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When they were queens: How these Coquitlam softball players became hockey pioneers

The Coquitlam Satellites was a girls softball team that started playing hockey in the winter — the first girls hockey team in the city

Barb Nuttall wanted to play hockey so badly, she filed the picks off the blades of her figure skates and taped her ankles for added support.

Now, Nuttall and 13 of her teammates on the 1964-65 Coquitlam Satellites female hockey team are being inducted into the Coquitlam Sports Hall of Fame June 15 at the Centennial Secondary School theatre.

There was no female hockey in the city when the coach of Nuttall’s softball team, Joe Krebs, suggested the group of girls aged 14 and 15 carry its association into the off-season and onto the ice.

Equipment was sparse.

Backcatcher Linda Taylor repurposed her heavy catcher’s mitt into a goalie glove and she still has the scars from the hockey puck striking her unprotected wrist to show for her inventiveness. She wore her catcher’s chest protector under her hockey jersey and her father refashioned her catcher’s mask as a goalie mask to protect her face.

Support for their efforts was even dearer.

The BC Amateur Hockey Association didn't recognize female hockey at the time, so there was no organized league for the Satellites to play in. Manager Jim Hinds cobbled together a schedule of exhibition games against teams from New Westminster, North Vancouver and Esquimalt.

At the old rink on Poirier Street, there was resistance from other players and their parents to their presence. The ice time should be for boys, they said, because they could have a future in the game as NHLers.

Away from the rink, winger and defensemen Ronnie Fonseca said she was so bullied at school about her hockey exploits, the principal suggested she stay away for a week.

“They’d laugh at us,” Fonseca recalled of the chirping and catcalls the Satellites’ players endured. “You just ignored it.”

Still, said Nuttall, there were glimmers of a brighter future for their pioneering efforts.

The rink manager at Poirier ensured they got ice times at reasonable hours.

Taylor’s mother conned a neighbour, Sal Hartley, into refereeing the girls’ games, even though he had no idea how to navigate their no-contact rules.

“He always had a smile on his face,” Taylor said.

When Hinds went into the community to raise sponsorship funds, local businesses and organizations like the Optimists stepped up so the players could get proper equipment, pay for ice time and even travel to tournaments in Seattle and on Vancouver Island.

The local newspaper, The Coquitlam Herald, regularly published articles about the team, helped spread the word about registration.

Within a few years, the Satellites grew from 14 players to more than 18, and they had a league to play in, with teams from New West, South Delta, North Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

The team remained a going concern until 1992, preceding the formation of the Tri-City Predators Female Hockey Association a few years later.

With most of the players now in their mid-70s, they can look back at the old team photos and newspaper clippings of their hockey exploits with fondness, the physical and emotional bumps and bruises of forging new ground long soothed by the passage of time.

Some parlayed their youthful exuberance for hockey into lifelong service as adult players, coaches and referees.

“You always give back for what you got,” Fonseca said.

And with women’s hockey now a recognized sport in the Winter Olympics, filling NHL arenas for important games and bolstering ratings of sports broadcasters, each of the former Satellites takes a measure of pride that they contributed in a small way to the sport’s acceptance and growth.

“It hits my heart,” Taylor said. “I don’t think any of us ever thought we’d ever play hockey. There was no opportunity.”

Also being honoured with induction into the Coquitlam Sports Hall of Fame this year are:

  • Sarah Maglio, former member of Canada’s U20 and national women’s soccer team who played in the 1999 Women’s World Cup
  • Bruce Murray, former captain of the Coquitlam Adanacs for nine years who also played in the National Lacrosse League from 2002–11 and helped Canada win gold medals at the 2003 and 2007 World Indoor Lacrosse Championships
  • Shiv Jagday is being inducted as a builder for his lifelong dedication to developing field hockey at the local level with the Tri-City Eagles and at the provincial, national and international levels by coaching provincial teams at several Canadian junior and senior national championships as well as national teams at the Olympics, World Cups and Pan Am Games.