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Peppers heat up ice

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Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 12:00 am | Updated: 7:49 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Jan. 12, 2005 - During the week, Wendy McCurdy is a radiologist for Radiology, LTD. From Monday through Friday Katie Linderman is a student at Catalina Foothills High School.

Every Sunday these mild-mannered women share a common bond when they trade in their stethoscopes and schoolbooks for vulcanized rubber and ice. They are Tucson rink rats.

McCurdy and Linderman are teammates on the Chilly Peppers, a women's ice hockey team based in Tucson.

"Not everybody can say that they play ice hockey," said Linderman, who can trace her hockey roots to her hometown, Detroit. A senior at Catalina Foothills, Linderman has given up playing "traditional" sports such as basketball and softball and concentrated her efforts toward ice hockey.

For most women her age and older, ice hockey options in the Tucson area are limited. Linderman's only option, should she choose not to play for the Chilly Peppers, is to play for the University of Arizona women's club, the Icers.

The Icers aren't affiliated with the NCAA, therefore allowing a certain percentage of non-students the opportunity to lace up their skates with the UA club team. Linderman has played for the Icers since her sophomore year and will continue to do so when she enrolls as a student at the UA in the fall.

Those who do not play for the Icers, get to play against the Icers. The club team is a regular opponent of the Chilly Peppers.

The Chilly Peppers were born seven years ago when Ana Henderson, while flipping through the phonebook for women's hockey clubs in Tucson, found nothing but youth leagues. Henderson was forced to play on guy's teams at the Tucson Convention Center. When Polar Ice, 7333 E. Rosewood St., opened, so did an opportunity to create something new.

"We thought, let's have a place for women to play," said Henderson, the team's president.

Henderson gathered up what she describes as a "bunch of girls" to meet every Sunday to simply play. Each woman would pay between $5 and $10 to cover the cost of the ice.

The non-profit club has since matured into two teams, the Chilly Peppers and the Chilly Peppers Too. Women of all ages have suited up to play for the Chilly Peppers, ranging in age from 10 to 50. The majority of women that play, however, are in their mid-30s and come from Tucson and areas beyond. The size of the team varies from week to week due to personal schedules, but can include up to 30 players.

Along with Linderman and McCurdy, a handful of players hail from the Northwest, routinely making the long trip across town to practice at Polar Ice. But they come from even farther than the Northwest just to play ice hockey. Some come from as far away as Benson, Sierra Vista, Casa Grande and Globe.

With competition in the area sparse, this assorted collection of ladies finds itself on the road a lot. The team often travels to Phoenix and neighboring states and has gone as far as California, Nevada, Idaho and Washington. They've had their share of success as well, with wins over Canadian teams proudly slapped on their resumé.

For many of these women, hockey courses through their blood. They join the Chilly Peppers having relocated from northern areas where ice hockey is prevalent.

Chilly Pepper roots stretch across the country, residing in areas such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Nebraska, Rhode Island and even Canada.

"I never thought in my wildest dreams that I'd ever put on skates and be out here," said Venetia Hayden, a Northwest resident and certified orientation and mobility specialist for the Arizona School for the Deaf and Blind.

The club, while maintaining a strongly competitive balance, is welcome to just about all skill levels. The team boasts experienced semi-pro players to 10 year olds just starting out to parents of players interested in playing a new sport.

"They are very good with beginners," said defenseman and Northwest resident, Sandy White, who first got the idea to play hockey after watching her daughter figure skate for years.

The Chilly Peppers aren't without their own bumps and bruises that accompany the game of ice hockey. Henderson said she has broken her wrist during a game against Arizona State University and has seen other injuries including broken collarbones. But the injuries are all part of the game and aren't more frequent because they are women.

A perfect example of this comes from Hayden who tells a tale about how she played tennis on Saturday and received a nasty bump to the head, only to turn around and play hockey the following day and escape with no harm.

Being a woman hockey player, the No. 1 question Henderson says she gets on a regular basis is "Are those your real teeth?"

For any medical advice, Henderson, still with her original teeth, and her teammates, often turn McCurdy, who has become the unofficial team doctor. If any players need any service other than a radiologist's, chances are good that they can find it from one of their teammates. The professions of players range from ICU nurses, massage therapists, veterinarians, wildlife biologists, graphic designers, research analysts and students.

As far as students go, Linderman isn't alone on the team. Joining the CFHS senior is Kayla Fribbs who attends Mountain View High School. All told, the team roster varies from week to week due to the women's busy schedules and personal lives.

Men are invited to attend practices but must be connected to the team through a player and must adhere to certain rules. Picking up a puck at one goal and skating the length of the ice and taking a shot surely will draw the ire of many women, most who aren't afraid to lay a hit or drop the gloves. Hence the second most asked question Henderson says she receives is, "Do you fight?" Henderson, a self-described "not serious person" plays for the seamless grace of the game.

"It's a finesse sport," said the team president. "We are serious but we are out to have fun."

The Chilly Peppers hit the ice next to take on the UA Icers Jan. 15 and 22 at Polar Ice. Games are slated to begin at 5:30 p.m.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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