Evie Altman, 50, shot a solid pass across the ice and immediately thrust her hockey stick high in the air, cheering on herself and her fellow Hockey Moms.
In the stands, her 14-year-old daughter Marxe Orbach took her eyes off her phone long enough to notice her mother’s play. “I like watching her. I love my mom, and I love watching her enjoying herself, and she enjoys herself so much when she’s playing.”
Call it pay back.
Altman has been supporting her daughter’s pursuits all her life. She drives Orbach, a goalie and recent graduate of Westland Middle School, to and from practices at the Rockville Ice Arena on Southlawn Court. She makes sure her daughter has the proper pads, skates and uniform and, yes, she cheers.
Forty-five mothers who know what it’s like to carpool, rush to practice and then hang around the lobby waiting for that practice to end have formed a league of their own. And “darn close to 50 percent” of those hockey-playing moms are Jewish, according to their coach, Steve Sprague.
On Sunday nights, from May through August, these women strive to replicate all the moves their children already have conquered. From 6:45 p.m. to 8:10 p.m., they skate around the rink, jump, stop and pick up one leg. There is no checking. These are not the Washington Capitals. In fact, it’s not unusual to hear them say, “I’m sorry,” following a poor pass.
“It’s a very nurturing environment. They encourage us to do our best and be a little adventurous,” said Irina Kebreau, 41. “You know, we are no spring chickens.”
Joyce Kammerman agreed. “We are not an aggressive bunch. A lot of us are just learning,” said the 49-year-old Rockville resident.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying.
“It’s very challenging. You need to be coordinated,” watch the puck and skate “all at the same time,” said Kebreau, of Silver Spring. She has two sons and a stepdaughter who play hockey, and said one of the most important things she has learned after taking to the ice herself, is not to be so critical of her children.
Several of the women vowed never again to say a disparaging word when their children take a long time to put on their pads, even when they put their pants on before their pads and have to start over. They also admit to being more reticent to criticize when a shot is missed.
Playing ice hockey “is not as easy as it looks,” Kebreau said as she sat on a bench in the arena’s lobby, pulling up her leggings and adjusting the bright pink helmet her daughter no longer wears. Unlike the rest of her teammates, Kebreau chooses to steer clear of the ice rink’s locker rooms. Those rooms smell as bad as a boy’s bedroom, she said.
The lobby resembles a busy airport, with people of all ages rushing in and out, either lugging a huge bag of equipment or pulling a suitcase on wheels.
Many parents fill the time waiting for their children to finish by chatting with other parents they have met through numerous hockey seasons.
“We joke, when the kids play, at any time you could have a minyan” in the lobby, said Rori Kochman, 45, of Potomac, who is in her second season with Hockey Moms.
Playing “is exhilarating and a little bit scary,” she said. Her 15-year-old daughter, Julia, called it “hilarious” to watch her mom play. “I found someone as bad as me.”
Bonding with teenagers requires special skills. Sharing a sport helps, said Kammerman. “I think every woman here would say that it helps you relate to your kids.”
Agreed teammate Lisa Milofsky-Pinard, “There’s a lot of bonding that goes on.”
At first, the 49-year-old Silver Spring woman “never, ever thought I would play ice hockey.” Cycling, yes. Roller blading, yes, but not hockey. “I thought it was too dangerous. And all those rules.”
She gave it a try last season, borrowing equipment from family members and friends. About three-quarters of the way through the season, she treated herself to her own gear.
Her sister, Alison Milofsky, 45 of Chevy Chase, “always wanted to play. I did play field hockey.” Not only does she work up a sweat during practice, but she claimed to be already perspiring by the time she finished donning her son’s jersey, her husband’s old gloves and helmet and her sister’s old skates.
At a recent practice, the sisters faced off, laughing loudly throughout.
Hockey Moms is the joint creation of Sprague and assistant coach Hilary Murphy. “We joked about if for three years, probably.” Last year, Sprague decided if it was ever going to happen, the time was now.
“I went to the rink, got some ice time, and was hoping to get 20 moms,” he said. “We had 20 in the first week. After 40, I had to cut it off.”
Hockey Moms “is for beginners, for those who want to learn to skate, to understand the game better,” Sprague said, who has been coaching hockey for 13 years.
“They really want to be there. Most of them have told their spouses and kids, ‘Don’t come. Let me learn on my own,’” he said. These are the same moms who “drive their kids back and forth, make dinner, bring snacks.”
Murphy, who normally takes to the ice with younger players, said “adults learn faster. They are always so focused. They are quick learners.”
While focused, the women aren’t on the ice to conquer. Assistant coach Larry Boles recently demonstrated turning in a tight space. “If you can do a 360, you can do anything. If you fall down, you fall down. Most of you will.”
Only one skater fell, probably because most of the women slowed their skating speed to near zero as they tentatively attempted their turns.
Falling isn’t so bad, Kammerman said. After all, “you’re covered in what’s basically bubble wrap. There’s a level of protection.”
After they completed their turns, the women complimented each other on their success, banging their sticks on the ice in unison.
They soon finished their drills, followed by a few minutes of three-on-three and four-on-four scrimmages. Then it was back to the locker room for a quick change and out to the parking lot for 30 minutes of tailgating — wine, beer, cheese, crackers — before heading back to their roles as chauffeurs and nurturers.