It's only in the second period that the hockey game between the all-female Trailblazers and the all-male Ice Hawks starts to look a bit like a blowout. After a fierce first period and a beautiful last-minute shot that left the score 3-1 Trailblazers, both teams quickly score in the first three minutes of Period 2—but after that the Trailblazers start to run away with it 5-2.
Then, late in the period, the Ice Hawks begin to come back. The struggles for the puck become even more intense, with both goalies spending a lot of time on their knees scrambling for the puck. Any hockey game is physical, but from the safety of the sidelines this one starts to look pretty rough: a lot of checks, and a lot of what looked like high-sticking, from both sides. But of course this isn't real violence, it's just hockey—whenever two players collide they give the other a friendly pat as each gets up.
Eight seconds into the third period, the Ice Hawks score, bringing them within 1.
It's as close as they get.
The rest of the game is all Trailblazers. An audible "Whoo!" is heard on the seventh goal as two Trailblazers bump fists. On the eighth goal, the whole Trailblazers bench loudly shouts "Whoo!" For the ninth goal, scored with only 1:47 remaining, there's one proudly victorious "Yeah!" as a Trailblazer puts the nail in the coffin. After that, a 10th and final goal with only 17 seconds left seems almost greedy. Final score: 10-5.
After the buzzer sounds and the players shake hands, I hear one of the Ice Hawks talking to his wife on his way to the locker room. I can tell she's ribbing him a bit about the loss. "I know," he says. "By broads. Jesus Christ."
"But at least I scored," he quickly adds.
North Carolina Trailblazers Women's Hockey Association was founded by about a dozen women in 1995. "They just wanted to get together a group of women to play ice hockey," the team captain, Jake Jacobson, tells me after the game. "They did a great job of establishing the organization, and we've been growing by leaps and bounds ever since."
There are about 45 players in the organization, divided between two teams, though the two teams are closely connected. The Rec team is open to players of all abilities, even complete novices; it's the entry-level league. "Even if you've never been on the ice," Jacobson says, "you can come out and skate." To encourage new players, the team has spare gear available to loan to potential recruits.
"If you're interested in hockey, e-mail us—it's like a welcoming committee, we even assign somebody to make sure they know how to get dressed and be their buddy on the ice."
She's very serious about this invitation. "It's amazing how many hockey moms we've recruited. They have kids within other organizations, they've never thought about playing, and then they see us playing and they're like 'Oh, I could play. I could learn how to play with my kids.'" Kids, she says, are a very familiar sight in the locker room, and both teams have "some really supportive husbands."
The C Team is the more competitive team, requiring tryouts every August and regular travel up and down the East Coast, including to cities as far away as Baltimore and Cleveland and an annual trip to Florida. It was the C Team that shellacked the Ice Hawks this afternoon.
Jacobson finds there's not much difference between playing men and women. "The men that we play are used to playing alongside women and against women—so they know that if you're a hockey player you're a hockey player. You put on the pads, your gender doesn't matter, you just play everybody hard.
"We appreciate a men's team that's not going to take it easy on us because we're women," she continues. "We want them to go hard, because we're going to go hard against them."
During our chat, a number of Trailblazers come over to check in with their captain. One, Leah Allen, a forward, shows off some injuries to her fingers; another, Lauren Felter, a goalie, berates herself for letting so many goals through. "They should have only scored once," she insists. "Off the post? That's just basics." That the score was 10 to 5 just isn't good enough.
The women of the Trailblazers come from quite varied backgrounds—small business owners, graduate students, lawyers, accountants, dental assistants, nurses, even (very usefully) a physical therapist. Everyone does their part for the group, from managing the Web site to storing equipment to sharing babysitting duties to organizing post-game grill-outs for camaraderie between rival teams. "It's very much a sisterhood," Jacobson says. "When you shed your street clothes and you get in that locker room, it's amazing, the connection that you have. Even when people have moved away—when they e-mail back the organization, it's like a family reunion.
"Once you're a Trailblazer, you're always a Trailblazer."
The Trailblazers' fall schedule and contact info is available at www.nctrailblazers.org.