When Leanne Fawcett aged out of playing ringette in Port Coquitlam, she just picked up a bladed stick and migrated to hockey.
That was 35 years ago, and she’s still playing.
But at 54 years of age Fawcett said it’s getting harder every year to keep up and stay competitive with younger players joining her women’s hockey league.
“Your reactions slow down,” she said. “It’s a different game.”
To help get everyone on the same ice level and foster a safer environment for all players, Sue Rittinger has taken on a mission to organize a league for women 45 years and older.
It’s not her first time setting off on an end-to-end rush to build something new.
In 2020, Rittinger, 61, put out the word for a new team for women older than 55, with an eye to participating in the BC 55+ Games. Several answered her call.
But the age discrepancy in the already limited opportunities maturing women have to play organized, competitive hockey is still too large, she thought. After all, men have specific leagues for 30 year olds and 40 year olds, as well as Masters when they get even older, so why not the women too?
And while the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, 2020, threw a bit of a monkey wrench into Rittinger’s plan, she was able to put together six teams that played out of Langley Twin Rinks through the summer. But COVID public health restrictions only allowed eight players on the ice at a time so the teams were kept small; now that they’re easing and more players can participate, the pool of available skaters is being distributed to fewer teams. To keep the league viable, she’s hoping to unearth more players.
“I know there’s more out there,” Rittinger said, adding a lot of potential players may have just fallen away from the sport after months of inactivity due to the pandemic.
A lifelong hockey player herself, Rittinger said she’s become acutely aware of the importance and benefits of being able to compete within her own peer group as she’s gotten older and injuries have exacted a toll on her body.
“The women feel safer playing within their own age group,” she said.
And the demand for hockey options for women is only likely to grow, as the expanding ranks of younger women taking up the sport get older. Since 2018/’19, registration in the Tri-Cities Female Ice Hockey Association has increased by almost 30%.
Fawcett, who now lives in Pitt Meadows, said she’s forged lasting friendships through her hockey community that have endured all the other curveballs that come with life in middle age. Those have proved especially valuable the past 18 months navigating through the social isolation and anxiety of the pandemic.
“It’s good for your mental health,” she said of being able to get out on the ice regularly with her friends in one of four leagues she participates in. “It’s a sense of normalcy.”
• To learn more about playing in a women’s 45+ hockey league, you can email Rittinger at email@example.com. There’s still spots available for play beginning in January.