Can’t skate? No problem. There’s a place for women who love hockey but are vertically challenged when it comes to playing on ice: the Chilliwack Ball Hockey League.
Friday nights, the old Ag Rec Hall on Spadina Avenue is buzzing with four consecutive women’s games on the huge concrete floor. Sunday nights, the men go at it.
Plywood sheets are propped up along the edges and corners to help keep the ball on the playing surface.
Vocal fans take their places in the bleachers or along the east flank. It has the sound and feel of an ice hockey arena — except it’s warm. Long-time fan and former player, Deanna John says, “I haven’t played in seven or eight years, due to an injury, but they want me to come and yell at them.”
John was a founding member of the women’s team, which used to be called the Ravens. Now they’re the Wild Katz — a nod to the Katz Reserve on Highway #7, where many of the players have roots.
“We were playing since about 1980 in the old Ag Rec hall in Agassiz,” says John. “Before that, in the tiny hall at Seabird and at Chehalis.
“Carol Peters was on the team and she has two daughters playing now, Amy and Rachel. Rose Peters was on the team and her daughter Christy plays now.”
Other than the goalie, who is fully protected, the women wear minimal safety gear, maybe the odd kneepad or shin pad.
“You can get welts that will last for weeks,” recalls John, grinning. The ball isn’t as hard or heavy as a puck — but some of these women have powerful shots.
Vanessa James, of Dogwood Valley joined her cousins on the team this year, playing defence. She could easily borrow a pair of hockey gloves from her kids or husband but chooses to go the minimalist route.
“I played with lacrosse gloves during my first season,” she says, “but I didn’t get as much wrist movement so I opted to play without. I took a slash to the thumb during the Brigade Days tournament, which only just stopped hurting in the last week or two.
“This is my first season to play defence and it’s a bit intimidating,” says James, “but I like it because I can see the game, as a whole, easier.
“I love hockey,” she adds. “I wish I could play ice hockey but I’m not a good skater, so this is the next best thing. I find myself still thinking of the game as if it was on the ice but it doesn’t quite transfer over.
I try to dump and chase, which doesn’t work as well in ball hockey.
“The ball does sting. I’ve had a couple of ball-sized bruises — but I just see it as part of the game. I’ve heard a few girls say that wearing pants as opposed to shorts helps to take the sting away, but I get too hot with pants on.”
The Wild Katz had a 3-0 win in their season-opener against the Kiss My Pass squad, giving goalie Maggie Peters the shutout. With a tie in their second game, they are undefeated going into their third week.