It was a sweet weekend for University of New Hampshire hockey. The women hosted #1 ranked (and two-time defending NCAA champions) Wisconsin. And they won 2-1 each afternoon. [<-- Refresh the page to see the latest stories.] I heard today's game on the internet and it sounded exciting and close. But I saw Saturday's game in person and it was indeed exciting, well-contested, excellent hockey.
Being there is great but hearing it broadcast also provides some insight. For example, Martine Garland, who was easily the today's MVP scoring UNH's two goals, was called a defenseman. I have bitched about this before, but I find it so interesting that others don't find it jarring to hear something along the lines of "She's a great a defenseman."
But not necessarily surprising. Last night Wisconsin earned what I like to call the "learn how to count" penalty when, in the course of a shift change, they wound up with 6 players on the ice. From the stands I heard fans yell--before the whistle blew and the penalty was called--"too many men, too many men." And they were not talking about the gender composition of the US Congress. But I was pleasantly surprised when the penalty was announced over the PA as "too many players on the ice."
I was also pleased to hear the announcers note the large crowd at the game today which resulted in an average of 1200 people at each game this weekend. This is a sizeable crowd for a women's hockey game--also noted by the announcers. They went on to say that things are starting to resemble the atmosphere at men's games--which are largely sold-out crowds in the 6,500-person arena--with exuberant fans (I was very exuberant, by the way, I jumped up and down like a kid after each UNH goal), the presence of the pep band, standard UNH hockey cheers, and fun intermission activities. But there are a "few more steps" that need to be taken one announcer said until women's hockey achieves the popularity of men's hockey. Don't mean to be a Debbie Downer here but, a few?--really? The announcer did not provide detailed instructions or even what the steps are, but it seems like one might be the need to erase sexism--not just in sport but in our culture first and foremost. There is so much stigma attached to women's ice hockey because of its history as a masculine sport. It does not offer sex appeal in the same way gymnastics or tennis does and thus is presumed to be masculinizing. It encourages women to be aggressive and physical--something not readily accepted in the population at large. The steps may indeed be few but they are long strides and they may be a long time coming.
When the #1 team comes to town to take on the #2 team, you know you're going to see good hockey, but so many people cannot get over the idea of women actually playing good hockey to go find out for themselves. That arena should have been packed. When asked by my first-time attendee friend whether we needed to get tickets ahead of time, I should have had to say "jeez maybe we should, because it might sell out." But I was able to walk to the ticket window--late mind you--and get tickets, no problem.
On a more positive and last note, I was very pleased to see so many people in the arena Saturday evening and experience such a good vibe being in the crowd.