There’s a certain stereotype about ice hockey, and about hockey players: It’s a tough game, and it’s physical. You can’t play hockey without being willing to dole out — and take — some punishment. The stereotypical hockey player is big, and maybe doesn’t have all his teeth.
The image doesn’t generally extend to long hair, occasional makeup and a need for a girls’ dressing room.
But ask girls who play hockey on teams sponsored by Fenwick High School in Oak Park and Loyola Academy in Wilmette, and they’ll tell you that the image is wrong.
“I think there are a lot of misconceptions, and the physicality is one of them,” said Maggie Cusick, a junior hockey player at Loyola Academy. “It’s really a game of skill and not just physicality.”
Maggie Cusick didn’t start playing hockey until she was 10 or 11, which is late for a hockey player, she said, and played on co-ed or boys’ teams until she started high school hockey. Her sister, Caty, a freshman, is on her team now. Caty Cusick started playing on co-ed or boys’ teams the same time her sister did. This is her first season on an all-girls’ team.
“I do love playing with my sister and the other girls,” Caty Cusick said. “But I prefer the boys’ teams.”
Maggie Cusick said she already is being recruited by college women’s hockey programs, based on her play at Loyola and for the Chicago Young Americans.
Traditionally, more boys have played hockey and their teams tend to have a deeper talent pool to draw from, said Conor Sedam, who coaches the girls’ team at Loyola. But Sedam also directs the girls’ program for the Wilmette Hockey Association, and is seeing more girls develop an interest in the sport.
“It’s a slow process, but it’s growing,” Sedam said.
Hockey tends to attract girls who enjoy bucking stereotypes, Sedam said.
“I think there’s a unique aspect to it,” he said. “Not every girl is doing it. We get those girls who are interested in trying something different. The main barrier is just to get girls into it when they’re young. If you don’t start by 7 or 8, it’s tough to catch up.”
Loyola has enough girls who want to play that almost every player goes to school there; the only one who doesn’t intends to transfer to Loyola next year, Sedam said.
Other schools don’t have enough girls who want to play to fill a roster and they draw from nearby schools. Teams can draw from up to six high schools and remain eligible for the Blackhawk Cup, the Illinois high school state championship.
Fenwick’s team has girls from two public schools —York Community High School in Elmhurst and Oak Park-River Forest High School — as well as Guerin Prep in River Grove and Nazareth Academy in La- Grange Park. They also draw from Trinity High School in River Forest, although Trinity doesn’t have any players on the team this year, said Pam Flores, who has been involved with the team since her daughter, Frankie, joined it in the 2012- 2013 season.
For the three years she has played, Frankie Flores, now a junior, has been the team’s only goalie. In addition to playing for Fenwick, she plays for the Team Illinois hockey club. But she didn’t start out as a goalie, she said. When she started hockey around the time she was 5 — her father played hockey and encouraged her to try it — she was a defenseman. She became a goalie when she was 11, she said, because her team’s goalie quit and somebody had to do it. Now she prefers goaltending.
“I can see everything,” Frankie Flores said. “I’m kind of like the quarterback of my team.”
She said she prefers the girls’ game to the boys’ game because girls’ hockey doesn’t allow checking, or hitting other players to make them give up the puck. “It’s just safer,” she said. When she plays with her club team, games are faster and more intense, but she likes the fun of playing high school hockey as well.
“There’s a lot less pressure,” she said.
Frankie Flores said she doesn’t know yet whether she will play hockey in college; she’s also interested in performing arts and is in St. Patrick High School’s spring production of “The Music Man.”
Fenwick has the advantage of drawing from the area around Franklin Park, where there has been a youth-level girls program for several years, Flores said.
Some high-level club coaches discourage their players from also playing for their high school teams, which can make it harder for high school clubs to survive, Flores said. As a club sport, high school hockey relies on support from parents and other community members, and if they lose interest, teams sometimes fold.
“We lose teams every year,” Flores said.
That means that some number of girls who want to play high school hockey can’t, because there is no team for them.
“I don’t get the impression there are hundreds of girls who want to play and can’t, but there are some,” she said.
When Fenwick girls basketball coach Dave Power hung up his whistle at the end of the season, he did so after a 45-year coaching career and, with over 1,000 wins, as the third most winning basketball coach in Illinois High School Association History.
Fenwick High School in Oak Park will soon add 18 acres in River Forest to its facilities, under agreements to purchase Dominican University’s Priory Campus, 7200 W. Division St., and 11 acres of adjoining athletic fields that belong to the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great.