The Lady Kings won a game a couple of Saturdays ago, and for the first time in team history, Phoenix's all-female hockey club was not in last place.

Karmel Scott scored on a breakaway with less than a minute to play, giving her team a 2-1 victory over the mostly male North Stars, a regular opponent in a league for hockey beginners at the Tower Plaza Ice Palace.

Scott's shot ended a winless streak of 34 games. In all those games, the best finish managed by the Lady Kings (You Gretzky, Me Jane," November 25) was one tie. Most ended in scores like 10-0 and 12-1. Until their loss to the Lady Kings, the North Stars were widely considered to be the best club in the Ice Palace's six-team learner league. The Lady Kings say they won because they were better, and had better strategy. The North Stars say the Lady Kings won because the Lady Kings play dirty. "I felt like crying after the game," said Chris McManus, one of three North Stars ejected during the game's final seconds for rough play and arguing with the officials. "I don't think we were ever mentally prepared for the game.

"We didn't expect them to come out with much. And they started to get away with a bunch of calls. After a few of our players got cross-checked in the back of the helmet, and we started getting hot about that, it threw us out of our whole game. "Instead of playing hockey the way we know how to play, we were going out there thinking about how we could get them back for the hits. The Lady Kings will hit us and get cheap shots, and if we retaliate, we're in the penalty box." League commissioner Jim Rogers, who watched one period of the game, confirmed McManus' allegations of rough play. "The Lady Kings are one of the dirtiest teams in the league," said Rogers, adding that he warned the game's officials before the opening face-off to watch out for any unnecessary roughness. "They think they can get away with it because they're girls."
The Lady Kings scoffed at the North Stars' excuse-making. "On the score sheet, the penalties were about even," said coach Jonathan Kozac. "I don't think penalties had any effect on the outcome." Several other elements were more influential on the outcome, the Lady Kings said, including an innovative defensive strategy and their own improving hockey skills. Coach Kozac described the Lady Kings' defensive strategy as "flood the slot."

"You have lots of beginning skaters in this kind of league, so we put all five of our defensive players into the slot [the busy area just in front of the goal], and we didn't chase the puck into the corners," said Kozac, noting that the North Stars' only goal came on a breakaway. "There was not one shot on the net that got all the way to the goalie." Also a factor, said Kozac, was the Lady Kings' skillful play. "I've got tapes of some of their early games," he said. "The difference between then and now is night and day." The big win, Kozac says, has renewed the team's morale, which had been depleted by the long losing streak. "They had gotten to the point where they were getting frustrated," said Kozac of his players. "They were going through the 'Is it worth it?' stage. Now, there's a gleam in every one of their eyes." After the game, team members celebrated over Japanese fast food at a nearby Tokyo Express--beer was out of the question, because of a practice session scheduled for early the next morning. North Star McManus, whose flurry of late-game penalties also got him suspended from his team's subsequent game, said he had a dream after the game about the potential negative publicity the loss would generate. "As far as in the locker room," he said, "we were pretty much pissed off, hitting everything in sight."
A rematch between the Lady Kings and the North Stars is scheduled for August 19--the last game of the league's summer season. Since their lone victory, the Lady Kings have tied one game, resuming their winless streak. Still, says Lady King Susan Starr, "The win is going to have an effect on the rest of our season. After 34 games, everybody was really thinking this was something we'll never break through. Now we know we can do it.