Freewheeling Strangers to Ice and Sticks, Women `Fall in Love' with Roller Hockey

Article excerpt

The Chicago Cross Checkers zipped on their game faces and filed out of the women's locker room at the North American Roller Hockey Championships.

A skeptical fan noticed the catchy slogan on their T-shirts.

" `Chicks With Sticks,' " the guy said. "Now there's a frightening concept."

Get used to it. America is going ga-ga over roller hockey and women are joining the craze. Karhu USA, a Vermont-based company that markets and distributes hockey equipment, estimates that 16 percent of roller hockey players in this country are female.

"What we are finding is women are going into in-line hockey to sharpen their skating skills and they fall in love with the game," said Robin Racine, Karhu's representative at the championships.

This competition, held at the All-American Sports Complex in South County, drew women's teams from Chicago, Detroit, Madison, Wis., and San Jose.

Pioneering women's leagues are sprouting up across the country and Koho is developing the first line of women's in-line hockey skates. The folks at Karhu estimate that 361,000 women play the sport.

"We'll have women's skates available in January," Racine said. "We provided equipment for several of these teams. We're looking to do even more in 1995."

Most of the women who competed at these championships were relative newcomers to hockey - and that inexperience showed as they struggled to handle and shoot the puck.

"Skill-wise, they are at the pee-wee level for boys," one referee remarked after working the first women's game.

"We get a lot of people who are just good athletes, who played on volleyball or softball teams," said Patti Handschiegel of the Cross Checkers. "A lot of them have field hockey experience. The majority don't know anything about hockey."

But the four women's teams played spirited games and produced a few rock 'em, sock 'em moments over the weekend. After nasty collisions, though, these players tend to hover over wounded opponents and express their regrets.

"We are definitely a lot more courteous than the guys are," Handschiegel said.

"Yeah, it's pretty funny," teammate Andrea Meenahan said.

"Everybody is saying `Sorry, sorry, sorry,' " Handschiegel said.

"You get checked and it's `Good D, good D,' " Handschiegel said.

"Everybody helps each other up," Meenahan said.

In many youth roller hockey leagues, girls and boys play side by side. …