Many people don’t understand my obsession with hockey, which has escalated since I started playing the sport. When I was thinking about it one day on my long drive home from work, I came to this conclusion.
I didn’t find hockey… hockey found me.
Let me explain.
I’ve been a sports fan since I could remember. Baseball was my favorite sport for most of my life. I grew up collecting baseball cards, following the Pirates religiously, and playing softball saying to myself, “I’m going to be the first woman in MLB someday!” Needless to say that didn’t happen, but one thing was always certain… when I was playing softball, I was always playing at the my best level possible because I love the sport. Some of my teammates didn’t take it as seriously as I did, probably because we were all just kids. But I had this big passion for playing… and doing it well. The last time I played softball, I was a senior in high school, and I was known as the girl who would slide head-first into bases, and the one who hit a grand slam when it was the only possible way we could win the game at that moment. I played left-center field, and if the ball was hit to right, I was backing up the right fielder by the time the ball got to her. Sure, it was just township softball. To me, though, every game meant something. Not to win or lose, but to prove to myself that I could be better then the game before. This is why I dove in the outfield, slid into bases head first, caught balls with my open hand in order to be able to whip it to second base… because it pushed myself to the limits, and I loved it. 12+ years of playing softball ended when I graduated high school, and I still miss it sometimes.
I also played basketball and volleyball in high school. Basketball didn’t last too long for me. Even though I was considered tall back then, I still couldn’t play very well, and decided on giving volleyball a shot instead. I’m glad I did. I loved playing in high school, and even though I wasn’t one of the best players, I still made the varsity team. One thing I did have was a good serve. Still do. I still love playing volleyball when I get the chance.
So, what does this all have to do with hockey? Well… playing sports ended when I graduated high school. Back then I was just starting to learn more about hockey because I had been dating Justin (my husband) for about a year at that point. Justin played hockey for most of his life, and he had season tickets for the Penguins with his mom since he was about 6 years old, I think. He took me to my first Pens game, and as we were watching it, he was explaining to me what everything meant. Icing, penalties, off-sides… the things I didn’t know about. My dad did this with me when I wanted to learn more about football, but didn’t understand anything. Neither one of my parents were into hockey, and I really didn’t know anyone into hockey until I met Justin, so I never had anyone to explain it to me. Once I understood hockey, it was all over. I couldn’t believe I had missed out on this great sport all this time! Justin and I went to many games while we were in college, and I was hooked.
Even though college was a great experience for me, and I made many friends, it was also a means to what would be a very long, and stressful 10 years for me. I took full course loads of classes, and even though I was asked to be on Point Park’s softball team, I declined because not only was I taking a lot of classes, but I was working 30 hours in retail as well. I just had no time.
I graduated from college in 2003, and had to stay working in retail to pay the bills. I started to forget about the fun things in life because working in retail is depressing… especially when it’s unexpected. I started to only care about making money, and when I was asked to manage a store, I accepted. Bad decision. My life revolved around my job, and I couldn’t get out of it. I couldn’t even think of doing anything else because no matter where I went, my job followed, whether it was a phone call, email, or something else. For 10 years, this is what my life was. I couldn’t even think about playing a sport. I was lucky Justin and I were able to get Pens season tickets in 2005 and I was actually able to make it to some games. Sometimes I think that kept me sane.
When I finally slapped myself in the face, so-to-speak, I told myself I was going to change my life around for the better. I dropped to part-time in retail, and went back to Point Park University to get my MBA. I graduated a year later, and was offered a position doing what I love. This position also game me a lot of free time, since it was primarily a 9-5 job. I was so happy I was able to turn my job situation around that I was looking for other ways to better myself. Then I remembered how great it was to play sports.
At this point, the only two sports I was really following were football and hockey. And I didn’t think I could handle football (and that’s saying a lot coming from me, if you know me). I then thought, “I wonder if there’s any women’s hockey teams in Pittsburgh?” … so I searched Google, and I found there was. At the time three women’s teams existed: Central Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Piranhas, and the Pittsburgh Puffins. Central was for women who had been playing for most of their lives, so I knew they were out for me, and the Piranhas also looked to be a higher level team. When I got to the Puffins website, however, I knew this would be the team for me. They had women from all different age groups and skill levels on the team. I wasn’t sure how to go about getting a spot on the team, so I wrote an email, and found out that there was a women’s learn to play hockey course at the RMU Island Sports Center. This was great! So, I took the class. I’m still in it now playing as a goalie.
Last year I was offered a spot on the practice squad for the Puffins. Even though I would’ve loved to be on the full-time squad, I realized I had only been playing hockey for about 6 months at that point, so I wasn’t too disappointed about it. I was just happy to meet new people, make more friends, be on the ice more, learn more about the sport, and have a lot of fun. I still have the same mentality as I did in high school. I put everything out there during every practice so I can get better. I don’t care what age or skill level I’m at, I’m always going to push myself to the limit because I want to be better then the last practice. It’s rough, but I feel better about myself after every practice knowing I gave it my all.
Going to practices and playing in Puffins games made me realize what I had been missing the past 10 years… playing a sport. It sounds cheesy, but playing a sport makes me happy. What kept me going in high school was knowing that the next sport was coming up… whether it was volleyball or softball, I was going to be playing something most of the year. After high school I went 10 years not playing any sport and they were the most depressing 10 years of my life.
Now that I’m playing hockey, I like studying hockey players and I’ve got into watching games other then just Penguins games. I love NHL Network because they play all kinds of hockey, and I love watching college hockey as well as women’s hockey now. One of my coaches introduced me to the Minnesota State High School Hockey playoff tournament, which is the biggest high school tournament in the USA. I was watching in awe at these players who were just in high school. It was amazing, and honestly, more exciting then watching an NHL game. A few of the games went into OT, and one game I just couldn’t leave work because I had to watch the end of this game. It was that exciting. Most of us wouldn’t believe how skilled these kids are…. and they were not playing for money. They were playing for pride… laying everything on the line.
“If I found my way to Minnesota…” – That line from a Dandy Warhols song kept going through my head as I was watching that high school tournament, and I never thought I would be saying this, but I really want to go to Minnesota for it next year. To me it feels like I almost need to go there.
If I never met Justin, I might not be writing this right now. He introduced me to hockey… what the sport is really about.
If I didn’t make it on the Puffins, I wouldn’t have met a lot of great people who are now great friends.
I’m not a big religious person, but I think everything happens for a reason. It may have taken 10 years for hockey to become a big part of my life, but I think it was brought into my life to make me happy, get me healthy again, and to bring new friends into my life.
“I didn’t find hockey… hockey found me.”
Pittsburgh Women's Hockey Resource Blog
Charlene Bidula, Sara Petyk, Cori James and Val Sweeney blog about local women's hockey news, tips, teams and anything else they find helpful to all the women hockey players in Pittsburgh!