Women eagerly lacing up skates

The action might not be as fast when Blanche Alexandre and daughter Candice Steinke take to the ice, but the competitive edge most fans associate with the game of hockey is still there.

Referee KJ Klontz

Referee KJ Klontz

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — The action might not be as fast when Blanche Alexandre and daughter Candice Steinke take to the ice, but the competitive edge most fans associate with the game of hockey is still there.

“It’s slow compared to men’s hockey,” Alexandre, 63, said of an average game of women’s recreational hockey.

Steinke, 36, agrees. The shots aren’t fired as hard and the puck doesn’t sail across the ice as fast. Neither do the players, for that matter.

“We feel like we’re going fast,” she said with a smile.

But Steinke and Alexandre believe the women who lace up their skates every Sunday for Kamloops Women’s Recreational Hockey deserve some credit.

Men, Steinke pointed out, are groomed for the game almost as soon as they can walk, while players in her league are often playing the game for the first time when they try out.

“A lot of women in our league are just learning to skate,” she said. “Some of them haven’t played at all.”

Alexandre first played hockey with boys at an outdoor rink when she was growing up in Heffley Creek.

“My dad bought me a pair of figure skates once. They went back to the store in a hurry,” she said. Hockey was her game and, despite trying broomball and other sports, she keeps coming back.

She met friend K-J Klontz, 55, during the 1970s when the women played on an all-female team called the DT Blues. Klontz said a newspaper photo of a game between Kamloops and Ashcroft triggered the formation of the league.

After that picture was published, Klontz got about 50 phone calls from women who were interested in playing. She lobbied the city to give the women some ice time and a Sunday afternoon session was created.

The city had granted the fledgling league some ice time Saturdays at 11 p.m., but that didn’t work for the women, many of whom had children, she said.

By then Alexandre had given up the game to raise her daughter. She wouldn’t pick up a hockey stick again until Steinke joined the league about 10 years ago. “I couldn’t stand watching the games,” she said. “I had to get out there and play.”

Steinke was in her early 20s and living in McBride when she first tried hockey. She was single at the time and there wasn’t much to do in the small town. But she said there is a nice arena.

“So I thought I’d play hockey,” she said.

Mother and daughter play on the Flying Fraternity Order of Eagles, one of eight teams in the league. Klontz said the players range in age from 19 to 66. Many, including Alexandre and Steinke, play for the love of the game, but some also play in a women’s AAA league.

Steinke says that’s a whole different game of stick. There are no slapshots or body checking in the women’s league, something the AAA players sometimes forget.

“Everybody wants to win on some level,” she said, adding the AAA women are more physical.

Something that might be classified as an incidental hit in AAA hockey can be considered a body check in the women’s league, said Steinke.

Klontz isn’t able to play this season due to a shoulder injury. Instead, she will referee — anything to keep active in a game she has loved for years.

She said it’s the focus required to play the game that hooked her. No matter what else is going on in life, it’s all forgotten once the puck drops.

“When you are out on the ice all you think about is playing the game. I love the game,” said Klontz.

That love of the game prompted her to launch a letter-writing campaign on behalf of the B.C. Girls’ Ice Hockey Association to the province to make women’s hockey an official sport in the 1982 B.C. Winter Games in Prince George.

She sent more than 100 letters, and it worked, said Klontz.