With the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang just completed, much of the world’s focus has been on one sport: ice hockey. For the first time on the Olympic ice, there was a fully united North and South Korean women’s hockey team. This show of unity and camaraderie might just be what the world needs in the wake of heightened tensions between the North and the South.
Closer to home, Paul VI Catholic High School’s hockey team has celebrated a phenomenal season thus far. Much like the unified Korean team, their season has been bolstered by camaraderie, led by head coach Ken Kerrigan and assistant coaches Joseph DeNoyior and Paul Ottariano.
Senior Jack Vance offered a testament to how special this PVI team is. “We really are a family on and off the ice,” Vance said. “I love going to practice and games just to hang out with all of the players. I know they’ll have my back at any time.”
Freshman goalie Jack Sullivan echoed those sentiments: “My favorite aspects of the team are the positive atmosphere and everyone’s shared commitment to win.”
This friendly, welcoming environment lends itself well to all players, despite skill level or even gender. Junior Annika LaRoche is the only young woman on the PVI hockey team this season, and it is her first season playing the sport. “I have always been a fan of hockey,” she said. “I have been skating since I was four years old, but have always wanted to play hockey.”
Despite a heart condition, LaRoche was able to try out for the team and says that her medical condition does not stop her from being an integral part of the team. “Overall, it has been a lot of fun to play on the hockey team,” LaRoche said. “The coaches have done a great job helping us new players with skill work, but they still make it enjoyable.” She is currently on the practice squad, but hopes to move to the game squad by next season.
“Being the only girl on the team, I obviously have to use a separate locker room than my teammates, so I don’t get the same team bonding before and after practice.” she said. “When I am working on drills, my teammates are usually patient with me and we work well together. Even though I’m the only girl, I still love to play hockey and I love the team I’m on.”
According to USA Hockey Magazine, over the past 25 years the number of young women playing ice hockey has grown from 6,000 to 73,000. This has made the sport more accessible to women throughout the country, be they middle-aged or an elementary schooler.
LaRoche encourages more young women to try the sport, saying, “My advice would be if you want to play in any male dominant sport, go into it expecting it to be a different environment than a female dominant sport. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it can widen your horizons and help you break your comfort zone.”