The rink was abustle last weekend as 95 women from around the state took to the ice for the annual Homer Winter Jamboree. The tournament was hosted by the Divas, Homer’s adult women’s hockey league, and featured a mixed team design, shuffling players of all abilities from Homer, Anchorage, Kenai, Juneau, and Talkeetna onto eight teams of roughly equal skill level. Each team played three preliminary games on Friday and Saturday, and based on their win-loss record faced off against a fourth opponent to place on Sunday morning.
“It’s great because there are super amazing people who played in college (playing) with those who are brand new,” said the tournament’s coordinator, Ingrid Harrald. “The whole point of it is to make our statewide hockey community closer, so we have a statewide passion for our sport.”
One of the tournament rules dictates that players cannot score more than one goal per person per game, encouraging teams to field the puck to their less experienced players. The rule comes from the shared notion that women’s adult hockey is very open and encouraging to beginners.
“Women’s hockey is the fastest growing sport in the nation. It’s grown over 300 percent in the last five years,” said Harrald.
The sport’s increased popularity has made tournaments more difficult to enter. The registration for the Homer Winter Jamboree filled up in two weeks, and the Fools on Ice tournament held in Anchorage during April Fools weekend sold out in nine minutes. The Diva’s own popularity has exploded in the last few years. The group began practicing 10 years ago with just nine women; now, their roster is up to 48, with 43 competing in last weekend’s tournament.
While the ages of players ranged from 20-somethings to sexagenarians, more than a few women started skating after they watched their kids take to the sport.
“I had three boys who played hockey,” said Tammy Lafrancois, who has been playing with the Divas for two years. “I watched them for 20 years and finally decided it was my turn.”
The Divas’ head coach, Buck Laukitis, says his hat goes off to the women who pick up this sport late in life.
“What’s special about women’s hockey is that most guys, when they play adult hockey, they talk about who they used to be, about the glory days,” he said. “Women are really into skill acquisition. … We’ll work on something in practice and the next game the bench will erupt with a cheer and it’s not because she scored, but because she used a new skill in a game.”
Shelly Laukitis, who has been playing with the Divas for eight years, thinks women who never had a chance to experience the camaraderie and community of team sports in their younger years find a home on the Divas.
“You don’t have to be the mom or the partner or whatever your job is,” she said. “I mean, you’re a Diva.”
The sportsmanship and spirit that ran throughout the competition was evident on and off the ice. In addition to playing some fast and hard games, the women also competed with each other at several social gatherings throughout the weekend. A silent and live auction was held as a benefit for both the rink and the Divas, to help fund ice fees and scholarships for women. Arguably the most competitive event of the weekend was the costume party held at Beluga Lake Lodge on Saturday night.
As per Alaska women’s hockey tradition, each tournament has a theme, and the teams dress accordingly to their own sub-theme. This year’s pick was music genres, with the final match pitting the “Disco Destroyers” against the “Pop Rock Passers.” The Passers took home the trophy.
At the costume party on Saturday night the “Country Western Wingers” all dressed up as Dolly Parton, and one Disco Destroyer was spotted wearing a giant papier mâché disco ball.
While costumes are generally encouraged to remain off the ice, sometimes team spirit gets the best of the players.
“We did skate with capes one year at a superhero theme,” said Harrald. “The refs made us take them off and then they wore them.”
While the Divas are happy to take home any trophy, their mantra is, if nothing else, they win the party.
“We may have a reputation for not being as focused on hockey as we should be,” said Harrald.
The Divas next tournament is Fools on Ice at the beginning of April in Anchorage.
Lindsay Olsen is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.