Janet is just over five feet tall and is 42 years old. She’s the only person I know who looks smaller when she puts on hockey gear. The first few times she played competitively after never having played—let alone skated—for much of her life, she looked like a child wandering through raging city traffic. But she survived this maelstrom of cold and fury to play another game, which led to another, which led her to Sparkle’s Hockey Academy for Ladies and Gents in the winter of 2006, with classes every Thursday at 10 p.m. at McCormick Arena in Toronto. After learning about crossovers and feints and defensive-zone coverage, she joined a co-ed team, the Black Hearts, then another, CCCP. Then, last March, she wandered away from our two-kid home to Washington, D.C., where she participated in three days of full-on instructional camp that culminated in a former Marine leaning across the table in a restaurant and telling her: “Hope you don’t mind me saying, but you’re one smoking hot lady.” I wasn’t jealous, because he was right.
For any man or woman, hockey not only keeps you smoking hot, it’s also good for the brain, and the spirit. As Janet was drawn deeper into the sport, she’d leave our house well before game time to sit alone in the family car at the edge of the rink, dreaming of rushes and deflected pucks and staunched advances where, previously, hockey had been defined solely by my hockey bag splayed open in our living room after consecutive games played by yours truly in the dank city rinks we now shared.
For a lot of players, these rinks are places of freedom and liberty, but this sensation is heightened for women who spend most of their time raising and running a family. It’s a spirit-strengthening, self-determining exercise in a realm that’s most often associated with men, which makes what my wife does inherently political. It wasn’t until Janet started playing that I realized what the term “hockey mom” meant, and how sexist it is. “Hockey moms” are women who shepherd their kids around to games, but don’t play themselves. There’s no such thing as a “hockey dad” because they’re called “hockey players.”
Skaters like Janet—and other betrothed and bechildrened members of her league—have redefined the idea of the “hockey mom.” In fact, they’ve cast it aside. They’ve reminded the often male-centric hockey world that players are players, whether they wear a sports bra or not.
In the years before she started playing, we were typical of most marrieds—but now, we lie in bed at night talking about what to do when the puck is rung around to the winger in the defensive zone between the blue line and the hash marks. We’ll use words like “Wellwoodian” (after nimble Vancouver Canuck Kyle Wellwood) to describe kitchen dexterity, or evoke brutish bodychecker Scott Stevens should we run into one another in the hallway. Sometimes, I’ll look over at her while we’re watching TV and see her biting her lip and squeezing her fists in the middle of America’s Next Top Model. “What’s the matter?” I’ll ask. “Don’t worry, Cinnamon won’t get ousted; her catwalk strut is just too strong.”
“No, it’s not that. If only my blade had been flat when Adam had thrown that puck to me in the slot…’.”
It took her two years to score her first goal. It happened after she joined a women’s league at William H. Bolton Arena in mid-town Toronto (giving her three teams to my two). This became her fourth skate per week, which meant that, on Mondays and Thursdays, I was required to settle the children into bed and ramp up my husbandly duties. Were my wife using this personal time to confer with evil dictators or sell crystal meth, I might have resisted, but since hockey had brought a sense of joy and personal fulfillment to our household, I grew fond of my extra commitments.
Halfway through that year in the women’s league, she scored not once, but twice, to break her goal-less drought. We finally shared something that I’d achieved during my own adult hockey renaissance. And that was worthy of whatever toil is necessary on my part to command a household when our family’s new Iginla heads out to the rink, head down, body strong.