Women hit ice hockey in a sporting way Players don't fight over style of play OLYMPIC FESTIVAL

July 31, 1993|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

SAN ANTONIO -- Forward Cammi Granato has all her teeth. Forward Cindy Curley has no scars. Body checks aren't allowed, and there are no fights.

And these are ice hockey players? "The thing we hear most is: 'I didn't even know women played ice hockey,' " said Karen Kay, coach of Team USA. "It's not the NHL, but we don't want to be the NHL."

Gender equity is now a part of the Olympic movement. Softball will be in the 1996 Games, women's soccer is a strong possibility and water polo is a long shot. Women's ice hockey will debut in the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan.

So on Thursday, there was an incongruous combination, a bunch of cold-weather female hockey honchos gathering in the midst of the San Antonio heat.

Team Canada and Team USA played the first U.S. Olympic Festival women's ice hockey game last night, and Team USA won, 6-3.

"We can't generate the speed or the power of our male counterparts, so we won't have those serious impacts," Kay said. "Our rules are the same except there is no body checking unless it's around the puck. But we do play an emotional, highly spirited game, with a lot of skill, much like the international game. I think people will like what they see, and there might be a surprising amount of body contact."

But no fights.

"It's not like we're wimps out there," said Curley, from Stow, Mass. "We just don't go around slamming people into the boards."

"We're a little smarter than the men, too," said Amanda Benoit, a Canadian forward. "We know all you do is scrape your knuckles when you're punching someone in the face who has a helmet on."

Benoit is one of 20,000 to 30,000 females compared with 450,000 males who play hockey in Canada.

Why the difference, especially because hockey is Canada's national sport?

"Twenty years ago, a game was invented called ringett for women who were considered too fragile to play hockey," Benoit said. "They played in these leagues called 'Debs' and 'Bells.' About 68,000 play the game now."

The Canadian hockey women snub their noses at the ringett players.

"Let's put it this way," said Les Lawton, Team Canada's coach. "There are a lot of females who play ringett that go on to ice hockey, but you never see a hockey player play ringett."

At least the ringett players had their own leagues. Most of the U.S. female players grew up playing in boys' leagues.

Granato played with her three brothers. Tony played for the 1988 U.S. Olympic Team and is now with the Los Angeles Kings. Don helped the University of Wisconsin win the NCAA title in 1990 and now plays in the minor leagues. Rob plays for Wisconsin.

"For most of us playing now, that was our only course," said Cammi Granato, who had three assists last night. "We had a pond, so we kept our skates on even when we came in for dinner."

"I think it helped me to become a better player, but when I got around 14, the boys, even in the leagues, started overpowering me."

She said some of the league players started threatening her, too. Some said they were going to break her arm if she played against them.

They didn't.

But Granato once was blindsided away from the puck in a Kansas City tournament. She suffered a concussion.

Kay says that type of action causes parental concern, and frequently leads to girls getting barred from boys leagues.

Curley said: "I think it's starting to change slowly, and it will eventually lead to a higher level of competition and better younger players."

A few of the women say it's still tough to find teams, but Kay says there are about 6,000 U.S. females who play on 270 teams (300,000 U.S. males play ice hockey).

There are 16 Division I colleges that have teams, and at one time three -- Northeastern, Providence and New Hampshire -- gave scholarships before recent budget cuts.

But Kay says this sport is about to take off. There have been two World Champions, and at least 25 countries had to play hockey as part of its becoming an Olympic sport.

"We play it, and it's growing rapidly," said Kay, emphasizing that the game is spreading from its northern base in the United States. "Women's hockey is going to get a lot bigger from now on out."

Curley said: "When we were growing up, we never dreamed that hockey would be in the Olympics. The day is coming when I'll be able to say I play hockey without adding the 'ice' so they won't assume it's field hockey. Won't that be something?"

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