Chix with Stix reaches its sweet sixteen

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If you go

What: Chix with Stix women's club hockey

When: 8:45 p.m. today vs. Fattys Fury (Breckenridge), 8:30 a.m. Saturday vs. Fattys Fury

Where: Howelsen Ice Arena

Why: The Chix remain undefeated on the road (3-1-2 overall) with one 6-1 win and one 3-3 overtime tie in two recent B1 division games against the DWHL Renegades and the Ice Monkeys, respectively. The local women's club won't return to the Howelsen ice until Jan. 19.

One of the reasons Jen Travis moved to Steamboat Springs was the Chix with Stix hockey team.

"My brother told me there was a team and that I should come out here," said Travis, who joined the team in its third season.

Travis, (then Jen Rose) is one of a handful of players on the current team who remembers skating without a roof. Three of the Chix's original players, Heidi Chapman-Hoy, Lee Cox and Diane Dwire, still are lacing up their skates.

"It was the coldest place on earth, I swear," Travis said. "But it was also awesome playing under the stars."

Gormer rink manager Stacey Noonan (Foster) started the team, then a city-sponsored program, in 1992. A handful of women with and without experience came out to learn and have fun.

"It's always been a positive, fun group," recalled Chapman-Hoy, who claims the camaraderie is what keeps her playing every year. "From day one, we welcomed players even just to practice."

Women's hockey was a growing sport in Colorado - Aspen, Vail and Denver had teams, as well as Colorado College, the University of Colorado and the University of Denver looking for competition.

The Chix were not exactly an early rival.

"We played one game our first season, Vail, and I think they beat us 10 to nothing," Dwire recalled. Chapman-Hoy and Cox said the score was worse. The fact that it was a big snow year (288 inches in December, January and February alone) didn't help.

"We had to shovel, then try to skate, then it would snow more," Chapman-Hoy said.

Roofing the rink was a turning point for the Chix, legitimizing the program in the Women's Association of Colorado Hockey league. Before the roof, games were easily cancelled due to snow.

The team has always faced adversity with optimism and humor. While several players had experience and they wanted to be competitive, fun also was regarded as an important goal for the team. According to coach Tim Shorland, now in his sixth year as head coach and eighth overall, the team has enough stories to fill a book.

Brian Harvey's years as head coach are remembered well and often are summed up with one quote.

Once, while playing Aspen, one player skated circles around the Chix.

"Whoever is the center, when she's on the ice, you have to stick to her like bad breath on a St. Bernard," Harvey bellowed.

For several years, Chix with Stix attracted a crowd. Home games were prime time, 8 p.m., and a friend of the team played the national anthem on his tuba. During the game, he continued to play with a small band, and "Xena the Warrior Princess" skated between periods.

"Back in the day, we were pretty visible in the community," said Dwire. "We marched in the Winter Carnival Parade on snowshoes, performing baton-like drills with our sticks."

The Chix also have given back to the community, adopting a United Way family at Christmas, creating busts for the Bust of Steamboat and providing scholarships for girls to play hockey.

The program has come a long way since the days of shoveling snow and enduring blowouts on the ice. The WACH league has grown, as well, from six teams in one division to 32 teams in five divisions. This includes Steamboat's two other women's teams, the Storm and the Edge. There's more opportunity in the state for teams to be competitive within their level of play.

One thing hasn't changed: the team still welcomes new players. Practices are open to anyone who wants to learn, regardless of skill level.

"We want to be competitive, but we want to have fun," Chapman-Hoy said. "We just like to hang out."

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