Goal-Oriented

The players of the all-women Patterson Park Penguins hockey team are not just skating by. As all that padding attests they are serious about having fun.

January 24, 2000|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Watching women dress to play ice hockey is like watching women dress to play ice hockey. No dead-on comparisons come to mind.

"This is the only time women put on something that will make our butts look bigger," says Sharon Barnes, fitting herself with padding resembling a mattress.

"If a man comes out to watch us looking like this," says Rochelle "Rocky" Keen, "then that's the man for us."

"We keep having hot flashes on the ice," says Bernadette "Du" Riordan. That's Du as in DuPont, as in DuPont carpeting, as in Riordan (bordering on the big 5-0) padding her backside with a wedge of DuPont carpet in case her backside suddenly meets the ice.

Moments from now, the Patterson Park Penguins will take the ice at the Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro Family Skating Center in Patterson Park. Friday night is pickup hockey night for women and girls at the ice rink with the long family name. For two years now, females ages 4 to 49 have come to play hockey here. Barnes, captain of the Penguins, first organized the pickup games and the weekly hockey clinics. Steve Wirth, a former defenseman for the Baltimore Clippers, also has been coming out since 1998 to coach and instruct.

Usually, the Penguins split up into teams and play each other. But tonight, an actual opponent has surfaced: the girls' hockey team from Bryn Mawr. They are mere youngsters with young, strong legs -- and with nicer jerseys than the Penguins!

But these kids will soon have their hands full with the Penguins. They'll learn you don't mess with a mother in a helmet, chewing on a mouth guard, stuffed with carpeting and carrying a long, angled stick for swatting moving targets. And Lesson Two to be learned at the ice rink:

Behold life's hobbies, diversions, recreations, amusements, games. Grown-ups, the smart ones anyway, give in to them. They let hobbies and games distract them from their routines, make them forget about the job, the divorce, the pain-in-the-neck boyfriend or no boyfriend.

They allow golden diversions to steal their heads and hearts -- if only for three periods of women's hockey in Highlandtown on a frigid Friday night.

Pre-game: 9 p.m.

The Penguins' dressing room smells like smelly men; tonight, it's an equal opportunity funk. "It gets a little stinky, we know," says Riordan. "We all go home and take a bubble bath with candles and act all feminine," says Barnes.

Barnes and Riordan are the elder stateswomen of the Penguins. They hang together. They are a show in themselves. "We have 92 years of experience between us!" Barnes says.

Barnes, of Highlandtown-thank-you-very-much, wants to show off a new acquisition. Louisville Slugger, the baseball bat maker, also makes a breast protector for female hockey players. We are invited to examine the accessory and can report that no chest could ever be better protected.

"This is why I don't get a date," Barnes says, applying yet another layer of padding to her body. Dressing for a hockey game seemingly takes longer than the game itself. And no matter the figurations of one's figure, in this sport, the equipment makes everyone resemble the circular Uncle Fester.

Rochelle "Rocky" Keen, 33, pulls her hair back in one of those hair thingies. Her hair always looks good, several teammates tease. "I got hair like a sheep's " says Rocky, as we carefully delete her slang for backside. The room ponders Rocky's gritty analogy -- but not for too long.

Also struggling to accessorize for the game is goalie Athena Haresign. Given the bulk of her equipment, her center of gravity has shifted to somewhere near the equator. During the game, she will fall to her padded knees to block many shots on goal. People will cheer her and then wonder: Can she get up?

Finally the Penguins roll onto the ice, and someone dumps out 40 practice pucks. Coach Wirth, who in his jeans and denim jacket looks like he's dressed more for line dancing, watches the Penguins warm up in the cold. He's coached the male of the species, too. "Seems like the ladies and girls pay attention a little more. They are easier to coach," he says privately, before putting on his game face. "I'm going to give them a little pep talk now."

Bring it in, ladies. Listen up. Remember one thing: Look up before you get the puck. Keep it out of the middle and pass it toward the boards. Remember, take a quick peek up before you look at the puck.

Wirth's nephew has agreed to play goalie for the Bryn Mawr team. Wirth's daughter, Jessica, is playing tonight for the Penguins. The word on the ice is that Jessica is also a contestant in the coming Miss Patapsco contest. If stick handling is part of the talent portion, Jessica has a padded leg up.

The Penguins have fielded 16 players tonight -- students, housewives, medical researchers, bio-engineers, advertisers, and "the best mammographer in Maryland!" someone says about Rocky Keen.

"The rules have changed," says Sharon Barnes' business card. "REAL WOMEN DO play HOCKEY!"

Game time: 9: 30 p.m.

Cold.

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