It wasn’t about blazing a trail or striking a blow in the name of Title IX, the gender equity law which at the the time was brand new. It about about playing ice hockey.
“I didn’t neccesarily feel like I was breaking ground,” Suzie Benson Turnbull, a member of the first women’s ice hockey team at Colby College, said. “I was proud of doing something a little bit different. I wasn’t doing it to be a radical. It was fun.”
Forty years ago, Colby skated one of the first intercollegiate women’s ice hockey team’s in the country. In February, 1973, the Mules defeated Brown 3-2 in their first game.
Saturday was a celebration of the history of women’s ice hockey at Colby. There was an alumnae game at Alfond Rink in the morning, followed by a tailgate party in the trophy room at noon. The current Mules took on Williams College at 3 p.m. The day concluded with a dinner for current players, past players, and their families.
Susan Conant Cook and Laurie Fitts Loosigian, both members of the Class of ’75, were two members of the original Colby women’s ice hockey game who played in the alumnae game. Loosigian and Susan Yovic were among the group that founded the team when they went to Frank Stephenson, Colby’s Director of Alumni Giving and an All-American goalie for the Mules in the early ’60s. Loosigian worked in Stephenson’s office, and the team had his support.
Marge Bither, the athletic director, was concerned with player safety. When the team found adequate chest protection and equipment, Bither was on board.
That first season, they played in figure skates. They would grind the toe pick off the skate blade. For the ’73-74 season, the team was able to get a deal on hockey skates from Harold Joseph, the owner of Joseph’s Sporting Goods in Fairfield, 15 bucks a pair.
Some members of the team had never played organized ice hockey. A Palmyra native, Loosigian played field hockey when she arrived at Colby.
“I had all boy cousins and a pond behind my house. That’s where I played hockey,” she said. “We could skate pretty well. We had to learn stick skills.”
The highlight was that first game, that 3-2 win over Brown. Cook, who now works in Colby’s alumni office, scored the game-winning goal.
“I was in the right place at the right time. I hadn’t played team sports before I joined this team. I was learning, and one of the things I learned was get in front of the net and look for rebounds,” Cook said.
Some people didn’t think women playing ice hockey was proper. Some players had boyfriends who didn’t understand why they wanted to play hockey. Some players were given ultimatums by these boyfrends, chose me or hockey. Unfortunately, Turnbull said, some chose the guy.
The Mules played a lot of club teams. Loosigian remembered games against Cornell, Boston College, Boston University, McGill, and New Hampshire. By the time the first group of Colby players became seniors in the mid-’70s, the new wave, women who chose to attend Colby because they could play hockey, were arriving.
“We just knew we loved it. We knew we had to push to do it. We had an opportunity to play when there weren’t a lot of opportunities,” Cook said. “You look at the women on the team now. They’ve been playing since they were little kids. Their talent level is phenomenal.”
Loosigian walked into the tailgate party wearing the Colby letter jacker she earned playing hockey. It still fit perfectly.
“I’m so proud of this jacket,” Loosigian said.
Turnbull didn’t play in the alumni game. She hasn’t played ice hockey since she graduated from Colby. She does loves to skate, however, and when they game was over, Turnbull accepted a pair of skates from Cook, and joined Cook and Loosigian on the ice.
“One lap around, for old times’ sake,” Loosigian said.
One lap turned into two, and two became three, then four. Before long, they were just skating, and nobody was counting.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242