“It’s a Whole New Ball-game” is the official slogan of the newest all-woman professional sports association, the American Basketball League. But the tag line applies equally well to the impact women are having on sports at every level, from grade-school soccer to professional hockey. Women athletes are emerging as role models for today’s youth.
Kelly Dyer, a top professional female goalie, is one such role model. Currently, she’s on the roster of the Louisville River Frogs, making her the only female player in the East Coast Hockey League. “I like to think of myself as a hockey player who just happens to be a woman, and not a woman hockey player,” says Dyer. “I love the game and want to play no matter what gender the competition.”
As a child growing up in Acton, MA, Dyer was a figure skater at the Colonial Figure Skating Club—the same club where Olympic medalist Nancy Kerrigan trained. Dyer says she was influenced more by Boston Bruins great Bobby Orr than any figure skater. So, at age 11, she switched to hockey.
“I grew up in a neighborhood with boys who liked to play hockey. They stuck me in goal and shot things at me,” she says. “And I liked it.”
She went on to become the first girl in Massachusetts to play School Boy Division One Hockey. Some of her teammates included eventual NHL stars Tom Barrasso, a goalie who won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jeff Norton of the New York Islanders, and Bob Sweeney of the Buffalo Sabres.
In college, she played on the women’s ice hockey team at Northeastern Univer-sity in Boston, where she was named Most Valuable Player during the years the team won back-to-back NCAA championships. Just recently, Kelly became the first female athlete to be inducted into Northeastern University’s Hall of Fame.
In international competition, she played for the USA Women’s Ice Hockey Team; winning silver medals in the 1990, ‘92 and ‘94 World Championships as well as the ‘95 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Pacific Tournament. As a pro, she joined the men again, becoming the only woman player for several top-level ice and roller hockey teams, including the West Palm Beach Blaze, Orlando Rollergators, and the West Palm Beach Barracudas.
A new venture
But Kelly Dyer, now 30, isn’t just busy at the rink. She recently joined Louisville Hockey to help promote the sport and develop a women’s line of hockey equipment. Louisville Hockey, a division of Hillerich & Bradsby, makes equipment for players ranging from NHL stars to roller hockey beginners. Dyer boasts a marketing degree from Northeastern to go with her three years of professional hockey experience.
“Kelly adds a new dimension to Louisville Hockey,” says company spokesman Graham Watson. “The combination of her marketing skills and hockey experience make her a valuable asset to us. She will help us prove that Louisville Hockey is serious about women’s hockey.”
Women’s hockey, it should be noted, is the fastest growing segment in the game.
“Women in hockey have to buy men’s equipment,” adds Watson. “One of the problems with this is that it doesn’t fit right. A 5’2”, 100-pound woman usually ends up wearing junior equipment, which doesn’t provide adequate protection. Plus, women have different protection needs than men.”
Currently, the new equipment product line is in the research-and-development stage. Key elements in the line are hockey pants (both the tighter European style and a looser cut), elbow pads, gloves, and sticks. The sticks will probably be thinner, with convex “rounded” edges and customized shafts.
Keep an eye on Kelly for the next few years. Who knows, we may be rooting her on in the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, when Women’s Ice Hockey debuts as a medal sport. Women like Kelly Dyer, Erin Whitten, Cammi Granato, Cindy Curley, and Manon Rheaume show all of us that words like powerful, proficient, competitive, and strong are no longer the opposite of “female.” According to Betty Jaynes, who heads the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association, “when little boys start seeing big girls who are great athletes, it’s going to break the cycle of boys degrading girls in athletic situations.”
In other words, women sports stars are one day going to turn “you throw-skate-hit-run like a girl” into a compliment!
Mary Patricia Millar is a freelance writer covering youth and women’s hockey