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Charlotte Veaux began ice skating in law school because it was good exercise and because it was free. She hadn't had much skate experience prior, but she had become a huge hockey fan while living in New York as an undergrad; it was then that the Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in 50 years. Little did she know that these two worlds -- recreational skating and Rangers fanaticism -- would eventually collide in Colorado Springs.
About three years ago, Veaux moved to the Springs and continued to skate. A year later, she picked up a hockey stick and began dabbling in the sport. Soon after that, she joined a newly formed and loosely organized women's hockey team called the Silverwolves.
Initially, the team consisted of a handful of women who had some skating experience and an avid interest in hockey. For the most part, they were all skating and playing at about the same level, developing puck handling skills and learning to skate as a team.
But now, after two years of cutting their teeth in grueling weekly practice sessions and local competitions, the Silverwolves have gone through a metamorphosis, emerging with a core group of players. They've established themselves on the local scene and have earned their way into league play. This year, they are officially part of the Women's Association of Colorado Hockey (WACH), a league that includes teams from Pueblo, Denver, Fort Collins, Breckenridge, Vail and Steamboat.
Since its inception, the team has grown immensely. There are currently 25 women on the Silverwolves roster (up from only six women on the team two years ago). That number increases to about 35 when you take into account pickups -- those who occasionally come to practices and play in games.
The team has developed in other aspects, as well. Skill levels range from those who have never been on the ice to those who played for teams in high school or college to those who have tried out for the Olympic team. The ages of the players range from 15 to 49, encompassing high school students, college students, attorneys, computer programmers, a physics professor, a chemistry teacher, and many women who, for years, watched and supported their kids' and husbands' teams before venturing out themselves. But despite differences in experience or lifestyle, the members of this team have one thing in common: a love for the game.
"We have two goals as a team," explained Charlotte (known to her teammates as Charlie). "Obviously, the first is to be a competitive team, to go out there and play and win some games. But the second goal, and just as important, is to be a place where women can come learn a new sport; pick up a stick for the first time and just get out on the ice. So we have people who have literally never touched a hockey stick before, to people who have been playing for college teams."
For those who have little or no experience, part of team practice is learning to skate and handle the puck. The team initially provides loaner equipment, though many women invest in their own gear once they make the decision to join the team.
The one cloud that seems to linger over the sport of hockey is its notorious reputation for being a violent sport. Despite that reputation, most of the Silverwolves players say they have yet to be injured. And according to Veaux, all of the leagues in Colorado -- both men's and women's -- are non-checking leagues, which means there's no slamming into people below the belt.
"But," she explained as she coyly smiled, "no checking does not mean no contact. It can sometimes be rough. Pucks can fly. But we wear full gear -- a face cage and about 15 pounds of padding. Honestly, I don't think it's any easier to get hurt playing hockey than in soccer or basketball, or any other sport."
To date, the Silverwolves have played three league games, winning one and losing two. They also participated in their first tournament in Phoenix over Memorial Day weekend, which included 80 men's teams and 20 women's teams from around the country.
For the Silverwolves, the tournament represented their sweetest ice moments yet. With literally five seconds to go in their last game of the playoffs, they scored to take the win. Then in the final tournament, the winning goal again came late in the game, with just two minutes left on the clock. Though the team had entered in the lowest division, they ended up taking the tournament.
Arizona's success story inspired the team to organize a similar tournament here in the Springs. This weekend, beginning Friday night, eight women's teams from all over Colorado will descend upon Colorado College's Honnen Ice Rink, for the first annual Pucktoberfest -- the first-ever women's hockey tournament in Colorado Springs. Games will be played on Friday and Saturday, with the championship matches happening Sunday morning. The event is entirely free.
"This is our first year, and we've accomplished a lot," said Veaux. "We're finally established enough that we can offer something to the community now. We might not win a lot of games this year, but we're getting the skills we need. So I think we're going to be around a long time."
Pucktoberfest hosted by The Silverwolves
Honnen Ice Rink, Colorado College
Fri., Oct. 26: games at 6:45 p.m., 8 p.m., 9:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Sat., Oct. 27: games at 7:15 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m. 1:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5:45 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 28: games at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Free. For more information about the tournament or the team, call 635-2363 or visit www.silverwolves.com.