Ice hockey "gives you a rush you don't get anywhere else," says Lacie Sommer, 14, of Mission Viejo, who also has Olympic dreams. "It's an awesome sport."
Kristen Harn, 16, of San Jose, asked why she didn't take up figure skating instead, says, "I'm just not into that. I'm not elegant enough." Though the Olympics gave women's ice hockey the big push, it had been building. Team California's Chanda Gunn, 17, of Huntington Beach says that "it didn't really occur to me that girls played hockey" until she saw Granato play in a benefit game. She remembers the date: Dec. 13, 1993.
Now the first women's professional hockey league hopes to debut in the fall, with teams to represent four cities in New England and Quebec, as yet not chosen. Women play competitive college hockey, with the powerhouse teams concentrated in the Eastern and Midwestern states.
In USA Hockey programs from coast to coast, girls 12 and under (Squirts) are mixing it up with the boys. They've come a long way since the first recorded all-female ice hockey game was played in Ontario, Canada, in 1892, a game featuring women playing men dressed as women.
Some other milestones: In 1994 Minnesota was the first state to sanction girls' ice hockey as a high school varsity sport. In 1996, manufacturer Louisville Hockey introduced a line of equipment designed for women, with extra pelvic protection.
There are women's leagues and women's teams with names such as the Chilly Peppers (Tucson), the Valkyries (San Francisco), the Steel Magnolias (Ann Arbor, Mich.), the Ice Pack (Melvindale, Minn.) and, in Potsdam, N.Y., the Motherpuckers.
From April 1-5, the 1998 USA Hockey girls' and women's national championships will be held at Disney Ice in Anaheim, with players competing in age divisions from seniors to Pee Wees (15 and under). The event will feature an open invitational for girl Squirts, for whom there is no official national championship.
The official home team for the youngest girls will be Jeff Weil's Team LA, which will be going against teams from the East and Midwest and one from Alaska and one from Northern California. Team LA, a fledgling squad of players from San Diego to Thousand Oaks, came together only last fall.
"Five months ago we had six girls," says Jodell Haws, assistant coach and team vice president. "We now have 34. There's an awful lot of girls out there on boys' teams. Their opportunity to be seen and recognized is on the girls' team."
Is there discrimination against girls in this once all-male bastion? Yes and no, says Steve Butler, Team LA head coach.
"Hockey has always been a male sport. Discrimination exists, but it's not intentional," he says. And most of the coaches are men.
Do the girls play as well as the boys?
"Absolutely," Haws says (although, this day, they would lose, 6-3). In the girls' game, she adds, "there's no body checking. There's a lot more thinking, more finesse."
She mentions, "The very first tournament our girls were in, we didn't tell [the organizers] it was a girls' team. We knew they wouldn't let them play. Once we got there, we pleaded ignorance." That was in November, when Team LA was only 6 weeks old. The team placed third of six.
Assistant Coach Konstantin Lodia, a former Russian player, has a boot camp philosophy. Addressing his players in the box, he grumbles, "You not understand what I want. What are you doing. . . ? One more goal. You can, you can, you can. . . ."
The parents are getting into it too.
"Hard and tough! Use your body!" screams Janet Sandoval from Burbank to daughter Jessica.
"Skate back, Jess!" screams Steve Schofield to daughter Jessica. A former player, he is sizing up the girls. "Certain kids skate hard," he says, "but they don't see the ice. Wayne Gretzky sees the ice." "Did you see that breakaway? Awesome, huh?" beams Weil as one of his girls takes control of the puck.
Later, in their locker room, the girls of Team LA talk tough. What do they think of that other ice sport, figure skating? Regina Shvarts, 13, of North Hollywood sticks out her tongue, makes a face and says she'd rather die than do "all those ugly, twirly things." She adds, "Most of the time the moms want you to figure skate because they're so feminine."
To pigtailed Ashley Mazur, 12, of West Hills figure skating is a wimp sport. "I'd rather clean the toilets in the boys' bathroom." Jessica Sandoval just says, "They suck."
Says Allison Silverstein, 10, "I think no one's going to want to do that" in the future. "Right now, when you think of ice and girls together, you think of ice hockey."
Debbie Rosen, an angelic looking 12-year-old from Laguna Niguel who's "always liked to get out there and play rough with the boys," says, "Girls are invading the sport."
Debbie's dad, Carl, who brought her to today's game, says, "For girls, looking for an athletic scholarship, hockey is probably the sport. She's blazing the trail. At Anaheim, there are going to be the big powerhouse girls' teams from back East. If she can play well, somebody's going to notice."
Allison is talking about the loneliness of the competitive figure skater, the cutthroat competition. She and her teammates don't relate to that. They do relate to teamwork and to battling for equality. In short, they relate to the women Olympians with whom they recently had a two-hour clinic in San Jose.
Says Ashley, "Girls kick ass."