Rundle Women's Hockey League builds community through sport — no skating experience required
Penny Lawless' first hockey career was short lived.
At 11, she played for an organized girls' team, which was scrapped after a group of younger boys took over their ice time.
"It was the 70s, and at that time they told us that girls' hockey wasn't really going anywhere," said Lawless, 58.
As an adult, things are different. Lawless now has a standing game every Sunday night as a player and organizer with the Rundle Women's Hockey League, a grassroots league that's quickly gaining momentum in the Bow Valley.
Players range in age from 18 to 70. While some are lifelong competitive players, many, like Lawless, have come to the sport in adulthood.
Jennifer Rowley, 50, grew up figure skating and started playing hockey when she turned 40. Another player, Takeko Takahashi, was inspired by her husband to take up hockey when she moved to Canada around 30 years ago.
"I wanted to beat him," said Takahashi, 58.
New player Bronwyn Hepworth didn't know how to skate when she joined the Rundle league after moving to Banff last year.
"I was like Bambi on ice, just terrified," said Hepworth, 29, who grew up playing field hockey in England.
"Luckily … the team just really looked out for me, and I feel like I gained confidence each week, which made me want to keep coming back."
Vixens vs. Nanny Goats
The league has its roots in a weekly game of shinny that started in 2008, and gradually evolved into monthly games between players from Canmore and Banff.
Once 40 people showed up at a single game, organizers figured they had enough for a full-on league. It launched in 2019 with four teams: the Jills, the Shrews, the Minks and the Vixens.
While the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in the first few seasons, they've generated enough interest to add two more teams this year: the Nanny Goats and the Luna Wolves.
"The camaraderie with the women in the Bow Valley, it's just an amazing thing," said Rowley. "I look forward to every Sunday night coming here and playing with my friends."
Each team has a careful mix of players of different skill levels. More seasoned veterans help the newbies and everyone shares in each others' success.
The hope, said organizer Karli Fleury, is that the league can help build lasting connections. She noted the Bow Valley can sometimes feel transient, with people often moving in and out.
"We wanted to create something for women to share this common passion, in this common sport," said Fleury.
"[It's] something that you can count on to be consistent in a place that's changing all the time."
So far, so good, said Lawless. Some Rundle players have now known each other since the first shinny games that began 15 years ago.
"That friendship extends well beyond the ice as well," she said.
As the season wraps up, Fleury said the league is expecting another banner year in 2023-2024. While they may not be ready to add a seventh team and eighth team just yet, she hasn't ruled it out as a possibility.
"It definitely could be in the cards in the coming years if it continues to grow as much as it has over the last couple of years, for sure," she said.