By Earl Scott
Blades cutting into the ice, sticks slapping pucks, tempers flaring -- all sights sports fans would expect to see on a hockey rink.
This year there's an added twist to the local teams. Cache Valley's first women's hockey team, the Cache Valley Freeze, is gearing up to begin play next month.
Kristi Schow, player/coach/manager, has been the driving force getting the team started in its inaugural season.
"I love to play hockey and I enjoy helping people," Schow said. "I help teach the new players to skate and try to help them get some confidence. It's all really rewarding to me."
The team will begin play as an independent this year and join the Utah Women's Ice Hockey League next season.
The league has existed for a couple of years and has a "B" and "C" division. It includes teams from Ogden, Provo and Salt Lake City.
The club wants to get its skates wet and gain some experience this season before becoming a member of the "C" division.
Most of the players have no game experience, so the team plans to start in the beginners' division, Schow said. This year the team will play in a few tournaments and schedule games with other teams from around the state.
Schow, a Utah State University student, is one of the more experienced players on the team, having played for a women's team in Ogden. She also does public relations for the USU hockey team. She regularly takes to the ice and practices with the USU players.
"The USU team has been great teaching me and the team about hockey," Schow said. "They used to take it pretty easy on me, but not anymore; they get after me pretty good sometimes. It's awesome skating with those guys."
Schow proudly described a grapefruit-size bruise she suffered on her leg from blocking a slap shot from a USU player.
"My older brothers thought it was great. They think they have a tough sister, which is how they always told me to be," Schow said. "My dad was less than impressed, though, but he likes the fact that I'm playing hockey."
Gaining experience is the goal for the team this year. The players practice from 10:15 to 11:45 p.m. Wednesdays and skate on their own.
Everyone on the team is working at their game as much as they can, Schow said. With their first game starting next month, the inexperienced Freeze are still not quite sure what to expect.
"I'm a little nervous because I'm still learning," said McKenzie Murri. "I'm ready to go though. My teammates are great. We're all in this together."
When asked the inevitable question about injury and losing a tooth, Murri laughed and said, "I would love to lose a tooth and smile at all the boys and tell them, 'Look guys I'm a hockey player.'"
Women's hockey teams wear the same protection as college players to reduce the chance of injury.
"I'm more concerned about plowing someone over on the ice and injuring them, than I worry about myself getting hurt," Murri said. "I'm naturally aggressive, which is why I love to play this game."
Most of the players figure skated or skated for fun, but it's the action that lured them to hockey.
Women's teams are not allowed to drive an opponent into the boards, but contact is allowed. Other than reducing some of the hard physical play, the rules are the same.
"We can still get in there and mix it up pretty good," Schow said. "That's what's great about it; I like the contact."
The roster has 20 players. They include USU students, real estate agents and ski instructors, and the Freeze would like to add more players. If enough women want to play, then they'll just add another team, Schow said.
Head Coach Leslie Bush, who hails from Edmonton, Canada, has been involved in hockey since she was 5 and has coached youth, men's and women's hockey.
"This is fantastic having a women's team here in the valley," Bush said after putting her team through a shooting drill. "I think this is really going to work; we're excited about it."