- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

WOODBURY, Minn. (AP) - You recall the speed, the power and the soul-stirring gracefulness of the Olympic hockey games in Sochi?

This isn’t it.

“Ooof!” grunts Betty Witte, 43, of Woodbury, who is playing goalie and falls to the ice without anyone touching her.

Nearby, a skater stands forlornly over her hockey stick - she can’t bend down in her hockey pads to pick it up.

“The worst thing is when they skate into you, out of control,” said assistant coach Julie Johnson of Mound.

The skating at the Chicks With Sticks hockey classes may not be inspiring, but it is fun, say the 19 women in Woodbury’s first series of classes.

Chicks With Sticks has sponsored classes for 10 years in the east metro area and expanded into Woodbury in January.

Most of the women were in high school before girls’ teams were mandated. So the classes give them a chance to relive their youth and make up for opportunities they never had - at $160 for eight classes.

“When I get them on the ice, 90 percent of them are smiling,” said group founder and coach Mike Curti.

Susan Napol of Woodbury was an accomplished figure skater, but that doesn’t mean she’s a star in a hockey rink.

Figure skating is like dancing alone, Napol said, as the skater focuses only on herself. But she is discovering that hockey is different - with the stick, the puck and 11 other players to keep track of.

“When you put a stick in my hand, I look like I have 12 arms and 12 legs,” she told the St. Paul Pioneer Press (http://bit.ly/1frY5IR).

Some women are learning hockey to fit in better in a hockey-obsessed state. Or to better understand their hockey-playing kids.

Since Napol started the lessons, she has a better feeling for what her three hockey-playing children go through. And she has a new appreciation of hockey on TV.

“We were ‘uber’ into the Olympics,” she said.

When assistant coach Johnson recently gave a pointer to her hockey-playing daughter, the girl scolded her with, “Mom, you have to stop living your life through me.”

“I just said to her, ‘Hey, I have my own hockey life,’ ” Johnson said.

All of the skaters appreciate the workout.

“I am trying to get in shape at age 48,” said Maureen Bailey of Woodbury, who had never worn skates before January. “It’s harder than what it looks like.”

Curti said, “One of the ladies said she was sweating from every pore in her body. Some of them quit their health clubs because of this.”

Napol likes to exercise in groups, not as a solitary runner on a treadmill.

“I am not a head-to-the-gym person,” she said. She likes the classes because she wants exercise to be fun, interactive and social.

During a recent practice, the cavernous Bielenberg Sports Center ice rink boomed with Curti’s voice as he belted out instructions.

The class had been through the first lesson - how to fall.

“We call it the Superman Fall,” Curti said. It involves a slow forward dive to the ice, with arms stretched forward.

Beginning skaters tend to fall backward - so a big danger is cracking a tailbone. When they start to teeter backward, Curti said, beginners must learn to fall to one side.

The tone of the class may be more fun-loving and forgiving than other hockey practices.

“We’re very polite when someone gets knocked over,” said Ann Quinn Vance, 46, Woodbury, the mother of three hockey-playing children.

During the class, Curti rearranged the small orange cones for a new drill, then announced, “I am going to go backward and then forward.”

There was a pause. “Why?” said an anonymous smart-aleck.

At the end of the practice, the women had a scrimmage - after some discussion about whether a gray-jerseyed player belonged on the dark- or the light-shirted team.

Heidi Wells, 42, Lino Lakes, coasted over to the bench to take a break, panting.

“It’s exercise,” she said. “But you don’t realize it.”


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com



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