By Will LeBlond
ITHACA – Barbara Horton wanted to find a way to create more interest and opportunity in women’s hockey. So, she helped create the Women’s Learn to Play Hockey program that meets weekly at the Cass Park rink in Ithaca.
“I feel this is a unique opportunity for local women to learn a fascinating sport,” said Horton, who primarily coaches players at the beginner level. “Many hockey moms are donning gear and having a blast.”
Two of those hockey moms that take part in the program every week are Kerry Pauldine and Aleza Simons, who say that their kids love the fact that they’re playing the same sport now.
“My kids really like telling me to put two hands on the stick and to put my stick on the ice and to skate hard, because that’s what I yell at them,” said Pauldine. “They like to see me come home sweaty.”
“I think the kids think it’s great,” added Simons. “They get to tell their friends: ‘Hey, my mom plays hockey too!’”
A thought behind the program is that it can only take one session for participants to get hooked on the sport and return on a weekly basis to hone their game on the ice. With the advanced skills of skating, puck handling and shooting, the game can be learned at different paces, which is why the group breaks up into smaller sections during each section in order for players to learn with their own similar skill groups.
Players tend to advance their skills during their time with the program and have even been known to join up with local women’s hockey teams, like the Ithaca Furies and the Ithaca Sirens. No one loves seeing that progress from the players more than coaches Anne Dziuba and Warren Klick, who are two of the coaches that come in every Monday evening.
“I would say about 90 percent of the women that first come here will come back and continue on,” said Dziuba.
“For some people, the ice is so scary that they just can’t do it,” added Klick. “And that’s despite being extremely enthusiastic on the first day.”
With the help from the coaches, especially Horton, who trains the beginners on the basics of the game, the returning rate stays so high. They expect the program to grow and more women will get involved in the sport, helping interest in women’s ice hockey grow in Ithaca and the surrounding area.
For those looking to join, the group meets every Monday night from 8:15-9:15 at the Cass Park Rink and requires a USA Hockey membership, paperwork done and a low ice time fee. Many make the weekly trip to the rink; a testament to the interest was the 20 participants on hand for the Thanksgiving week session, which also featured the first dose of winter weather to the region.