Chicks with Sticks -Winter 2013

by: Christy Bassett Baker

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

Outside it’s dark, it’s cold, it’s late fall on Nantucket.

The island wakens to moderate weather and blue skies, but the day often ends with showers and a wind-chill factor in the 30s. By late afternoon the sky is dark and with the exception of flickering street lights, little life is visible outside the Christopher Nugent Bovers Community Ice Rink off Backus Lane.

“We are a serious group, but we all know we are moms, business owners, teachers, nurses, waitresses, landscapers and jacks-of-all trades...” Kim Fleming Albertson
While autumn blankets the island and the onset of winter chills the landscape, inside the rink things are heating up. It is a very busy place, the weekly calendar starting daily at 6 a.m. and not ending until 9:30 p.m. Each Tuesday night at approximately 6:50 the door to locker-room six opens abruptly. One by one women dressed in pads and hockey jerseys exit onto the ice. A coach treads to the locker room and bangs loudly on the door with a hockey stick. More players filter out, fazed little by the assailant as they march past him.

“Hey Rob, what do you need?”

“Some pucks, I need pucks!”

Pucks fly out of nowhere as coach Rob Welch sets up for a drill. A whistle blows and like a well-oiled machine they launch into action, commencing their 50-minute practice session. Working women and mothers by day, under the nighttime lights Nantucket’s all-women's ice-hockey team, better known as the Miacomets, plays with concentration and drive as crisp as the ice they skate on.

The Miacomets came about in 2002 after Rachel Perkins, co-owner of Shearwater Excursions, put an advertisement in The Inquirer and Mirror looking for women skaters interested in ice hockey. From there a group of highly-competitive women from all walks of life emerged, ranging in age from 16 to 60 and including but not limited to a German exchange student, salon hair stylist and youth-hockey coach. Most of the women did not know each other prior to joining the team and some hadn’t skated a day in their life. Perkins had experience as a figure skater and had begun playing ice hockey with her husband and children. Joanne Richards, a hair stylist at Kathleen’s beauty salon, was talked into joining by her son, after being a long-time skater. The team co-captains, Bonnie Lema, who manages the Nantucket Anglers’ Club; and Maureen “Muffin” McMurrer, who works at the rink and coaches youth hockey, grew up skating but had long since put their skates aside without a venue to use them.

“I grew up skating and played hockey when I was young. Then I moved where there was no girls’ hockey and took a 25-year break, until Nantucket Ice opened,” McMurrer said.
“I enjoy the friends I’ve made through hockey the most and being part of a team, you don’t really have that once you’re out of school.

McMurrer, Perkins, Lema and Richards are some of the original players who have participated in the program for upwards of 10 years. They are joined by a slew of other islanders who have come together to create a caring and fun outlet from the trials of everyday life. Jennifer Monto, a manager at Nantucket Cottage Hospital, grew up playing ice hockey. Cassie Thompson, a Nantucket Police Department dispatcher, played four years as a goalie at Norwich College. Beth Davidson, a physical-education teacher at Nantucket High School, has also been an integral part of keeping the program moving forward. Kim Fleming Albertson, a Pathways preschool teacher and special-education staff member at Nantucket Elementary School, joined to be part of what she calls a “fantastic group of women.”

“We are a group of women who are ages 18 to 60plus. The core of the group hangs around the 50-yearold mark and has enjoyed every minute of sweat, skating and silliness. We are a serious group, but we all know we are moms, business owners, teachers, nurses, waitresses, landscapers and jacks-of-all trades; and women who just want to get out and have a good time and exercise together,” Albertson said.

While the group is a competitive one, enjoying the athletic aspect of skating and hockey, many share Albertson’s sentiment and focus on the camaraderie. Practice sessions are open to anyone interested and the companionship is contagious.

“I enjoy the group of women. We have such a broad range of talent and personalities,” said Heidi Holdgate, a business manager at the Wannacomet Water Company.

“I love being part of a team, which I never experienced before. I enjoy trying to keep up with the more experienced and just being on the ice,” said Elaine Flynn, who works locally caring for the elderly.

With only 50 minutes of ice time weekly, practices are fast and furious, not a moment going to waste. Led by Welch, practices are like watching a well-rehearsed performance, with little instruction and plenty of action. Cones fly into place and lines form, each player pairing up for passing and shooting drills. At precisely 7:25 it’s scrimmage time and two teams form out of nowhere. Welch has coached the women’s hockey team for a decade, eight years as head coach. His assistants have changed through the years, but currently consist of Mike Burns and Danny Fahey. Outside the rink, Welch is the manager of Nantucket Auto Supply. Prior to joining the Miacomets he had little experience coaching, but plenty of experience on the ice.

“I’ve played hockey since I was 4 or 5. I remember getting up at 5 a.m. and my father bringing us to the rink for practice before school. We would play ice hockey on the cranberry bogs in my town. They would flood them, which made perfect rinks. We would park cars with lights on the ice to keep playing after dark,” he said.

In addition to the women’s hockey team, Welch coaches the Squirt and Peewee youth hockey teams at the rink.

The Miacomets play in two to three tournaments each year, traveling at times to Gloucester, Walpole and even Montreal, Canada. A long-time team favorite and fall tradition is the Slap Shot & Shop Tournament in Woodstock, Vt. The team has been attending the tournament since its inception.

“It’s a great bonding experience for the team. We rent a big inn in North Woodstock with a kitchen and fireplace,” Welch said.

Each tournament trip is funded individually by the players. The women pay an ice fee for every practice session and pay their way when traveling off-island. They annually host a spring bake sale to raise money for their program, but otherwise have little external funding.

Until recently, the weekend tournament trips have consisted of Christmas shopping, a bit of barstool laughter, and some much-appreciated time on the mainland. A winning record is something the team has long sought, but usually left to opposing teams. Until this spring, that is. The Miacomets got off to a hot start during the Falmouth Cape Cod Women’s Hockey League Spring Fling Tournament, where they won their first game in years, followed by the tournament championship.

“We kind of thought the first win was a fluke, but in game two we tied 2-2. Then we won again, 2-0. We played four games in 38 hours and as luck would have it we got into the championship,” Albertson said.

The women finished with an overall weekend record of 3-0-1, defeating the East Falmouth Whalers 1-0 in round one, on a goal by Monto. The Miacomets tied game two 2-2 with the CCWHL Hat Tricks, with goals by Lema and Kate Merlini. In game three the Miacomets toppled the CCWHL Renegades 2-0, with goals by Monto and Davidson. During the fourth and final game the Miacomets again outscored the East Falmouth Whalers 1-0, this time during a sudden-death shootout. The championship-winning goal was scored by McMurrer.
“We brought home medals and yes, I wore it to school on Monday, as did many of my teammates. We were just a group of gals enjoying a weekend away and actually holding on to the winning spirit,” Albertson said.

When asked if the team had any superstitions or pregame rituals, like wearing the same socks without washing them or watching “The Mighty Ducks,” the women said, “laughter in the locker room and stretching.”

At 7:50 each Tuesday night as the workout concludes, the women gather in locker-room six for a post-practice gab session. While they’re all smiles, they’ve lost some of the zip with which they attacked the ice at the beginning of practice. Entering the locker room, everyone is greeted with enthusiasm and compliments about their session feats and flounders. When asked what one thing the Miacomets would like to see more of in the program, despite being independently funded and lacking a league, they all responded the same: more women to play the game.

“We’d love more people to play so we could have two teams, a beginner level and an experienced level; and one more weeknight of ice time,” Flynn said.

“Give it a try. We have loaner gear and welcome all levels. Most importantly, if I can do it, anyone can. I am 57 years old and I love it.” ///

Christy Bassett Baker grew up on Nantucket and still lives on the island, where she is the communications manager for the Nantucket Boat Basin and writes occasionally for Nantucket Today.

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