Once the temperature drops, being a Kenai River Queen doesn’t mean you caught the biggest king — it means you’re on the ice.
The Kenai River Queens hockey team is a local women’s squad that has been growing in size since it formed nearly a decade ago.
“We play the coolest sport ever,” said Marcy True as she slid into layers and layers of equipment in preparation for a Thursday night scrimmage.
The crew meets twice a week, Sundays and Thursdays. Sundays are for practice and Thursdays are for games. What started as a group of about a dozen has grown to more than 40 women hitting the ice each week.
“Just trying to get a game going used to be pretty hard,” said Brooke Ames, who has been with the team for years. “… But now we have a pretty good mix of ladies. If I didn’t have these guys in my life, I would be … wow, just lost.”
Ames walked through the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility on a Thursday night before a game, walking around the ice and out back to the Queens’ locker room, which was hot and filling up quickly.
Everyone in the locker room has a different reason for hitting the ice.
Rhonda Johnson has played hockey for nearly her entire life.
“Back in the day, I played for college, tried out for the U.S. team. I like it,” Johnson said. “I like skating, and I like the physical aspect of it. It keeps me in shape. It brings me back to my youth, I just love playing.”
While Johnson tapes her stick for the night’s game, across the room Laura Goldsby starts gearing up.
“I started about three weeks ago,” she said. “And it’s just been great. I get to be around girls and we laugh a lot and have good talks.”
Goldsby is new to the team, but already gearing up for games.
“This is the perfect ‘me-time,’” she said. “I have a lot going on. I have kids and they play hockey and I just started for fun.”
The group of women is made up of moms, teachers, doctors, friends and more — and they’re always looking for more members.
“At the beginning of the season, we have limited loaner gear that we kind all get a grab at, but pretty much if you want to get on the ice, show up with skates and a helmet and we’ll figure it out,” Ames said.
The team has two coaches, Mikey Griffin and Tyler Johnson, who both played hockey throughout their youth and got recruited to coach the Queens while playing adult league hockey with current Queens players.
“We said sure, and three years later we’ve come a long way,” Griffin said. “When we came in, they had never had a head coach before, no one to run drills. … It was great to come out and teach them why we do what we do when we’re on the ice. Then it all clicked and you could see everyone starting to love the game more.”
Griffin and Johnson run drills Sunday and coach the scrimmages and games on Thursday nights. They also make themselves available for any extra sessions players may want or need.
“It’s amazing, great to come out and see them all come together each night and just love the game of hockey and love how it is played,” Griffin said.
“And a lot of these ladies, we grew up with them or their kids or they were our teachers,” Johnson added. “It’s really cool.”
The coaches, and the players, are more than welcoming to any new player. Anyone interested can join throughout the year.
“Every year we’ve had more and more girls,” Griffin said. “Our numbers have grown each year and most of them are ladies who have never put hockey gear on once in their life. So, get your gear and come out here on Sunday.”
Women’s hockey is growing, according to the Queens, and the team is growing with it. Over the course of their season, the team has a hockey tournament nearly every month. Last year, they traveled to Iceland for a tournament.
“Women’s hockey is the fastest growing sport in the world, maybe in the nation or on the peninsula,” True said. “It’s been growing and will keep growing, for sure. And the best part about it all? This is my social life, these are my ladies and it’s fun.”