All Sue Rittinger wants is a team of her own.
The 60-year-old White Rock resident has been playing hockey her entire adult life but she’s found opportunities to hit the ice and slap a puck around are limited for women of a certain age.
Rittinger is trying to organize a team to represent Zone 3 — which stretches from Coquitlam, down to her hometown and east to Hope — to compete at the BC 55+ Games that will be held in Richmond, Sept. 15 to 19. But she’s hopeful her search might uncover enough players like herself to form a league.
Rittinger said she’s confident they’re out there.
Some, like herself, may be playing with women half their age in an established women’s league. Others may be skating with men at drop-in lunchtime scrimmages. There may even be a few women who gave up the game as their love for the the game was overtaken by family and career commitments.
Rittinger said hockey has been a constant in her life as she moved around the country, most recently in Ottawa, where she lived until a year ago. She said she loves the sensation of speed while skating down the ice, the challenge of making plays with her teammates, as well as the social camaraderie of the dressing room and post-game gatherings.
Back when Rittinger first started playing at Kerrisdale Arena in Vancouver, organized women’s hockey leagues existed mostly on the down-low. The players had to change in the washrooms and good ice time was hard to find.
The sport has grown in leaps and bounds since, with the establishment of top international competitions like the first world championship in 1990 and its acceptance into the Winter Olympics in 1998. According to Statistics Canada, there’s now more than 86,000 female registered ice hockey players in this country, up from just over 8,100 in 1990/’91.
But, Rittinger said, it’s mostly a young women’s sport. That creates challenges for older players who might not be as competitive or aggressive on the ice as some of their more junior teammates.
“We’re in different places in our lives,” she said, adding the aches and pains of older age, as well as a hip replacement, means she has to temper her play against being able to function in her day-to-day life as well.
Yvonne Johnson, 55, is in her first year of organized hockey in a women’s 35+ league in Langley. After several years playing ringette, her husband convinced her to play with a bladed stick after she joined a men’s 55+ drop-in scrimmage.
Johnson said while some of the men welcomed her presence, others had a way of sending the message she was out of place. She said other than getting used to handling the smaller but heavier puck, her transition to hockey from ringette has been smooth.
“We’re all out there for exercise and fun,” she said of the newly-formed women’s league at the Langley Sportsplex.
But as one of her team’s more senior players, Johnson said she’d prefer the company of more of her peers.
Rittinger said the tradeoff between being able to play and being increasingly conscious of her physical limitations is a careful balancing act as she gets older.
“I’d like it all to be the same level,” she said.
Anyone interest in participating in the 55+ Games or just playing masters women’s ice hockey in general can contact Rittinger at Laritz99@telus.net.