By Joseph Robertia
Vegas, baby! That’s where 12 local ladies are heading this week. But not for gambling or a wild trip with the girls — at least not in the usual sense. The women, all members of the Alaska Ambush hockey team, are headed to take part in the sold-out 2013 Las Vegas Women’s Hockey Classic.
“And we’re going to win,” said Heidi Hanson, who doubles as both a player and coach for the team.
Having attended multiple Vegas tournaments over the years, Hanson remembers just a few years ago when the Kenai-Soldotna based team nearly took it all in the nine-bracket, 42-team, 71-game, three-day event.
“When we went in ’05 we were very competitive. We went into double overtime in the final game and lost by one point, and we didn’t have a team like now,” she said.
This year’s team headed to Vegas is made up of Hanson, Jenica Rose, Vicki VinZant, Dawn Lesterson, Brooke Ames, Shonia Werner, Julie Powell Tree, Lacey Wisniewski, Marcy True, Karen Martinelli, Brandi Urban and Beth Selinger. And, while there are two other teams going from Alaska, Hanson said that she has high hopes it will be the Ambush bringing home the cup.
“This year’s team is very competitive. We have a lot of strengths. So I’d be pretty surprised if we didn’t end up in the championships,” she said.
Getting to this level has required some serious dedication and overcoming challenges for the women. Not only is year-round ice to practice on nonexistent in the area, but all-women teams are few and far between across Alaska. The Ambush have scrimmaged the all-ladies team in Homer a few times, but most of their local practice comes from playing some of the local boys teams.
Playing with her grandson is how Ambush player Karen Martinelli came to be on the team.
“I got some gear so he could shoot on me to practice, and it was so much fun. So when I heard they were forming a women’s team, I couldn’t pass it up,” she said.
Martinelli has been skating with the Ambush for three seasons, and will be the goalie for the Vegas tournament, a position she has come
to feel quite comfortable with over the years. Although, she said that she knows that constantly having high-speed pucks flying at your face and body is not for everyone.
“Some girls don’t last five minutes, but I love it. I’m always the last one off the ice,” she said. “I love being in that position more than any other. I get a big smile on my face every time a girl from the opposing team gets a breakaway.”
Ambush player Beth Selinger has been honing her skills by practicing with her son and his Bantam league team.
“I’ll practice with the boys, but they’ll wear you out,” she said. “My goal has always been to beat my son with his speed, and until this year I’ve been able to.”
She said that her son has been supportive of her practice with him and his teammates, but she is happy to have her own league to play with, too.
“I’m excited to be playing with all women, and of a similar age and equal ability. As a working mom I can go out there and just cut loose and blow off some steam with the other women. It’s a great outlet,” she said.
Selinger knows firsthand what a unique outlet it is because it wasn’t that long ago that an opportunity such as this didn’t exist for female hockey players.
“I’m from Boston and it’s a big hockey town, so everyone grew up skating. I played with my five brothers since I was a girl, playing on ponds out back or flooded parking lots, but back then that was it. There weren’t teams for girls,” she said.
As fun as hockey is for Selinger, she said she plans on not just playing, but playing to win in Vegas.
“My strength is I’m single-minded out on the ice. If I see a puck in my zone, my feeling is, ‘That’s my puck. I need to control,’” she said.
If she sticks to that game plan, and the other ladies stick to theirs, Hanson said the odds are in their team’s favor.
“We’ll be playing other teams from Alaska, all over Canada, Arizona, Washington, California and lots of other states in the Lower 48,” she said. “But if we skate like I know we can and we all jell together, I think we’re up to the challenge.”
The first game is at 9 a.m. Friday, followed by another at 4:30 p.m. Friday and a third game at 6:15 p.m. Saturday.
“And if all goes as planned, the championship game is 10:30 a.m. Sunday,” Hanson said. “I’ll also be making updates on our Alaska Ambush Facebook page for everyone from home to follow us.”