She shoots, we score


Dennis Lee Photography

Hannah Johnson ’21 maneuvers through the ice.

The sound of blades carving into the ice can be heard just above the cheers of the crowd. In a blur of motion, a player glides down the ice on a breakaway. She whips the puck straight into the net, and the crowd begins to roar. The team swarms around her, high-fiving and patting her on the back. In a sea of helmets, one ponytail stands out.

Not only does Hannah Johnson ‘21 play for the Latin School girls’ varsity team, she also plays with the Chicago River Dogs boys’ Bantam team. While she isn’t the only girl on the Latin team that plays club, Johnson’s case is unique, as she is the only female on an otherwise male team.

“At this age group, the games are more physical because checking is allowed in boys’ hockey,” said CRD boys’ team coach, Rob Buist. “Checking isn’t allowed at younger age levels and is prohibited in girls’ hockey. Because of this, many girls either find an all-girls team or maybe move to a different sport when they get to this age level.”

The fact that Johnson plays on a boys’ team is reflected in both her playing style as well as her attitude on and off the ice.

“Being on two hockey teams is a big time commitment, and if you aren’t willing to really budget your time wisely, then it can’t be done well,” said Annie Roche, one of Latin Roman High School girls’ team coaches. “Hannah is a very hard-working kid and I think that being on two teams really brings those positive attributes out in her.”

This sentiment is shared by her teammates, as teammate Madison Ross ‘21 describes Hannah as “a determined, dedicated, and devoted fellow freshman.”

“Hannah does play on a boys’ team, but she treats everyone with the same amount of respect and appreciation as anyone,” says Ross. “I find that regardless of what team she plays on she is hardworking, loyal, and completely interested in what the game of hockey has to offer.”

Being in a separate locker room apart from her team is one of the main reasons Johnson feels a weaker connection among her teammates on the boys’ team compared to the strong bond she feels with her girls’ team.

“On the girls’ team there’s a lot more support, and everyone is cheering for each other on the bench and high-fiving,” Johnson said. “But I’m the only girl on the boys’ team, so I don’t get dressed in the same locker room [as my teammates]. I don’t really socialize with them. There’s not as much of a friendship.”

Johnson’s feeling of isolation off the ice is felt on the ice particularly during checking drills at practice.

“I do sometimes hesitate to push Johnson into the boards because with the guys, it’s always a contest [to see] who can hit each other the hardest,” said teammate of CRD boys’ team Ryan Bending. “And we don’t have that same humor [with] her.”

However, Johnson feels that her sense of separation nearly disappears during games.

“I get checked at least once or twice a game because it doesn’t seem like other boys’ teams mind hitting me, so I’ve gotten used to it,” Johnson said. “It sort of encourages me now to get back up and play harder to get back at the other team.”

Rather than focusing on a player’s gender, coaches focus more on the player’s hockey skills and motivation.

“I don’t think it’s an issue having a girl on a predominately boys team because we evaluate every player based on their skill level,” said Buist. “In Johnson’s case, she’s been playing hockey for several years and her overall hockey skills are better than many of her male teammates who either haven’t played as long or may not have put in the same commitment to learn the sport.”