YOU GRETZKY, ME JANE

PUCKISH ALL WOMAN TEAM BREAKS THE ICE IN VALLEY HOCKEY LEAGUE.

"I always wanted to play when I was a kid," says Wolfe, who works as stage manager for a local heavy-metal band called Where's Valentino. "But when my mom paid for braces, she said, 'No, you're not gonna play. I paid so much for your teeth, so forget it.'"
Now that she's had the opportunity, Wolfe is thrilled with the sport, despite its difficulty. "I get hit a lot by the puck and stuff like that," she says. "I mean, it doesn't hurt. You fall down a lot, of course, all the time."

At the opposite end of the experience spectrum is someone like Wendy Hering, who played several seasons in local men's leagues before becoming a Lady King. Hering grew up in hockey hotbed Massachusetts and has been a fan since childhood. She got her start by accompanying her sports-nut dad to athletic events. "From the time I was 9 until I could drive a car, he was toting me along to games," she says. Hering, a 29-year-old customer-service rep for American Express (her colleagues think her hobby is "pretty weird), spends most of her rink time helping less-experienced players learn the game. She sometimes misses playing on a more competitive team. "The Lady Kings are competitive, but you don't have the hunger and desire to mutilate people," she says, kidding. "With women it's a different game."

@rule:
@body:Parents and loved ones of Lady Kings are of two minds about this rowdy hobby. Some think it's just dandy, no big deal. Others aren't so sure. The Gook family fits into the first group. A good-natured hockey match was an annual tradition for the Gooks, who lived outside Quesnel, a town about 400 miles north of Vancouver. The family's ten kids, augmented by assorted friends and spouses, would don skates every Boxing Day, Canada's day-after-Christmas holiday. Daughter Kathy would be the one to sweep the snow off the pond near the house. Today, Kathy, 31, is a professional golfer who lives in Chandler when she's not playing on the European or Asian golf tours. And when healthy (she's currently suffering from a pinched nerve in her back--a golf injury), she suits up for the Lady Kings. Almost all the Gook kids played hockey at one level or another, and one of Kathy's seven brothers went on to play professional hockey in Germany. "Oh, boy, have I ever spent a lot of time at a hockey rink," says Genevieve Gook, the family matriarch, who now lives part-time in Chandler with her husband, Peter. "Women didn't play in my day. In fact, I'm not a skater at all. I've hardly ever been on the ice. All I ever did was watch and yell." Still, Genevieve has never been totally at ease with the idea of her daughter's puck-chasing. "Well, of course you think, dear, dear, dear, she's gonna get banged up," she says. "But she's always been so sports-minded. She put herself through college with a scholarship for basketball, and there were many times when I worried about her playing that, too."

Louise Stevens, a 26-year-old boat-dealership employee by day, tends the Lady Kings' goal by night. "My parents, of course, think it's ludicrous," she says. "My mother wanted the ballerina who plays violin."

Others close to Lady Kings have learned to be blas‚ about such seemingly outrageous diversions. Men and women who gravitate toward hockey tend to immunize their friends and family against the shock.

Example: Susan Starr, 40, who played farm-pond hockey as a kid growing up in Kansas, made her way through heavy-metal music and jet-ski racing before finally arriving at the sport of the Lady Kings. Starr played guitar around town for a decade, ultimately fronting an all-woman band called Tigress, though she says she's now semiretired from the music scene. It was her Tigress drummer--and now teammate--Cheryl Wolfe who introduced her to hockey. Starr's husband, Bob, has grown accustomed to his wife's extreme hobbies. "He approaches everything I do with the same attitude," meaning ho hum, says Starr, who runs her own marketing and printing company. As for this latest endeavor, "He says, 'I hope you're having fun, because you're not very good.'"

@rule:
@body:The teams pummeling the Lady Kings aren't that much better, according to volunteer Lady Kings coach Ben Nolan. "As far as talent and ability, I would say we are right there, neck and neck with the other guys," says Nolan, who played high school and college hockey. "As far as speed and strength, though . . . they get beat to the puck. They're just not as fast. Once they do get the puck, they can't skate away from these guys." Each game, it seems, the male players' strength and stamina tend to overwhelm the women midway through the three-period contest.

"The guys take it easy in the first period, thinking it's gonna be a cakewalk," says Susan Starr. "But then they're only ahead two or three to nothing at the first intermission. When they realize that, they get back on the ice in the second period and it's push, push, push."
A few of the Lady Kings sense that the men cut them some slack. "I think we're approached by the men with a little more sympathy," says Wendy Hering, who now plays against some of her former teammates.

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