Women hockey players face challenges even before faceoff

At a Florida Women’s Hockey League Tournament, just showing up can be what separates the men from the, well, ladies.

“We deal with some things the boys don’t, like pregnancies and sick kids,” Jenny Sumner says.

 In the “C” division, the Ms Conduct, in white, play the
Sea Gals, in blue, in the women’s hockey league
tournament held at Tampa Bay Skating Academy.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Sumner filling in for a player who recently gave birth and couldn’t make it, Corinne Deckard’s team might not have been able to play in the tournament, which was held February 15 -17 at Tampa Bay Skating Academy in Oldsmar, FL.

Deckard’s team, the Ms Conduct, went on to place second in the “C” division, which is for advanced players. The Sea Gals placed first.

Although women’s hockey is one of the fastest growing women’s sports – making its Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan in 1998 – it faces some unique challenges.

“The women who are the age to compete are the child-bearing age so participation ebbs and flows,” says Deckard, the team captain.

In the “C” division, the Sea Gals took first place at the
Florida Women’s Hockey League Tournament.

Other than that, games contain forechecking, backchecking, crashing the crease and more, and are played with the same fast-paced intensity and desire to win as the men’s games. In the women’s sport, though, body checking – using the hip or body to knock an opponent against the boards – is not allowed, and a full-face mask is required.

“We definitely play a very physical game,” says Sumner, who is a professor at the University of Central Florida. “But women play with a little more strategy rather than brute force.”

In the “Rec” division, which is for novice players, the Sea Gals novice team placed first, and the Lady Everglades placed second.

In the “Rec” division, the Sea Gals novice team
won first place. 

Now in its 10th season, the Florida Women’s Hockey League, which sponsored the tournament, is the only league of its kind in the state, says Sumner, league president.

As many as 13 teams from all over the state, including the Everglades, Fort Myers and Jacksonville, come together to play in five tournaments a season, or about one per month. The season runs from October through February.

“It’s a unique situation,” Deckard, 34, says. “My husband is jealous because he doesn’t get to play like this.”

Corinne Deckard, captain
of the Ms Conduct team.

Men hockey players don’t have a league set up like the women’s hockey league where they can travel to different statewide venues and compete in tournaments against other men teams.

“The men play in rink or house leagues, which are fun and more social,” Sumner says. “And many of us still play in those leagues, too. But we set our league up because we’re passionate about our hockey and we want to see women playing women in a more competitive environment.”

Jenny Sumner, president
of the Florida Women’s Hockey

Normally, Sumner wouldn’t have been able to fill in because she is on another league team, the Tampa Elite, but the team wasn’t able to compete in this tournament, which freed up Sumner to help out.

The tournament at Tampa Bay Skating Academy was the league’s last tournament of the season. League board members will meet in May to decide where they’re going to play next season’s five tournaments.

“We try to play all over the state of Florida so the same teams don’t have to do all the traveling,” Sumner, 35, says. “We’ve played here (at Tampa Bay Skating Academy) before. They’re very supportive of our league and women’s hockey.”

As for exactly who will be playing next season that can be hard to tell, of course. Because what happens off the ice in women’s hockey can be just as much of a factor in the game as what happens on the ice.