It amazes me that after everything we’ve managed to accomplish in North America, sports teams are still gendered, and women’s leagues are treated as less-than. I’m grateful to live in Brooklyn, of course, where we recognize women’s sports teams as the bonafide royalty they are. Last year the borough was lucky enough to be graced with another group of queens to cheer for: The New York Riveters, BK’s first professional women’s ice hockey team. As one of just four charter franchises in the newly-formed National Women’s Hockey League, with Rosie the Riveter as their mascot — aka the universal symbol for women who fight the “boys’ club” mentality — these girls are well-positioned to change the way for women’s contact sports.
We spoke to a few of the Riveters at the end of their inaugural season, where they struggled a bit in their first year, finishing fourth in the league with three regulation wins, one overtime win, two overtime losses and 11 regulation losses. They’ve got one final away game Sunday against the Connecticut Whale, but since nobody seems to like the “Brooklynized” Islanders, anyway, we’re formally declaring our allegiance to the Riveters and their home turf at Aviator Sports Center at Floyd Bennet Field. Their presence as a professional women’s team in the borough is important, but it’s also exciting that a generation of young girls are get to grow up with them as role models.
They shared their hockey heroines growing up, their game-day strategies on the ice, and revealed whether they’re planning to try and usurp the throne from the recently-declared Queens of Brooklyn, the Gotham Girls.
“I was five when I went to my first skating lesson,” Dosdall, 28, recalled to Brokelyn. “I remember coming off the ice crying my eyes out because my figure skates hurt my feet. When we went back to the pro shop to check my size, I stopped crying, pointed to the [hockey] skates on the wall and said, ‘I want the black ones.'”
The lack of girls hockey options was a problem for some of the team.
“I played on a boys team,” Ketchum, a Riveters forward who grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut told us. “The only thing I remember was being the only girl.”
Both Dosdall and Johnston told us that their favorite hockey movie was Mighty Ducks.
Being the tomboy in the treehouse is easier now than it ever was before — as evidenced by how un-PC the word “tomboy” sounds — and it’s certainly even easier in Brooklyn, where we have a wealth of feminist events and Brooklyn girl role models to get us through the day. But in small town sports teams growing up, that wasn’t always the case.
“My hero growing up was Clara Hughes, a Canadian speed-skater/cyclist competing in both the summer and winter Olympics,” said Johnston, a 23-year-old Canadian native. “She overcame a lot of adversity, which made her seem much more like a real person.”
Dosdall told us she took cues from athletes of both genders, and not exclusively in hockey. “Think Cammy Granato, Adam Graves, Mia Hamm, Hulk Hogan.”
Despite my own Canadian roots, I haven’t actually watched a ton of hockey. But the games I have seen have gotten rough, fast. Mens’ sports games are throbbing arenas notorious for arguments, fights and outbursts, and fans are expecting the action. I’ll admit that when I went to the Riveters game last month, I was half expecting some Hulk Hogan-like action, checking and fighting and the like — but there wasn’t any. I counted maybe three minor penalties over the course of the game. Was this one actually just tamer for lack of testosterone?
“Normally it stays pretty calm,” said Johnston, who plays defense. “But when we play, we definitely are leaving everything we have on the ice. Sometimes [that] escalates plays to more than the occasional shove.”
Fellow defense player Dosdall agreed.
“It does escalate, sometimes. Just ask our ‘weapon,’ Elena Orlando,” she said. “We definitely try to maintain our emotions and be role models for the kids in the stands, though.”
That’s something else I noticed about the crowd: it was mostly families and their kids. Hockey is an all-ages sport, but the Aviator Center was at least 20 percent kids under 12— running across empty bleachers, screeching at high volumes, rolling on the floor near the rink while their mothers supervised.
In an interview with The Players’ Tribune NWHL founder Dani Rylans explained, “We want to put butts in seats, so our entire model is based on Sunday games at accessible times for families.” But will the eventual viewership she envisions, in which “people come out to watch the best female hockey players in the world,” hinge on teams’ ability to play as aggressively as their male counterparts?
Ketchum was optimistic about having room to grow with the NWHL, which is still just one year young.
“The women’s game has definitely changed a lot,” she said. “Players are getting faster, stronger and more skilled and thus the level of intensity has picked up.”
The NWHL’s four active teams are concentrated in the tri-state area of the Northeast: the Buffalo Beauts, The Boston Pride, the Connecticut Whale and the New York Riveters. As Rylans shared with the Tribune, “We wanted to keep the league regional. No planes — just busses for travel. We focused on the hotspots where demand for the sport is very high.”
So maybe a little healthy competition in the borough is good for the league, after all. We asked the Riveters we spoke to whether they were planning on starting a rivalry with the Gotham Girls to become reigning badasses of the borough. Ketchum was diplomatic.
“I think if anything, we want to work on growing our sport,” she said. “We love that there are other women’s sports teams in Brooklyn. It’s an exciting time!”
Johnston was of a different mind. “It’s on! But they have to come on the ice.”
“I see some potential in the idea,” added Dosdall. “Maybe roller hockey would be a fair match up?”
For now, the Riveters’ home base remains the Aviator Sports and Events Center in Marine Park. But follow the girls into into post-season, and stay tuned on Twitter with the NWHL and the Riveters for updates. Who knows? You might just catch them at the Barclays Center come fall 2016.
For more Canadian pride, follow Sam on Twitter at @ahoysamantha