By Michael G. Glab
Dara Thompson is sipping a cocktail in a restaurant near Woodfield Mall. We’re talking about a computer magazine that has “Internet entrepreneur” Monica Lewinsky on the cover.
A demon taps me on the shoulder. “Dara,” I begin, “if you were Monica Lewinsky–” Thompson interrupts. “Would I smoke Bill’s cigar?”
She places her forefinger over her lips, contemplating the question for a moment. “Umm, yes.”
“I, at that point, would be the most powerful person in the whole wide world.”
What is she instead? The captain and top player on the Chicago Frozen Snappers, who next year will join the Women’s Central Hockey League.
A woman named Fritzi Soutsos started the WCHL in 1993. Her daughter was a high school ice hockey player at the time and Soutsos felt she needed to face better competition. So she called together representatives of adult women’s teams, girls 19-and-under teams, and unaffiliated high school girls varsity teams from the Chicago area and Wisconsin. They drew up rules, bylaws, and a schedule for a new league. One of those representatives was Erin Moran, who’d started the University of Illinois’ Illini Women’s Hockey club and, after she graduated, the area’s first independent women’s hockey team, the Chicago Rebels. Soutsos was the WCHL’s first president. Moran later assumed that position and asked Dara Thompson to be the league’s secretary.
The WCHL has grown stronger by the year and now has 24 teams in three divisions. Its players range from novices who stepped on the ice for the first time mere months ago to former collegiate stars and Olympic hopefuls. There are lawyers, artists, and housewives. There are Dara Thompson, Lisa Magad, and Andrea Meenahan.
It’s the first day above freezing in about a month, since before the early December snowstorm. Andrea Meenahan and her Chicago Inferno teammates have a big game tonight against the Milwaukee Pond Piranhas. Meenahan has decided to warm up by skating for an hour before she goes out to Northbrook for the game.
Meenahan is getting ready to lace up her skates in the warming shack next to the outdoor public skating rink at Hubbard Woods in Winnetka. The ice is covered with a film of moisture. “This’ll be great,” she says. “See, hockey players like it when the ice is wet. It’s easier to glide. Figure skaters like it dry. That way they can stop faster and dig in with their toes easier.”
The mild Saturday–it’s about 40 degrees and sunny–has brought out loads of skaters, a lot of them families with little kids. Meenahan is here with a friend, Doug, and his son Andy, who’s ten. Just today Andy got new skates, and he’s pumped at the prospect of hitting the ice with Meenahan. “Now you watch Andrea,” Doug says. “She can teach you a lot.”
Meenahan is so methodical about her skate lace-up routine that she doesn’t notice Andy heading for the ice. Fifteen minutes more go by before she clomps out of the warming shack. Stepping onto the rink, she twists and turns like a ballerina to gauge the ice. Then she skates backward more swiftly and surely than anybody else here can skate forward. Meenahan pivots smartly, leans over, pistons her powerful thighs, and races off as if catapulted. She dances around some thick-trunked, denuded trees, dribbling a puck with her stick.
She skates laps around the rink, dodging tots and moms in figure skates and a few nearly middle-aged men who watch her wistfully as she breezes past. She nabs Andy by the collar and steers him to a bench by the warming shack.
“What’s the matter?” Andy asks.
“Look at your ankles,” she says sternly, grabbing his skates and twisting them. “See how loose these are?”
Andy shrugs. “So?”
“What do you mean, so? You can’t skate like that.” Meenahan proceeds to unlace and properly tighten one of his skates.
“They’re fine,” he protests. “It’s OK.”
It takes Meenahan five minutes to redo one skate. Andy fidgets and gazes out at the ice. “These new skates are so stiff,” she says. “Here’s what you do when you get home. You get a big pot of boiling water and hang the skates upside down in the steam. That’ll soften them up. Then put blade guards on and walk around the house in them. Just keep on doing that until they’re broken in.”
Meenahan looks up at Andy to see if he’s paying attention. He isn’t. “OK?” Meenahan says. Andy does a double take. “Uh, yeah,” he says.
“OK,” she says. “Here, give me your other foot.”
But Andy stands up. “It’s OK! It’s OK!” he says. Meenahan puts up her hands in surrender and Andy clumps out to skate.
“That’s the most tedious thing for a novice,” says Meenahan, speaking of the lace-up ritual. She points at Andy skating off. “Look,” she says, “can you see the difference?” Sure enough, the skate she’s laced up is tight and that ankle is steady. The other ankle wobbles. When Andy does fall, before he even gets to the other end of the rink, it’s because that ankle buckled.
An hour later the sun has begun to set. The families have all packed it in for the day. Andy has long since retired
to the warming shack, his face beet red, sweat dripping down his forehead. But Meenahan, a solitary figure on the ice, continues to skate backward and forward, dribbling the puck as if it’s attached to her stick by a string.
There’s a scrum in front of the Frozen Snappers’ net seven and a half minutes into their game against the Crystal Lake Talons. Defenseman Dara Thompson stands alone, surrounded by three Talons, the puck at her skates. The Talons try to knock it free but Thompson is hovering over it, protecting it. If only a couple of teammates would shove some of these Talons out of the way!
But no, the other Frozen Snappers might as well be skating on a pond in Saskatchewan for all the help they’re giving her. One is on her knees after falling. Two are balancing themselves with their sticks, human tripods trying not to flop on their faces. A fourth is looking toward the bench for direction. Thompson guards the puck valiantly, but one of the Talons finally pokes it away. The puck slides to Sandi Bondi, the Talons’ star, who’s camped in front of the Snappers’ goalie. Bondi corrals the puck and looks toward the net, her eyes wide. The only thing between her and a goal is Susan Hollinger.
This is Hollinger’s sixth league game. Before this season, the only skating she’d ever done was for fun, on figure skates. Tonight she forgot to bring her goalie skates, and in rented skates she’s having trouble moving. Bondi wrists the puck to the goalie’s left. Hollinger tries to slide in front of it, but the puck darts past her into the net. The Talons form a mob in front of the net to celebrate the game’s first score. Their teammates on the bench pound the boards with their sticks.
Thompson and her teammates skate to their bench. She doesn’t hector them for hanging her out to dry. “That’s OK,” she says to one. “We’ll be all right,” she says to another. “It’s only one goal,” she says to no one in particular as she steps through the door and off the ice.
Without corrective surgery, Dara Thompson would never have been able to walk. Her deformed ankles led to an unorthodox skating style. She’s a stand-up skater with short strides. Hockey coaches advise novices to get as low to the ice as possible. “I have a very ugly style,” she says. “I stand with my knees locked. If I bend my knees, I’m off balance. Skating is the worst part of my game. The more tired I get, the worse it gets. I skate like I have two cinder blocks on my feet–clunk, clunk, clunk.”
The blades of Susan Hollinger’s goalie skates back home are flat. The blades of the rink skates she’s wearing are rounded. Not two minutes after their first goal, the Talons get another one. Again Hollinger looks clumsy on the shot. But the hole the Snappers find themselves in has been dug collectively. Thompson is the best player on the team. She’s a stay-at-home defenseman, parking herself in front of her goalie and daring any opponent to come near. But her teammates can’t skate, pass, or shoot with the Talons. Almost every time a Snapper tries to skate with the puck, a Talon picks her pocket. So the Snappers resort to dumping and chasing–whoever has the puck shoots it into the corner at the Talons’ end and her teammates tear after it. Unfortunately, the Talons are so much faster they invariably beat the Snappers to the punch.
The Talons spend almost the entire first period in the Snappers’ end. But at the buzzer they’re up only 2-0.
Throughout most of the second period the Snappers hold the Talons scoreless. This is a miracle–the Talons are outplaying them by an even wider margin than before. But with 3:05 left in the period the Talons score their third goal. The floodgates open. Within a minute and a half the Talons score twice more, ending the period with a five-goal lead.
Midway through the third period, the referees have yet to call a penalty. Then a Talon slams a Snapper into the boards to the right of the Talons’ goalie. This is a no-check league; the Talons on the bench leap to their feet and holler at the referee. “She didn’t mean it!” they yell repeatedly. Apparently the refs are listening; neither calls a penalty.
With a little more than four minutes to go in the game, the Snappers’ Kim Overbey finds a loose puck at center ice and no one between her and the Talons’ goalie. Overbey might be the Snappers’ best skater. She’s short and wide, and when she leans into her sprint her chin can’t be more than three feet from the ice. Sensing their first real scoring opportunity, the Snappers on the bench scream encouragement. Overbey bores a hole through the Talons’ goalie with her eyes. When she gets within five yards of the net, Overbey raises her stick behind her and unleashes the best slap shot of the night. The Talons’ goalie makes a textbook kick save and the Snappers on the bench groan. But at least their team is in the Talons’ zone. Overbey’s four ice mates have chugged after her. The Talons’ goalie directs the rebound to a teammate and the Talons counterattack.
They toy with the puck, passing it back and forth as they streak toward the Snappers’ zone. Susan Hollinger’s eyes grow wide as five Talons bear down on her. One takes a simple wrist shot and scores the seventh goal of the game.
Giddy with apparent victory, the Talons change lines sloppily with just under two minutes left and are caught with too many players on the ice. The referee raises his hand for the first penalty of the match, a bench infraction that the Talons’ coach selects Bondi to serve.
As she skates to the penalty box, Sandi Bondi brags to her bench, “I got a score and a penalty!” Leaving the ice, she bangs her stick against the boards triumphantly and points toward the stands. “My family’ll be so proud!” She grins at the scorekeeper, turns, and shakes her butt, showing off the name and number on the back of her jersey.
The game ends with the Talons 7-0 winners. The players mingle on the ice. “So this is beginner hockey,” Thompson says as she removes her helmet. “Some of the Snappers are women who haven’t skated before this year.” Their helmets off, it’s now apparent that the Talons are older than the Snappers, some of them well into their 30s. To be fair, they should have played their C-level players. (The WCHL’s best teams, those with A- and B-level players, are in the Red division. C-level players are in the White division. A number of teams play in both divisions, using appropriate players for each game.) Thompson is unfazed. “I guess they had their heavy hitters out there,” she says and skates off.
An hour later, some of the Snappers gather at a sports bar in Northbrook. Thompson is here. So are Hollinger, Kim Overbey, Lisa Magad, and coaches J.J. Jennings and Chuck Olsen. Hollinger, short and wiry, stands at the head of the table like an emcee, telling stories and cracking jokes. She’s talking about a goalie’s blocker and glove she got from HawkQuarters, the official Blackhawks’ gift shop on Michigan Avenue. Supposedly they’d been used by the Blackhawks’ physical trainer. She wore them in practice and promptly broke out in a fierce rash. Hollinger, a high school teacher, visited the school nurse the next day and learned she probably had a staph infection. The nurse told her staph can reside dormant in leather and be reactivated by moisture, by sweat for instance. After undergoing several tests, Hollinger found out it wasn’t staph, just a simple fungus transmitted the same way. For weeks she went around bragging that she was carrying the Blackhawks’ trainer’s fungus.
Magad wears a black leather biker’s jacket. She’s telling the group about the first hit she took on the ice. The Snappers were playing their first game of the year against the women’s club team from the University of Chicago. Through two periods the collegians had opened a big lead but Magad had successfully avoided a collision. When the referee dropped the puck to open the third period, it remained loose in center ice. So Magad carefully skated toward it. Her second priority was to capture it and race toward the University of Chicago goalie. Her first was not to fall.
Distracted by the enormous shadow of an onrushing Maroons forward, Magad suddenly lost sight of the puck. “I didn’t know what the hell was going on,” Magad says. “I was so clueless it was hysterical.”
She sucked up her breath and steeled herself for the first hit of her hockey career. “It was my shoulder into hers,” Magad says. “I was like ‘Waaaaaa!’ She brushed me off like a fly and she kept going. I wasn’t sure what I got hit by but at least we got that out of the way.”
That day the Maroons beat the Frozen Snappers 10-0. But Lisa Magad won a major victory. She didn’t go down from her first hit. “I stood there and laughed,” she says, grinning.
The topic turns to the Madison Thunder, a team of behemoths the Snappers played about five weeks earlier. Magad remembers she and a Thunder player both skating toward a loose puck. After a few strides, Magad stopped on a dime. The Thunder player captured the puck and set sail for the Snappers’ goalie. When Magad skated off the ice for the next line change she was greeted by the stern visage of coach Olsen.
“He wanted me to go after the puck,” Magad exclaims, as Olsen shakes his head sadly. “I said, ‘No way! There isn’t enough padding in the world for me to do that!’ I mean, did you ever see a freight train coming at you? I’ve never seen anything that big that wasn’t made out of metal. I wouldn’t have gone after her with the Zamboni.”
The Snappers were humiliated on the ice tonight, but they and their coaches roar as Magad tells her tale. “I’ve never had so much fun being inept at anything in my entire life,” she says.
Because of her ankles, Dara Thompson didn’t skate as she grew up. But she was devoted to sports. She swam year-round, rode her bike everywhere, played soccer, softball, and badminton. She graduated from high school in 1987 and enrolled at the University of Illinois. She didn’t consider sports in college. “I was going to be on the math team,” she says. “I wanted to be a brain.”
Thompson became a big fan of the Illini men’s hockey team. “I grew up in Detroit,” she says, “so I grew up loving hockey.” She’d line up religiously outside the Illini hockey arena at four in the afternoon for seven o’clock games. Seating was first come, first served, and Thompson wanted to be right on the glass. “That house rocks during hockey games,” she says.
“One day when I was running through the concourse to get to my seat,” Thompson remembers, “I saw this sign, ‘Looking for women ice hockey players for the Illini women’s hockey club. No experience necessary.’ I thought, ‘Wow! How much fun could that be?'”
She’d been on skates twice in her life. But she gave the call for players serious thought. “Then I was walking across the quad one day and I see somebody wearing an Illini women’s hockey letter jacket,” Thompson says. It was a white satin baseball-type jacket with the player’s number on the sleeves and the words “Illini Hockey” on the back. The O in “Hockey” was the female Venus symbol. “I said, ‘Oh, that’s cool. I really, really want that! Now I really want to play hockey.’ So I went out for the team.”
Thompson borrowed pads and rented skates for her first practice. “I could barely skate,” she says, “but everyone was so supportive. They said, ‘Oh, you’re doing great! You’re doing so much better than I did when I first started.'”
Thompson was hooked. She saw hockey as a challenge, like the sports she’d played as a girl. She doesn’t consider herself a natural athlete. “I was a bit of a klutz when I was growing up,” she says. “I was always in the hospital for sprained ankles and dislocated knees.” So when Thompson called her parents and said, “I’m starting to play hockey,” they called her doctor. He told them not to worry. If she’d wanted to play basketball or volleyball, where she’d be bouncing and pivoting on those ankles, there’d be a problem. But skaters glide.
At the time, 13 years ago, there were three women’s hockey teams in the state: the Illini, Lake Forest Academy High School, and Barrington High School. “That was it,” Thompson says. “We just kept playing each other over and over.”
Lake Forest Academy’s home ice, the site of Thompson’s first game with the Illini, was a mere three miles from her parents’ home in Lincolnshire. “So they went there with a whole contingent from my church and all their friends to watch me play,” Thompson recalls. “I still have the nickname ‘Boom Boom,’ because I fell down so often.”
Majoring in geography, Thompson graduated in 1991. The year before, Erin Moran, her Illini hockey teammate, had graduated and moved back home to Chicago, where she started the Rebels, the area’s first independent women’s team. For the next couple of years, Thompson watched the progress of the Rebels from afar. She learned that as other Illini players graduated they were starting their own Chicago-area teams. But Thompson wanted a master’s degree.
She enrolled at Ohio State University and arrived on campus before the fall semester started in order to get a read on the women’s hockey situation. She scanned the list of students who had signed up to play intramural hockey and picked out every name that looked like a woman’s. She called each of them and asked if they’d be interested in joining a women’s hockey club she wanted to form. She found plenty of takers and the new team began play to that fall. “That club team is now a varsity team. It grew so fast,” she says. “I got myself on the sports club budget committee so that I could channel money into women’s hockey. I knew people wouldn’t understand it requires a lot of money to play hockey.” Thompson’s OSU team would take road trips to Illinois to play her old Illini team and the Rebels.
She received her master’s in 1993 and then moved back in with her parents. She started playing with the Rebels, whose home ice was the Southwest Ice Arena in Crestwood. A year later, Thompson got an apartment of her own in Glenview, and the commute to Crestwood began to wear on her. So after two years with the Rebels she joined the Chicago Ice, a Rebels spin-off that intended to call Highland Park home. The Ice attracted so many women players in the north suburbs that it eventually became three different teams, each at a different skill level.
In 1997 Thompson hooked up with the coed Northbrook Ice Junkies. A couple of years later, some of the male Ice Junkies’ wives and girlfriends got the itch to play but feared they weren’t good enough to compete at the Ice Junkies’ level. So they decided to form their own novice-level team. They considered calling themselves the Chicago Riot, the Chicago Havoc, and the Mys-Sticks. One of the players told her boyfriend about the new team. “An all-women’s hockey team?” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “Puh-lease. Why don’t you just call yourselves the Frozen Snappers?”
“It was a joke, you know?” Thompson says. “We all laughed hysterically when she told us this story. Every other name we came up with paled in comparison to the Frozen Snappers. We were having this meeting and talking about this at a restaurant in Niles and this totally cute, young twentysomething guy came over, uninvited, and said, ‘You gotta go with the Frozen Snappers!’ We decided if a total hottie liked the Frozen Snappers, that’s what we had to be. He could thaw our snappers anytime.”
Thompson says the team plans to print up T-shirts with the slogans “You can’t lick our Snappers,” “Try thawing our Snappers,” “Not your average piece of tail,” and “Wouldn’t you like to mount this on your wall?” She shrugs. “That’s our team.”
The Frozen Snappers played last season as an independent exhibition team at Johnny’s Ice House, a rink on Madison Street near the United Center. Before this season began, Thompson and Snappers’ comanager Lauren Cabot considered entering the team into the WCHL. But they were afraid they wouldn’t sign up enough players to field full teams every game, so instead they’ve played an exhibition schedule against WCHL teams and high school and college teams from the region. It turned out that the Snappers have brought a full complement of skaters to every game; there haven’t been any forfeits and all the team’s beginners are gaining valuable playing experience. “We’ll be in the WCHL next year,” Thompson says.
Thompson left the Ice in 1999 and the Ice Junkies in 2000. She played the 1999-’00 season with the Rockford Hot Wings, and last spring she joined Johnny’s Jets, a silk-stocking women’s team based at Johnny’s Ice House. “A lot of them don’t have jobs and they live on Lake Shore Drive and they drive Range Rovers,” Thompson says. Unlike just about every other hockey team in the area, Johnny’s Jets are able to schedule morning practices. The team was so eager to recruit Thompson that they excused her from practices because she works. “I still feel guilty about that,” Thompson says. “They’re a good bunch of women. Champagne in the locker room after every game.”
Just before the start of the 2000-’01 season, Thompson joined the coed Chicago Admirals. This season she’s played for the Admirals, Johnny’s Jets, and the Frozen Snappers.
By day, Thompson works as a geographic analyst for a steel distributor. “I plot out where customers are located, where salesmen are located.” She considers cartography dream work, but hockey is her true love. She volunteers on Saturday afternoons for the Diversity Hockey Program, which is run by the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois and the Blackhawks and which buses inner-city kids to a Bensenville rink. She also referees games, earning slightly more money working men’s games than women’s (the men occasionally beat the hell out of each other).
“Yeah, I’m obsessed,” Thompson admits. “Eventually I won’t be able to do all this, so I may as well get it out of my system now.” She describes the game as a rush. “When you’re skating, you are moving so fast. Feeling the weight of the puck on your stick and then letting it go. It’s an exhilarating experience. It’s nifty.”
And then there’s the company she keeps. “We’re a pretty close-knit bunch,” she says of her teammates. “We’ll lay our 50-pound equipment bags down to help other people with theirs. We all understand each other. We’re all weird.”
Lisa Magad was born to Argentineans who’d come to Chicago by way of New York City. “My dad’s a professor and my mom’s an interior designer,” she says. She grew up in Glenview in the early 70s. “We lived in a new development in the middle of a potato field,” she says. “There were about five houses in the middle of nowhere.”
She remembers, “If it had a ball I was doing it. My girlfriend across the street came from this big Irish family, there were nine of them. Her brothers all played on Loyola high school’s football team. They told us they would let us play with them and their friends but they weren’t going to cut us any slack because we were girls and we were a lot smaller. So I learned how to play basketball the hard way. We went in the paint and we got knocked down. You’d just run into this wall and, oops, you don’t go in there again.”
So Magad learned to shoot the basketball from the outside. She also played football, softball, and soccer with the boys, and she played a lot of tennis as well. In junior high school she ran track. Once, attempting a high jump, she came down hard.
“I tore the anterior cruciate ligament,” she says. “I didn’t go to the doctor immediately. At that time they did knee surgery by taking off your kneecap first. There was no way on God’s little green earth that was going to take place. So I limped around. The knee flopped around. It healed up but it was never the same.” After the knee became less and less stable, an orthopedist told her what had happened to it.
By that time Magad was a student at Glenbrook South High School. The knee held her back. “I ran track my freshman year,” she says. “I wasn’t real happy with what I was doing. I’d lost more than a step.”
In the spring of her freshman year, Magad went out for the tennis team. Being small, she’d learned that the only way to get any power in her shot was to hit the ball two-handed. Chris Evert hadn’t yet legitimized that grip, and heresy is as welcome in sports as it was in the medieval church.
“That was the only way I could do it,” Magad says. “It pissed off the coach. She told me I couldn’t win that way.” Magad insisted she had to hit the ball two-handed, and the coach dared her to play that way against another girl on the team. “She said, ‘You play her. You show me you can win.’ So I did it,” Magad says. “I won. So the coach asked me if I would join her tennis team and I said, screw you. I thought at that time, ‘Why am I gonna work for your glory? You’re an ass.’ I was young and stupid. It wasn’t my brightest move.”
Magad turned her attention to the arts–theater, creative writing, photography–for the remainder of her high school years. After graduating, she went for a year to Harper College, where she worked on the school newspaper. “I was ambitious,” she says. “I got myself invited to a White House press conference. Carter was the president at the time.”
Magad transferred to Indiana University, again staying only a year. “I was in the school of journalism and political science,” she says. “I despised it. They didn’t see the world from my perspective.”
She took a photography class and was assigned to shoot pictures conveying motion. “Everybody was getting speeding cars. I decided that was way too commonplace. So I shot a rose going down the toilet bowl, in sequence. They were beautiful, clean photos.”
Her instructors were less enthusiastic. “They hated the photos. They told me it was vulgar to be photographing the toilet. I thought, ‘This is not a good thing.'”
Magad transferred to Northwestern University hoping to specialize in Latin American studies, but left after a year. She wound up graduating from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
While at UIC, Magad took the State Department’s foreign service exam. “I had an ambition to go plant my butt in an embassy down in Buenos Aires,” she says. She passed the first part of the test but wasn’t allowed to go on. Years later she was notified that the State Department had been weeding out women unfairly. She was asked if she wanted to reapply. She declined because she’d just given birth to her first child.
During her year at Northwestern, Magad had started working as a runner at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. She worked her way up to broker’s clerk with Drexel Burnham Lambert, and was considering a career in the trading pits when Drexel collapsed in the late 80s. Its star, junk-bond financier Michael Milken, was imprisoned for security fraud. “We were the thieves,” Magad says.
She went to work for a small brokerage firm and remained at the CBOE for several more years. Her only forays into sports were occasional tennis games. But in 1984 she ran into Scott Weiss in a restaurant. They’d known each other as children and then lost touch. It turned out Weiss worked on the same trading floor as Magad, but at the opposite end, so they’d never seen each other there. They began seeing each other. Then Weiss asked her to marry him.
“I freaked out,” Magad says. “That came out of left field. I wasn’t husband hunting. So when he asked me, I don’t think I ever said yes. But I asked him if I had to live in Illinois the rest of my life and if I could keep my cats. Then I did some odd head nodding that he took as a yes. Plans were made.”
In November of 1986 the day came for Magad to marry Weiss. As the groom waited at the front of the Knickerbocker Hotel ballroom, the wedding coordinator directed Magad to begin walking down the aisle. “All I could say was no. I started heading for the door,” Magad says. “She said, ‘Oh, no no! They’re all waiting.’ I said, ‘They can wait. You have to go find somebody else. This is a wedding in search of a bride. I’m going to flee the vicinity.’ It scared the hell out of me.”
The coordinator somehow turned Magad around and pointed her at the huppa. “I walked down the aisle like a deer in the headlights,” Magad says. “To this day I’ve never seen the wedding video. I won’t watch it.”
Four years later, when Magad learned she was pregnant, she left her job at the CBOE. Madison, a girl, was followed two and a half years later by Logan, a boy, and Magad began to long to get out of the house. She told Weiss, now a mortgage banker, that she didn’t want to be a stay-at-home mom anymore. What do you want to do? he asked.
“Either go back to work or go back to school,” she said. “I don’t have the patience for being with babies 24 hours a day.”
Weiss wasn’t thrilled to hear this, but since his wife had made up her mind to do something, he suggested school. That wouldn’t keep her out of the house as long as a full-time job would.
“I wanted to fix cars,” Magad says. She enrolled in the auto mechanic program at Oakton Community College, where she tore down and rebuilt a five-liter Ford engine. “That was very cool,” she says. She earned her certification as an auto mechanic and started looking for a job.
“I went for a couple of interviews and spoke to some Neanderthals,” Magad says. “One guy asked me how much I could lift. I said, ‘You don’t have racks?’ He goes, ‘Oh, yeah.’ I said, ‘Then what do I have to lift? I push a button and the car goes up! I don’t have to lift. What? Lift a rotor? Lift a tire? What?’ They really didn’t want women in their shops. It was like, ‘What can we do to make you want to go away?'”
She eventually found a job as a service adviser and warranty administrator with a company that managed a fleet of cars.
A year and a half ago, a neighbor named Ellen O’Dwyer hooked up with the Evanston Tigers women’s hockey team. O’Dwyer suggested Magad give the game a shot. “My ass had roots growing into the sofa,” Magad says, “so I didn’t do it.”
Last summer, with the hockey season nearing, O’Dwyer approached Magad again. “I’m gonna do it,” Magad said.
Magad had speed-skated a bit as a kid but she hadn’t laced up in years. It didn’t matter. “I decided after all these years that I was going to get athletic again,” she says.
O’Dwyer put Magad in touch with one of the Frozen Snappers, who invited Magad to the first Snappers practice of the 2000-’01 season. Having no hockey equipment beyond the shin guards and garter O’Dwyer gave her, Magad went to a used sporting goods store and picked through the bins of gloves and pads. When she showed up at the Northbrook Park District ice arena, the Snappers’ home ice, for the first practice, she walked into the dressing room and panicked: “I didn’t know how to get dressed,” she says. “I didn’t know what order to put things on. I was clueless. But I asked the girls and they were great.
“I found out there’s no set rule on how you get dressed. But you need to get your pants on before you get your skates on–the skates will not fit through your leg holes. Beyond that it’s a personal preference. I kind of developed my own insanity.”
She started with tight long leggings and a tight cotton T-shirt. Then she strapped on her shin guards. She pulled on her hockey socks, ankle-to-thigh tubes that she holds up with a waist garter, then slipped into black shorts with hip, butt, and kidney pads built in. She laced up her skates and then put on her shoulder pads. Women’s shoulder pads generally have an extra chest attachment to protect the breasts, but Magad bought oversize boys pads that protect her chest just as well. She put on elbow pads, wrist guards, and her jersey, and then placed her helmet on her head (she prefers the cage face mask to the plastic shield).
Magad shuffled out to the rink and carefully stepped on the ice. “My first few strides were incredibly tentative,” she says. “I hadn’t been on skates in quite a while.” She was padded up like an infant in a snowsuit. “It was weird,” she says. I was afraid that if I fell down I would just lay there like a turtle.”
Some weeks later, Kim Overbey offered her a stick of gum before she hit the ice for a game. Overbey suffers asthma and chews gum to help regulate her breathing. “I said, ‘You want me to skate, do the stick thing, and chew gum? Nope. That’s beyond what I can do!'”
Someone asked Magad what position she wanted to play. Anything on offense, she said. “When I actually was athletic and participated in team sports, I usually was on the offense,” Magad says. “Defense confuses me.” Because Magad shoots left-handed she was made a left wing.
The Snappers’ first game was against the University of Chicago women’s hockey club. “They were good,” Magad remembers. “We got our butts kicked. It was fun! It was really great.”
Skating off the ice after that game, Magad was met by her daughter Madison. “I was pathetic,” Magad says. “I had the skill level of a toddler. Madison plays soccer and basketball, so she’s got critiques. She said, ‘So, I’ve seen hockey played on television. What would you call what you were doing?’ My son was a little more supportive. He said, ‘Well, you tried real hard.'”
Magad’s husband attends all her games. “He’s really glad I haven’t killed myself yet,” she says.
This summer Magad plans to attend hockey camps and workouts. In the meantime she’ll tinker with her candy apple red 1967 Mustang GT with a white convertible top. “I gotta drop the gas tank,” she says. “I bought it eight years ago. I’d wanted one all my life. My husband wasn’t thrilled. He thought I was insane to buy a car that at the time was 25 years old. But it puts out some power. It can move.”
And she wants to buy a motorcycle. “Nothing bigger than a 600-cc engine, though,” she says. “Probably not a Harley, because they like to leak oil. But right now I can’t do it. I think Scott would kill me. He would commit me to a mental institution.”
It’s almost game time at the Northbrook Park District ice skating complex.
Women carrying huge equipment bags have been streaming in for half an hour.
Andrea Meenahan watches the parade. She’s worried that Deb Bolino, one of the Inferno’s best players, won’t make it tonight. Bolino was supposed to have skated with her at Hubbard Woods this afternoon but she didn’t show up. Meenahan called her at home and found out that Bolino and her three-year-old son had taken a nap and slept through the alarm. Bolino promised to dash over but didn’t. “I hope everything’s OK,” Meenahan says as she scans the arrivals. “If she doesn’t show up, we’re in trouble.”
Suddenly, a little kid runs up to the glass lobby doors and catches Meenahan’s eye. They wave at each other. “Phew,” Meenahan says. “She’s here. That’s her son.”
The game begins. About a dozen adults watch from the stands and as many kids climb over the seats and chase each other. Early on, an Inferno player misses a golden opportunity to center the puck to a teammate in front of the Pond Piranhas’ net. When she returns to the bench at the end of her shift, coach Tim Kaspar lays into her. “Jesus Christ,” he says, “pay attention. Don’t be looking at the lights. The puck was right at your feet!”
At the midpoint of the first period, the Inferno is hit with the first penalty of the game, a high-sticking infraction. Capitalizing on the player advantage, the Pond Piranhas score the first goal of the game.
Kaspar shakes his head. Middle-aged, gray-haired, he’s been pacing up and down the bench, barking at his players and ragging the refs. One is Dara Thompson. The other, a guy in his early 20s, has had to bear the brunt of Kaspar’s ire.
In the last three minutes of the first period the Inferno ties the game and scores a go-ahead goal. During the break, Kaspar diagrams plays for his team. The refs catch their breath in the home penalty box. “You gotta move. Everybody’s gotta move,” Kaspar tells his players. “If you’ve got old skates on I’ll find a place for you right here,” he says, pointing at the bench. “Old skates” is hockey for standing still.
Soon after the second period begins the ref Kaspar has been so hard on makes a questionable call against the Inferno. “You better start reading those rules rather than interpreting them,” Kaspar yells. The referee yells back. “Hey,” he says, “shut up or I’ll give you a bench penalty!”
The scorekeeper leans over to whisper something. “The ref,” he says, “that’s Kaspar’s son.”
The period ends with no more scoring. During the break, the referee, now resting in the visitors’ penalty box, confirms who he is. “That’s why we yell at each other,” Brian Kaspar says. “Anybody else, I’d throw him right out of here. But I won’t be easy on him. They can trip one of his players right in front of me now and my arm won’t go up. I’ll leave that up to Dara.”
Sure enough, a couple of times in the third period, Inferno players are tripped. Brian Kaspar keeps his hands folded behind his back, his face, turned toward his father’s bench, angelic.
The final period is uneventful and the Inferno wins 2-1. Afterward, Tim Kaspar leans back on a chair near the concession stand and gabs with the Inferno players and their guests. One of the players asked to be taken out of the rotation in the third period.
“Tell me,” Kaspar says. “Why didn’t you want to play at the end?”
Jennie, who twisted her knee in a December game against Fox Valley, smiles sheepishly. “I just got my MRI yesterday,” she says.
Kaspar presses her. “OK. But you showed up to play. Why didn’t you want to play at the end?”
Jennie stammers for a moment. “I just felt somebody else could do better than I did.”
Kaspar looks at her through narrowed eyes. He wants her to admit that she’s in pain but she won’t do it. He lets the subject drop and makes small talk with some other players, but after a few minutes he turns to Jennie again. He asks how her husband is doing. Panic crosses her face. Her husband doesn’t know she played tonight. If he finds out he’ll blow a gasket; he doesn’t want her making the knee worse.
Jennie moves closer to Kaspar. “Don’t tell my husband I played,” she says. Now the other players rally around Jennie. “Didn’t he see you put your equipment bag in the car this afternoon?” one asks. “No,” Jennie says, “he wasn’t home when I did it.” “Where did you tell him you were going tonight?” another asks. “To come here and cheer you guys on,” Jennie explains.
“Here’s what you do,” Kaspar says. “Have somebody else bring your equipment bag home so your husband won’t see you carry it in.”
“Aw, I’ll just wait until he goes up to bed before I bring it in,” Jennie says.
Brian Kaspar, carrying his equipment bag, passes by. Father and son exchange long looks and finally nod at each other.
“Nice job, ref,” Kaspar says. It’s hard to tell whether Kaspar means it or is being sarcastic. Brian has his own interpretation.
“Yeah,” he snorts. “You say that because you won.”
Kaspar watches his son walk out of the complex. “That’s why we came here in separate cars,” he says.
Finally Meenahan, showered and carrying her equipment bag, joins the group. Someone fills her in on Jennie’s knee and husband. “That’s hockey,” Meenahan says. She raises the legs of her khaki cargo pants and displays surgical scars on both knees.
It’s cold and clear with a flake of snow here and there. Perfect skating weather. But Andrea Meenahan is inside today, roller blading around the gym of the Union League Boys & Girls Club near Grand and Damen. She’s surrounded by a dozen or so little girls on roller blades and decked out in oversize padded hockey shorts, elbow pads, and wrist guards. They could be hit by a truck and barely feel it. The huge hockey shorts, held up by suspenders, make the tiniest girls look like cartoon paupers wearing barrels.
Meenahan raises her voice. “Helloooo?” she says. “Does anybody want to listen to the coach?”
The girls react as if Meenahan were in some other city.
“All right!” Meenahan yells. “That’s it! Team meeting! Everybody over by the bleachers!” The girls now at least look in Meenahan’s direction. After a few long moments she’s gathered them in a semicircle around her.
“What do you guys want to do?” Meenahan asks, when she’s sure at least 75 percent of the girls are listening. “I’m trying to show you some important stuff here.”
No one responds to Meenahan’s query. She waits a long moment and speaks again. “Well, what do you want to do?”
At last one of the girls pipes up. She is the fastest, most accomplished skater. She has long straight brown hair and her legs, sticking out of her hockey shorts, look like those of a wading bird. “We want to play a game,” she says.
Meenahan ponders this a moment. “Oh,” she says, “so you want to play even though you don’t know how to skate with the puck, huh? You think you can skate with the puck?”
The straight-haired girl looks at the floor and shrugs. Meenahan says, “Why should I let you play a game when you don’t even pay attention to a thing I have to say?”
The girls seem so contrite that only the coldest heart would deny them their game. Meenahan attempts to look severe. “All right,” she says, “you can play, but only if we work on protecting the puck for five minutes.” The girls scream as if they’ve just been informed summer vacation begins tomorrow.
The Union League Boys & Girls Club is an oasis in a fairly tough west-side neighborhood. Some of the kids can’t afford the equipment they’re wearing. A few are just entering their awkward years. Meenahan likes the work because she painfully remembers being their age.
“Hockey’s the medium through which I can bring women and girls together so they can learn about themselves,” she says. In addition to coaching 8-to-13-year-old girls in roller hockey, she’s trying to develop a nonprofit organization that will help girls (and women) gain self-esteem through sports. “Girls have always been cheated in gym class,” Meenahan says. “A new curriculum has to be developed–how to take care of yourself and how your body performs. I want to be part of this educational reform.”
That’s why she started playing ice hockey four years ago. “I’m trying to learn the sport inside and out so I can write an anatomy of it for the kids,” she says.
Anatomy? That’s an interesting choice of words–but Meenahan makes her living as an illustrator. She grew up in Detroit, the third of four children born to transplanted New Yorkers. Her dad was a chemical engineer specializing in water pollution control. “My dad had this vision of going into that field while he was in high school,” Meenahan says. “He decided to study wherever the dirty water was. At that time, it was the Great Lakes.”
Her mom had a fiery temper, erupting in the home or out. “I would be so embarrassed,” Meenahan says. “She could blow up at any time, any place. She didn’t care. She had the New York attitude–‘I don’t care who sees me.'”
Meenahan learned to tread lightly. She said as little as possible and tried to fade into the shadows. Until, one day in her family’s kitchen, she discovered that she could let her mother’s fury roll off her back. “My mom was in a rage,” she says. “She was yelling at me, and I just remember thinking, ‘This has nothin’ to do with me. She’ll come around eventually.'”
By then Meenahan had learned her mother’s pattern–get mad, scream, clam up for a few hours, then apologize. Meenahan waited her mother out. “That was a big rite of passage for me,” she says. “When my mom’s yelling didn’t affect me, it was the start of my blooming period. I got this big surge of strength.”
The kids in Meenahan’s third-grade class were each assigned to write a book. She titled her book Elizabeth’s Doll. The story was based on a rag doll Meenahan had made in Girl Scouts. “When I was finished, I noticed one sleeve was longer than the other, one leg was longer than the other, it had all these imperfections. But it was still a doll–it had beauty. So this little doll became the metaphor in the book. It was my story at the time. It seemed so real.”
Elizabeth’s Doll was selected to travel around the state in an exhibit of notable projects by elementary school students. But rather than revel in her triumph, Meenahan was confused. Her older sister Ann Marie had illustrated the book. “There was something in me that went, ‘The reason it won was because my sister illustrated it,'” Meenahan says. “I wasn’t sure whether it was the writing or the illustrations. So at that point, I said to myself, ‘I need to be able to illustrate my own book.’ I went out and found images I really liked and I traced them. I made greeting cards for my friends. I pursued the skill of illustrating. I began to have this drive to draw.”
In eighth grade, Meenahan drew a cross section of an alligator for a science project. “The teacher just went nuts over it,” she says. He kept the drawing and showed it to successive classes for years to come. “My little sister had to see it when she got to his class.”
Meenahan was always close to her father. “My dad was all about dreaming the biggest dreams. We would sit down and watch the Wide World of Sports in the 70s,” Meenahan says. “There’d be people hang gliding and he’d say, ‘You can do that!’ The sky was the limit. He made me feel like anything was possible.”
One day Meenahan showed him a drawing she’d copied from a book. He noticed the name of the artist beneath the original. Next to the name were the words “biological illustrator.” A lightbulb went on over his head. “He said, ‘You should be a biological illustrator,'” Meenahan says. “It was like bing! It stuck with me. I’d never felt like he pushed me into anything, but that rang a bell.”
Meanwhile, Meenahan played games. “I’ve always been involved in sports,” she says. In elementary school she was part of a small group of girls who played football, soccer, and softball with the neighborhood boys. “The big sport to play was Nerf football,” she says. “I could throw that Nerf just as far as most of the boys. All through elementary school, when it came down to picking teams I was definitely one of the first girls to get picked.”
In junior high school, Meenahan skied, played volleyball, ran track as a middle distance runner, and was a cheerleader for the football team. Cheerleading, she says, might have been her most valuable activity. “Put yourself in a pool of 8 to 12 women and try to get them all to do the same thing and feel good about what they’re doing. It’s tough! I never was the captain of the team but I was always the captain’s best friend, where I was doing the underground work, massaging egos, making everyone feel like they were in a special role. So I learned the psychology of women at a very early age.”
Meenahan starred on her high school ski team, and to keep in shape played on the soccer team too. In the summer of 1983, after graduating from high school, Meenahan began playing soccer for an adult women’s team. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
“I had never been injured up to this point. So I thought, ‘I’ll just walk it off,'” she says. Her coach had to order her to come out of the game. Her family doctor told Meenahan she’d probably only suffered some cartilage damage, so she walked around on crutches for a couple of days, then tossed them away, and after several weeks went back to soccer.
Entering Albion College in Michigan in the fall, Meenahan played field hockey and joined the ski club. She asked to work out with the men’s soccer team so she could prepare for a tournament her women’s team was going to play in. “After three days of practice I was doing a header drill, twisted my ankle, and my knee popped out again.” The trainer wrapped me up, gave me an ice bag, and sent me on my way. I continued to practice for two more weeks.”
Meenahan finally saw an orthopedic specialist. After reconstructive surgery, she wore an ankle-to-thigh cast for six weeks and a leg brace for eight weeks more. She returned to soccer and skiing the next year, as strong as ever.
“All the while I was growing up, my mom had this fear of failure for me,” Meenahan remembers. Life had been too easy; when the inevitable setback came, she wouldn’t know how to handle it. The injured leg, she says, “was the crisis my mother was fearful of. Going through it empowered me no end.”
(Seven years later, coaching her old high school girls’ ski team, she suffered the same injury and went through rehab again.)
Meenahan graduated from Albion with a bachelor’s in visual arts; she minored in biology. Three years later, after building her drawing portfolio, she enrolled in the biomedical visualization graduate program of UIC. She stayed away from sports while she was there, but a couple years later she got to know a personal trainer who played roller hockey and gave her her first pair of roller blades. They were bright red. “I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. They were too big, but with your first pair of skates you don’t care. You just want to go.”
Meenahan began to play roller hockey with the men. As time went by, more women joined the pickup games. The nets were trash cans placed side by side. Protective equipment was minimal; Meenahan didn’t even wear a mouth guard until her sister suffered a chipped tooth during a game.
“One day eight women showed up to play,” she says. “We made all the guys sit on the bench and we played our first all-women’s game. From that point there was just no turning back.”
Meenahan had a flyer posted at City Sweats that read “Chicks With Sticks looking for women in-line hockey players.” A woman named Patti Handschiegel called and told her she had a half dozen women who wanted to play. Handschiegel also said the operators of the Rainbo roller rink in Uptown were looking for women to join a new coed roller hockey league they were setting up. Meenahan and Handschiegel combined forces and introduced themselves to the Rainbo people. They were told the women would be split up, with two assigned to each team. Uh-uh, they said, guessing the women would spend most of their time on the bench. They suggested the women be entered as a single team.
“I felt that if we could stay together as a team, all the girls would get to play the game. So we got together and started practicing,” Meenahan says. Rainbo accepted the all-women team, which was known as the Cross-Checkers. Games were held in an adjacent parking lot. At the time, roller blade wheels were held in place by heavy bolts. The rink’s operators were afraid the hockey players would scratch the wooden floor whenever they leaned to make a tight turn.
“That first year was miserable,” Meenahan says. “The skating surface was asphalt. It was also a parking lot for American United cabs. So you can imagine what it was like. It was underneath a giant willow with leaves that would drop on it. That was a lawsuit waiting to happen. Then you have a bunch of men playing a women’s team every once in a while. The testosterone! God forbid if they lost to us! Often they’d play extra hard and physical against us. It was an ego thing.”
The Cross-Checkers won just one of their eight games that first season. But after the Rainbo league finished up they played in a women’s tournament held in a Downers Grove mall parking lot. They faced off against a team from Detroit and two from Wisconsin and won the championship. Then Handschiegel was contacted by the organizers of the North American Roller Hockey Championship tournament. The NARCh people had sponsors and MTV coverage. The Cross-Checkers drove to Saint Louis, and in 1994 won the first NARCh tournament.
Heady with victory, Meenahan and Handschiegel started a local women’s roller hockey league. The women split the Cross-Checkers into two teams, Handschiegel keeping the Cross-Checkers name and Meenahan calling her team Chicks With Sticks. The new league, composed of four teams, played at the Rainbo, which, thanks to a redesigned skate, finally allowed the matches to move indoors. Then Meenahan and Handschiegel entered their teams in a men’s league that competed at the Alcott School parking lot in Lincoln Park. Meenahan kept her core group of players, but Handschiegel, who’d negotiated a sponsorship deal with the Bauer hockey equipment company, recruited women’s ice hockey stars like Erin Malinowski, the former Erin Moran.
“The ice hockey players didn’t really realize what they were signing up for,” Meenahan says. “They were trying to understand the transition between ice and roller hockey, technique and skating, and playing against men. They didn’t last more than two games. The team dropped out of the league.”
Chicks With Sticks lasted the season. In 1995 the team went back to Saint Louis and faced a powerhouse known as the Toronto Tornado in the final game. Buoyed by the spectacular goaltending of Keri Washburn, Chicks With Sticks scored a huge upset over the Tornado for their second straight NARCh championship. “That was the peak of Chicks With Sticks,” Meenahan says.
The team went on to win the first four women’s in-line hockey championships. Big Shots magazine said, “Chicago’s Chicks With Sticks put women’s roller hockey on the map.” In 1997 Meenahan was named one of the area’s top 50 women in athletics by Windy City Sports magazine.
According to USA Hockey InLine magazine, the number of women playing roller hockey went from virtually none in 1990 to some 655,000 players in 1995. By that point, says Meenahan, the number of women entering the game was being equaled by the number leaving it because of marriage, pregnancy, and a shortage of adequate facilities. And women were leaving roller hockey to play ice hockey.
Meenahan wanted to reverse that tide. “I prefer roller hockey to ice hockey,” she says. “By 1997 I was actively trying to recruit ice hockey players. I had a list of all the ice hockey goalies. They’re the hardest position to recruit in hockey. It’s so expensive to buy all the gear.
“Then I realized this was something I couldn’t fight anymore. I had to go and play ice hockey. I thought it would help me understand the transition better because I had been teaching people coming from ice to roller.”
And Meenahan wanted credibility. A lot of ice hockey players, she says, looked down their noses at roller hockey players. If she played ice hockey, she reasoned, she could tell recruits she was one of them.
So Meenahan, who hadn’t done much ice skating in her life, joined a fledgling ice hockey league at the Chicago Park District’s McFetridge Sports Complex. Meenahan played two seasons in the McFetridge spring league. She’s also played occasionally for the Chicago X-Factor, the Chicago Jets, and the Chicago Flash of the WCHL. The Inferno is her only ice hockey team now.
Chicks With Sticks, led by Meenahan, now helps organize teams for roller hockey leagues and tournaments. Its goals are to develop and promote the sport of roller hockey locally and to develop hockey programs for girls. Meenahan had ambitious dreams at one point, even visiting the International Amphitheatre, hoping to make it a home venue for what she envisioned as “the next Globetrotters,” a traveling roller hockey troupe. When that dream turned out to be a bit beyond her reach, she adopted a more modest goal.
“We decided we needed to bring this game to the community,” Meenahan says. She searched the city for underused gyms where she and her teammates could teach the game to inner-city girls. The first one she found was at Saint Joseph’s Church, just across the street from Cabrini-Green.
In 1998, Meenahan and a half dozen other roller and ice hockey stars participated in a Sporting Chance Foundation sports clinic for young girls. Meenahan told the organizers they were doing precisely what she wanted to do with Chicks With Sticks. She asked how Chicks With Sticks could do more. The foundation hooked her up with Manny Oviedo, program director at the Union League Boys & Girls Club. Meenahan pitched an idea to him: she’d start a girls floor hockey program that would grow into a roller hockey program. Oviedo liked the idea and welcomed Meenahan aboard. The Boys & Girls Club spent $150 on floor hockey sticks and mouth guards and began conducting classes. “But there was a difficulty,” she says. “When you give a girl a stick and a mouth guard and she goes home with them, her parents say, ‘What’s going on?’ There’s resistance.” She laughs. “All these girls showed up the first couple of sessions, and then all of a sudden they weren’t there.”
Meenahan decided to bring the girls and their parents in for some orientation. She and six other women played a roller hockey game for them in full uniform in the Union League gym, then answered the parents’ questions.
A donation from the Chicago Blackhawks’ diversity program allowed Meenahan to upgrade the floor hockey program at the Boys & Girls Club to roller hockey. Her 8-to-13-year-old girls participated in the first ever girls division at the 1999 NHL Breakout, which is the National Hockey League’s traveling summertime promotional and educational program. The Blackhawks’ Roller Hawks program lent Meenahan equipment for the entire team. “That was monumental for the girls,” she says.
In 1999 the Union League Boys & Girls Club and Chicks With Sticks received a grant from Chicago Blackhawks Charities for a full supply of protective equipment. Last year Meenahan’s girls played against the Women on Wheels team from Sterling, Illinois, in the NHL Breakout. Women on Wheels had slick uniforms; many of Meenahan’s Roller Girls played with jeans under their hockey shorts.
It’s early March, the dog days of the WCHL season. The exhilaration of the early games has given way to a certain tedium before the playoffs begin. Meenahan sits in a nightclub nursing a vodka cocktail. She’s in a lot of pain.
“I played a very physical game of hockey last Saturday,” she says. The Inferno played the Chicago Chill, a 19-and-under girls team. “They’re very talented, but there was a lot of smack talking and hits after the whistle was blown. It was the most aggressive game I’ve played in a long time.”
Meenahan felt lethargic the day of the game. She’d planned a lot of personal errands and accomplished none, and she was angry at herself for wasting a day. That night she took the ice against the Chill and was blasted awake. She says Inferno players were repeatedly shoved from behind and knocked down. Then the teenage Chill players began trash talking. They called Meenahan and her teammates old ladies and fat cunts.
“The energy and the viciousness of the game fed into the anger that I already had,” Meenahan says. “And coach Kaspar was really frustrated and angry and bitter at the referees. There was this whole negativity buzz.”
Meenahan prides herself on being a role model. But that Saturday she wasn’t. “I felt I needed to take the name off the back of my jersey,” Meenahan says. “I felt I needed to–not teach a few lessons but intervene. Generally I wouldn’t. Normally I would stop the game and talk to the refs or pull the girls aside and let them know that we didn’t come to play that kind of game.”
Toward the end of the game, Meenahan’s defensive partner, Patricia Lee, went down in a heap after being cross-checked from behind. The referees finally called a penalty, and as the Chill player skated past her with a smirk on her face, Meenahan lost her patience. “I slipped my stick underneath her skates and tripped her. She just fell onto her knees,” Meenahan says.
Meenahan was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The players entered their respective penalty boxes and began jawing at each other. The Chill player taunted Meenahan, who’d turned her back and skated away after the trip. “Why’d you walk away?” the Chill player demanded.
“You wanna take this outside?” Meenahan retorted. “You guys are playing NHL hockey out there but you can’t take it.”
Meenahan and the Chill player were nose to nose, a two-inch-thick sheet of Plexiglas between them. To avoid a donnybrook, the referees threw both of them out of the game.
In the locker room waiting for the game to end, Meenahan heard roars from the crowd. They weren’t responding to goals, she found out later. In her absence, the Chill had continued to pound Lee, and during a melee in front of the Inferno net she’d knocked one of the Chill players on her ass.
After the game, an infuriated coach Kaspar told his players not to go out for the traditional handshake at center ice. Several Inferno players felt his order was unsportsmanlike. When the team got to the locker room, many were almost as angry at Kaspar’s decision as at the Chill. “The situation was just ridiculous,” Meenahan says.
“There’s a certain amount of contact that comes from playing a sport where you have to skate really fast and try to stop on a dime. We have to just all lighten up. I don’t want to come off as being anticontact. I see the place for it in the game and I understand the history of it. But the attitude and the pettiness need to be eliminated. I think there should be some sort of social event, a mixer, for the ladies before they head out there so we establish some sort of common bond, so when you’re face-to-face, you’ve seen her smile, you’ve heard her say, ‘Don’t you love this game? There is nowhere else we would rather be.’ Then I can take a hit with a smile.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jon Randolph.