Sue Rittinger started playing hockey 40 years ago, and quickly got used to sideways glances and what she calls “funny looks.”
Back then, of course, women hockey players were still something of a novelty. It wasn’t an Olympic sport as it is today, and there were no female-only leagues in existence, either – at either the youth or adult levels. The creation of women’s professional leagues were still decades away.
“It wasn’t even thought about (at the time). It’s really grown, but at one time, (leagues) were really hard to find,” she told Peace Arch News.
“Back then, they believed hockey was only for men. When I told people that I played hockey, they were surprised that there were any women who played.”
Eventually, after making enough connections with fellow players, Rittinger started a women’s team based out of Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood. Over the years, a few teams would sprout up across the Lower Mainland, she said, “but they were not well known.”
The 60-year-old White Rock resident still plays the game – in two different leagues, no less – and finds herself in a similar position as she did four decades earlier in Kits: trying to put a team together.
This time, Rittinger has her eye on the BC 55+ Games, which are set to be hosted Sept. 15-19 in Richmond. Women’s hockey has been part of the Games since 2018.
Rittinger would like to gather enough players to enter a Zone 3 team – a large region that not only covers Surrey and White Rock, but also the entire Fraser Valley and a little beyond, from Coquitlam to Boston Bar on the north side of the Fraser River, and from Langley to Chilliwack on the south side.
At the last 55+ Games, Rittinger explained, Zone 3 didn’t ice a team at all. It wasn’t for lack of players, either, she said, but simply due to a lack of awareness about the event. As well, communication among players is lacking due to the fact that potential players are scattered far and wide across the Lower Mainland, with many playing recreationally in Vancouver-area leagues – where there is more opportunity – despite living in the Zone 3 region.
Identifying players who are at least 55 years old can be challenging too, Rittinger explained, because there are no specific “old-timers leagues”, as she refers to them, for women as they are for men. Like Rittinger, most women play in leagues for players 30-plus.
“I know the players are out there – I just have to find them,” she said.
“They’re playing all over, so it can be hard to track them down.”
Another problem with having no 55-plus women’s leagues, Rittinger said, is that many older players quit “because they don’t want to play with younger players” which makes it tougher to find players. However, because the women’s game is growing in statue – locally, the Surrey Falcons Female Hockey Association is thriving – she has also noticed women picking up the sport later in life, even if they didn’t play in their youth.
“There are women who are in their 40s of 50s, and they’re loving it,” she said.
Eventually, she expects more leagues to pop up, especially for players who are 50 and above, because “over time, the numerous young players of today will be in their 50s and want a place to play.”
“We also have such a good Canadian women’s (national) team, and we have so many young girls getting involved now, it’s just wonderful,” she said.
Currently, Rittinger said she has eight players onboard for a Zone 3 team, but more are still required. A goaltender is also still needed, she added.
Ideally, Rittinger would like to sign a team up to play in a spring league so they’re well-prepared for the 55+ Games. Registration for the spring happens in mid-February.
Any interested players can email Rittinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With a bit of a head start on finding players, she remains confident that Zone 3 will be well-represented on the ice in Richmond in September.
“With age and injuries, some of us are definitely not at the same level as we were in our younger years,” she said.
“But the passion is still there.”