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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Skate Quickly and Carry A Big Stick

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Mount Greylock Regional High School Mounties hockey team members Samantha LePicier and MacKenzie Burnham are seeing plenty of ice time.
MacKenzie Burnham and Samantha LePicier did not “sleep in” during the Jan. 16 Martin Luther King Day school holiday.

Instead, both young women rolled out of bed and into a sub-zero temperature morning to attend a 6 a.m. sports practice held at the Williams College Lansing Chapman ice skating rink.

“We are not girly-girls,” said LePicier.

Burnham, 18, and LePicier, 17, are members of the Mount Greylock Regional High School Mounties hockey team. Burnham plays defense and LePicier plays left wing; they are the only two females playing for the predominantly male team. LePicier has scored goals and Burnham has delivered goal assists during games. The team coach is Tom Hazelton.

"The Greatest Sport In The World"

LePicier and Burnham said that they love everything about the sport, including pre-sunrise practices, the rough-and-tumble action on the ice, and their teammates.

“We love it, and the guys are amazing,” said Burnham during an early morning Jan. 16 interview at the skating rink. “I think hockey is the greatest sport in the world. Being with a team makes everything so worth it, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”

“I think the competitiveness of hockey gives the thrills and besting some of the guys feels mighty good,” said LePicier. “It also feels good to play for your school. It’s nice to look up at the bleachers and see people cheering you on. We have a great team, a close team.”

Hard Hits

Hockey players must deliver rapid bursts of speed skating, execute sharp, quick movements, and demonstrate significant hand-eye and hand-eye-foot coordination, Burnham and LePicer said. They are not treated with kid gloves at team practice or during competitive play; “checking” is permitted and Burnham and LePicier have taken “hits” from opposing team players.

The “hits” are part of the game, and neither Burnham nor LePicier have received serious injury due to checking, they said.

“We’ve taken some hard hits,” Burnham said.

The 2005-06 high school hockey season marks the first time Burnham and LePicier have been on the ice as Mountie players, but LePicier has practiced with the team since her freshman year and both Burnham and LePicier spent about five years as members of a Northern Berkshires Black Bears girls youth hockey team.

The current Mounties hockey team players and many players on other school hockey teams are physically smaller than preceding teams and that was a factor when Burnham and LePicier joined the team, both said. LePicier said that her father remains concerned about her on-ice safety during games.

“It was a fight right down to the first game with my dad, and it’s still a fight,” she said.

Burnham’s mother Kim Burnham said that worries about injury are tempered by confidence in her daughter’s skills.

“I think as a mother, yes, I worry, but I think the reason that she’s out there playing is because she’s qualified to be out there,” Kim Burnham said during a telephone interview.

These "Bears" Didn't Hibernate

Burnham’s father Stephen Burnham founded the Black Bears girls youth team during the late 1990s with Ralph “Patch” Mason; he coached his daughter and LePicier during their time on the team. The team was forced to disband this year because of a lack of players, Burnham said.

The time spent with the Black Bears provided an excellent hockey foundation for Burnham and LePicier, said Stephen Burnham.

“They can do it, they can give the hits, they can take the hits, and they can score the goals,” said Stephen Burnham during a telephone interview. “They both get right back up when they’ve been knocked down.”

The girls youth team held only about seven members so the players were unable to rotate on and off the ice, and had to play every game period, he noted.

“Our players had to skate the entire game and that’s how they all developed stamina,” Burnham said.

“Checking” was prohibited during the Black Bears girls team games, and Burnham and LePicier have learned to strategize and play two types of hockey, he noted.

“They have to be able to play two kinds of hockey because there is no checking in girls hockey,” he said. “So they might have to play one game with the girls and then be ready to go play with the boys, all in the same day.”

So When Do They Wear Shoes?

MacKenzie Burnham is presently playing girls' Northern Berkshire Youth League Midget Hockey, and she and LePicier are members of the all-female Troy-Albany Ice Cats U19A [under age 19] team. A hectic multi-team practice and game schedule means that Burnham and LePicier are often on the ice for eight or more hours per day, Stephen Burnham said.

LePicier said that she and Burnham faced a particularly challenging three-day span recently and ended up on the ice during eight separate occasions.

“We play about 50 hours a week,” she said.

MacKenzie Burnham has attended summer hockey camps held at Division I colleges and as Black Bears players, she and LePicier competed in many tournaments across the Northeast and Canada. The team won numerous trophies, and in 2005, during a tournament held in Glens Falls, N.Y., the team twice beat the Vermont champion girls youth hockey team, Stephen Burnham said.

Women’s college hockey is very competitive and there are college-level women players who could easily best many male high school hockey players, said MacKenzie Burnham and LePicier.

“There are some amazing girls our age that could kick any guy on our team’s butt,” said LePicier.

There are no women’s professional hockey teams, so college level play or making the women’s Olympic hockey team is a pinnacle for female hockey players, LePicier and Burnham said. Once female hockey players reach adulthood, playing options shrink considerably, both said.

But Burnham and LePicier believe that they will grow older with their blades slicing the ice and a hockey stick in their hands. Both said that they would like to play as part of a club league once they out-age youth leagues and school teams.

“Hockey is our life,” said Burnham.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.

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