By Taylor Dewling (edited by Kristen Lipscombe)
In October of 2001, in the hockey town of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., a movement was
starting. Women were being recruited to join a new league!
Women from the Sault and surrounding area quickly signed up for the Sault Ste. Marie Women's Hockey League (WHL). And in January of 2002, the WHL got her start, with 48 skaters and four goalies.
Registration was at the high cost of $50, with the promise of at least one game per week.
However, there was no ice times available in the city.
So, the WHL moved out to the rink in Echo Bay, a neighbouring community that had a natural
There were no timekeepers and only two referees (who not only refereed the games
but were the timekeepers as well).
Games were played from January until March, when the ice melted), until 2005 when the WHL was able to move back to the city of Sault Ste. Marie arenas.
During that first season, teams played a whopping nine regular-season games and two playoff games.
Over the many generations and years of hockey around the world, awards have been
handed out to players. Most commonly in Canada for amateur hockey players, we have the Esso awards such as Most Dedicated, Most Improved and Most Sportsmanlike, as well as Most Valuable Player.
However, the WHL created its own award in 2003, the league's second season, called The Oldest Player of the League Award. This award is given to the player who as the title states, is the oldest playing in the league.
Not only does it come with the title, but the women that win also receive a refund cheque of their registration fee. It has been won by 19 women over the years, with all proud older players wearing the title like a badge of honour.
One lady named Betty Buck could have won it every year that she played. She started at
the young age of 58 and retired at the age of 74 due to health concerns. She was given the
nickname The Legend. However, it is only fair to give the award to the “next oldest” player in the league. Another lady in the WHL, Margaret (Margie) Skulech, who also won the award, just recently retired from playing on the ice, but still plays a role in timekeeping. Margie played hockey when she was young, from the ages of 11 through 18 years old in Parry Sound, Ont. When she started back playing in the WHL she was 51 years old. She retired from the sport last March at the age of 72!
These women are a testament to the positive impact hockey can have on people throughout their lives. They remain well-known in the local women’s hockey community of Sault Ste. Marie.
As the years have passed, the WHL has only continued to grow.
Currently in her 20th year, the WHL has a total of 321 players, four divisions, and 23 teams. The cost to play has increased and teams now play 22 to 25 league games, plus an early bird tournament and playoffs. There are now 11 referees, including both men and women, and nine timekeepers.
Each and every year, women of all ages continue to sign up to give hockey a try -- and maybe even fall in love with it, as we know we are apt to do. Hockey is a special sport, and it's never too late to lace up your skates and give it a try.
The WHL in Sault Ste. Marie is proof positive of that, and a prime example of how women's hockey leagues continue to attract new players and grow across the country.