Moving puck takes pluck Hockey: The goal for females was to pick up tips from a former pro athlete at a sports clinic.

January 12, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Rachel Marx twisted and turned, then crashed into the sideboard with a thud.

The giggling 7-year-old from Dundalk sat on the ice at the Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro Family Skating Center in Patterson Park and waited for a helping hand to guide her to her feet.

Rachel was among 20 people at the outdoor skating rink yesterday for what organizers believe is the first hockey clinic to be held in the city exclusively for women and girls. Some came to watch a sister or daughter learn to handle a stick and pass a puck. Others were merely curious, wondering whether the women's game would be any different from the men's.

But most, drawn by mild weather and the chance to learn from a pro, came to skate.

"Both my husband and my son play ice hockey," said Rachel's mother, 30-year-old Donna Marx. "I thought it would be a great way to get some exercise, have some fun and spend some quality time with my daughter. I didn't think it would be this difficult."

Steve Wirth, a former defenseman for the Baltimore Clippers, put the skaters through a challenging workout yesterday morning, teaching them to skate backward, protect the puck and negotiate tight turns. Some of the skaters were new to the ice, and more than a few fell.

"It might look like one big fiasco, but it really takes a lot of skill," said Wirth, who is volunteering his time to coach the hockey clinic in hopes of empowering the skaters.

"This is a game that can convince a girl she can do anything," said Wirth, who started skating when he was 16, five years before joining the Clippers in the American Hockey League. "If you have the dedication, desire and willpower to learn, you'll be able to do it."

For 10-year-old Kimberly Cirri of Highlandtown, ice hockey was a natural progression from figure skating.

"I like to keep busy," said Kimberly, who skates two to three times a week in Patterson Park. "It's a lot better than sitting at home, watching television. And I'm having a lot of fun meeting new friends, although this can be frustrating -- the puck doesn't always go where you want it to."

Wirth's students were a diverse bunch, ranging in age from 7 to 40. Most, like Kimberly, were skating just for the joy of it, but a few were there to focus on the fundamentals of the game.

For the most part, women's ice hockey is similar to the men's version, with the same emphasis on adroit stick-handling and crisp passing. The biggest difference is a no-checking policy.

"But that doesn't mean women's ice hockey is any less physical than the men's," said 27-year-old Krista Dubroff, who was on the ice to learn some new moves. In October, she joined the Washington Wolves, a female team based in Rockville that competes in the amateur Mid-Atlantic Women's Ice Hockey League. "It's still a contact sport."

Women's ice hockey will debut as a medal sport at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, next month, with six teams -- including the United States -- going for the gold. Officials with the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based USA Hockey said the televised competition will most likely inspire thousands of women to lace up their skates.

"We're seeing a lot of hockey activity among girls and women, especially in Rockville and Montgomery and Howard counties," said Kush Sidhu, director of the Southeast District for USA Hockey. The district encompasses 12 states from Maryland to Florida.

Today, about 1,200 women and girls play ice hockey in the district -- that's nearly four times the number who were playing just three years ago, Sidhu said.

"It's a sport that offers great opportunities for young women," said Sharon Barnes, who organized the hockey clinic for the city Department of Recreation and Parks. "Girls learn about teamwork and develop leadership skills. They can even get ice hockey scholarships for college."

Twelve universities offer women's ice hockey on a Division I level, and others, including the University of Maryland, are considering forming teams.

Barnes is hoping to expand the hockey clinic next year, if she can get more equipment and financial support for the program. Each lesson costs $5 per person.

"We've had to turn away a couple of youngsters who wanted to register for the class," said Barnes. "It just broke my heart, but we don't have enough equipment for everyone who wants to play."

"When I was younger, I used to play with the guys in the neighborhood," said Karen Mork, 34, of Northeast Baltimore, who was at the rink with her 10-year-old daughter, Linda Linz.

"Those moments out on the ice, they were wonderful," said Mork. "I want my daughter to experience the same kind of fun."

The women's hockey clinic will be held each Sunday through March 8, from 10 a.m. to noon. Information: 410-396-9392.

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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