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Skate Like a Girl

“I joined the team because I like physical sports, and I was encouraged by other girls on the team to join,” said Tatiana Laguerre, a sophomore ice hockey player on the Junior Varsity (JV) team. “I like playing in a male dominated sport because I like to be pushed around— it makes things much more interesting.”

Laguerre is one of four sophomore girls on the JV Ice Hockey team this year, and all of them are eager to start scoring some goals this winter season.

The Ice Hockey team is a club activity at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, even though the number of practices and games makes hockey greatly resemble an official team sport. Being a hockey player is not just about how aggressive you are, but it’s also about how much talent, speed, and stamina a person has. Luckily, the Varsity and JV Ice Hockey team players are not in short supply of these qualities.

Hockey is a male dominated activity. However, that doesn’t stop these girls from showing off their skills during the season. Women’s hockey has grown quite a bit over the years, and has shown people that men aren’t the only ones who are allowed to play the game.

Paula Ambit and Dorothy Knutson have been on the team since their freshman year at B-CC, while Raemi Charles and Tatiana Laguerre have joined this year. Ambit, the newly initiated JV team captain, has been involved with hockey since she was eight years old.

“I joined my first team, Hockey Hielo Majadahonda, in Spain,” said Ambit. “It was a co-ed team, since in Spain you can’t join the girls team until you turn 14. I played on this team for 6 years, but the second year was a terrible year. I had a very sexist coach, and me being a young 9 year old made me want to quit the team. I would go home crying and complaining everyday. The coach would play everyone but me and my friend since we were the only two girls. I was very close to quitting, but the boys on the team told me not to quit. During one tournament, the boys stood up to the coach and said that they wanted me and my friend to play too. They said that it was not fair that we were not getting ice time just because we were girls.”

When Ambit moved to the U.S. and started high school at B-CC, she was scared to play co-ed hockey again.

“I was nervous to be one of the only two girls in my freshman year on the team,” she said.

“I didn’t even know Dorothy, but after last season we became really close— she was like my ‘brother’. Now, my sophomore year, I would not imagine not playing for B-CC. And this year, we have double the girls. That is great, but even if I was the only girl I would still do it. On the JV team, since we are such a small team there are no cliques and everyone likes each other. That creates a great atmosphere and community. My future goals for hockey are to play for the women’s Spanish national team and to play college hockey,” said Ambit.

The other girls on the team also fell in love with hockey, but for different reasons.

“My dad’s side of the family has always been hockey-oriented,” said Charles. “My grandpa was the practice goalie for the New York Rangers. My dad and his two brothers grew up playing ice hockey, and his sister figure skated because at the time hockey was only for males. My dad wanted to pass on the sport to his kids. All of my cousins on my dad’s side have grown up playing ice hockey, as well as my brother, Evan Charles, and I.”

Charles is the only girl in her family who plays hockey, and says that her aunt and grandma are, “jealous, but happy” for her.

“When I get the puck from a boy, I am so proud. Not because I am a girl, but because I am proving to my parents that I am a hockey player. Not a female hockey player— just a hockey player.That should be the case with all hockey players no matter the gender. The boys on the team have been very welcoming to girls, but there are also moments that I share only with the girls.”

A typical week on the team is packed with training. Ambit and Knutson actually play for two hockey teams: B-CC’s JV Ice Hockey team and the Montgomery Youth Hockey Association (MYHA). They exercise twice a week per team, with practices often running late. They also have two games per weekend with the MYHA and one game a week with the B-CC JV Ice Hockey team. Most of the sophomore girls on the JV team also volunteer Saturday mornings to coach kids with special needs.

The boys on the JV team have high opinions on skating with the girls.

“Playing with the girls on the hockey team is cool,” said Jaan Brennan, a junior ice hockey player on the JV team. “Back in Canada where I spent most of my free time playing hockey, there were many girls playing too. It’s nice to see that the team is not completely one-sided. As for on the ice, the girls are very hard working and do well as a part of the team.”

What most people don’t know about women who play ice hockey is that they can’t make a living for themselves by just playing it professionally. In the National Hockey League (NHL), men who play hockey professionally are able to earn much more money than women. The average NHL salary per player was about $3 million for the 2017/18 season, compared to the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), whose players will make an average between $5k-$7k during that same season.

“I’ve done a lot of hockey camps and tournaments,” said Knutson, who then had the privilege of meeting two NWHL players— one of which is currently a coach at Harvard.

“The other I met in Prague, and she coached a European all star team that played against my team from North America,” she said.

“The Harvard coach especially made a point by saying that she had to have 1-2 other jobs aside from the NWHL because the pay wasn’t high enough. Of course, if you compare it to the NHL, the men get paid more obviously because there’s a way bigger audience and there is more commercial value to their game. I mean, I didn’t even know there was a NWHL until a few years ago, and I’m a female hockey player.”

Nevertheless, Knutson also wants to play a very high level of hockey, and thinks it would be “incredible to play my favorite sport as a job.”

“Professional women’s hockey is still fast and exciting to watch, and I hope that one day the NWHL grows and attracts the same crowds that pour in to see the men’s games. Playing for the hockey team at B-CC is a small step towards convincing communities to take women’s hockey seriously, and I am very proud to be on the team,” she said.

Even if the girls don’t want to pursue a position playing for a professional women’s ice hockey team, some of them would still like to be involved with the sport in other ways, such as coaching or playing hockey in college.

“I am interested in coaching girls so that I can pass on the sport to a new generation of female hockey players,” said Charles. “Growing up as a female in a male dominated sport gave me new insights that I want the female youths to carry. I also think that when I was younger, it would have been encouraging to have a female role model that has had a hockey experience, so I would like to be that role model for other young girls.”

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