The Ontario 55+ Winter Games are providing the opportunity of a lifetime for the women representing Simcoe County in ice hockey.
Team Spittin' Chicklets opened Day 1 of the Winter Games with a tie and a shootout loss, but the players are all smiles heading into Day 2.
"We are doing very well actually," said Barbra Wilcox from Innisfil.
"We played the incumbent champions really close," added Jamie Hoover from New Lowell.
The local team comprises players who mostly play pick-up hockey in Orillia, Elmvale and Bracebridge.
"We've done very well as a pickup team against teams who play together on a regular basis," Wilcox said.
"One of the teams we are playing has been together for 20 or 30 years and another had 40 players at their tryouts," Hoover added.
Because of the lack of experience playing with each other, Spittin' Chicklets has been at a disadvantage this week when it comes to chemistry.
"If you play with someone long enough you know where they are going to be on the ice," she said. "With us, we have to look around more when we have the puck."
Despite the lack of team experience, Spittin' Chicklets is driven to win the tournament.
"Despite being 55 and older, we haven't had the opportunity to play organized hockey like this for a long time," Hoover explained. "Ten years ago, we wouldn't have a tournament like this with this many teams."
Both Hoover, 58, and Wilcox, 61, grew up being told by parents and coaches that they "are taking the boys' ice time away" by being at the rink.
"When I first started at 16, we had only one women's league, there were no age groups," Hoover explained, adding "12-year-olds were playing with their grandmas."
Wilcox says there was next to nothing when it came to opportunities for her to play hockey as a child.
"We either had to play with boys or all ages of women," she recalled. "Girls used to travel to play on any hockey team that would let them play. They were only ever allowed to play house league and never had opportunities to play rep."
Wilcox and Hoover say the Winter Games are a "tremendous opportunity" for them — one they wish they had growing up.
"This is an unbelievable experience," Wilcox said.
"It's nice to see the girls have something to shoot for now," Hoover added.
Most women give up their hockey careers after university, Hoover says, but she hopes the Winter Games will keep them playing well into their senior years.
"It's not just that we can play now, it's that we can play competitive for something that matters," Wilcox said. "It gives us older people something to keep competing for."
Because of the more recent success of women's hockey, more and more women are getting into the sport now, even at the age of 40 or older.
"A lot of women grew up not knowing that girls even could play hockey," Hoover said. "I remember once showing up to play in a playoff game in Brampton and they gave our regularly scheduled ice time to a boys team. We were told the boys are more important."
Both Hoover and Wilcox are thrilled to see the new Professional Women's Hockey League and hope that women in hockey continue to get the respect and spotlight they deserve.
"We are so proud to be playing in these Winter Games," Wilcox said.
"We are so thrilled to be playing hockey that is so competitive," Hoover added.
Spittin' Chicklets will play its final round-robin game today at noon at Orillia Rotary Place. The gold medal games take place at 2:15 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. and are free to attend — as are all events at the multi-sport competition.