used to play hockey on an under-16 team, then an under-19 team. “It’s not the same competition, but sometimes it’s more challenging.”

Scavilla, who was asked to help start a women’s league at the Gardens Ice House, said an interest was apparent soon after he e-mailed the women hockey players he knew, in December 2002.

“The responses started coming right away,” he said.

Another league has formed in Ballston that is modeled after the Laurel league, Scavilla said, but to find another similar women’s in-house hockey league, “you would have to go to somewhere outside of Philadelphia.”

The league sees a fair amount of change as it draws players from what Scavilla called a “very transient area,” but new players have consistently shown interest in filling the league’s spots.

Besides the opportunity to learn the game and take a break from life, the league has formed a bond among its members.

“We call it like a sisterhood,” Mumma said, later adding, “It’s that band of friendships that you just can’t replace.”

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