On a recent Wednesday night in Victor, the temperature hovered around 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but the hockey games were just starting to heat up. The yellow Solar Flares and the purple Spastics were evenly matched at the Kotler Ice Arena, with the Flares going up 3-1 before the Spastics came back. Then, the score got tied at 5-5.
With 46 seconds left on the clock, the Spastics knocked in the puck to take the win.
“It was very intense,” said Lisa Brown, who works as a dump truck driver for an excavation company by day and is the Flares’ team captain at night. “There were new people that were scoring tonight. Some people got their first goal of the season, which was sweet.”
Brown’s team is part of an all-women’s hockey league that goes down every Wednesday night in Victor, where four teams go head to head, playing until as late as 10:30 p.m. About two dozen women make the trek over from Jackson to play in the league, but there are plenty of games taking place on the eastern side of Teton Pass, too.
In Wilson, Caleb Raney regularly joins about two dozen other players for pick-up hockey from about 6:30 p.m. until the floodlights shut off at 9 p.m.
“It’s free, it’s convenient, the ice is fantastic, the hockey is great,” Raney said. “It’s just the perfect thing to do.”
Both Brown and Raney love the sport. But for them and many other players, it’s the vibe on the rinks of Wydaho that has drawn them in.
“It is very special just because it’s wooden boards. It’s one of those unique areas where you just throw it up, you flood a field, but the ice quality, the ice time and the game speed, it’s great,” Raney said. “It’s incomparable to anything else.”
In Wilson, the rules are simple and unwritten: Five to a side, sub in, wait your turn unless you really feel like you have to go score. And no hitting, checking, slashing or tripping. Mostly, players say, you look out for each other and then you have a beer.
Back in Victor, Nini Strawbridge said she’s astounded by the number of women who play in the womens’ league – more than 50 in total. And for her and teammate Jessica Davidson-Lynch, the games are the best part of their weeks – and winter overall.
“I’d say the best thing about hockey is just that it’s a stress reliever and that you can come and have a good time and kind of forget about everything else that’s going on in your life,” said Davidson-Lynch, who works as a teacher in Jackson.
This year, the women’s league welcomed more than a dozen new players, some of whom have recently scored their first goals on the ice. But what Davidson-Lynch most appreciates, she said, is the way the hockey league has brought people together.
“Everyone has their own battles, and I think we’re all fighting those and helping each other through that,” she said.
And if hockey’s something you think you might want to try, the players say come and give it a go — all you need are skates and a stick.