Queen of the ice
June 13, 2008 · Updated 2:14 PM
By CASEY OLSON
Cari Swanger doesnt like sitting around the house.
And even if she did, the sophomore at Decatur High School wouldnt have any time to be a couch potato.
To say Swanger is a busy girl would be like telling Shaquille ONeal he is tall.
It is that obvious.
Swangers day planner includes the normal teenage-girl stuff homework and getting a drivers license, among other things.
But its short-handed goals, power plays and fore-checking that take up a bulk of the 16-year-olds time. Swanger has been playing the mostly-male sport of hockey for the past eight years and is recognized as one of the best girl wingers in the western United States.
It is just a really fun sport, said Swanger. It is physical and I really like playing.
Swanger must like playing hockey. She is currently a part of a total of six teams and is also competing on the Decatur track and field team as a javelin, shot put and discus thrower. Of the six teams, only two are girls-only; the others are co-ed.
Most girls dont like the contact, she said. I think it is just really fun to check people.
And, according to Swangers mother, Cass Tang, the boys she plays against dont take it easy on her because she is a girl.
She can do a ton of pushups, Tang said about her 5-foot-6, 120-pound daughter. She can handle herself out on the ice. Im not worried.
Swangers talent on the ice is evident to anybody who watches the 16-year-old play the sport.
She is a fast skater and a good puck handler, Tang said. She is a team-oriented player, rather than being a puck hog.
Swanger will get to display those skills later this month. She has been invited to be one of 20 girls from seven western states Alaska, California, Nevada, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Idaho to represent Team Pacific, a select girls team, at the Chicago Showcase hockey tournament April 14-20 in Illinois.
The tournament is basically a display for girl hockey players from around the nation. The stands will be full of scouts from the numerous college programs that have popped up around the United States in the last few years.
Hockey opens up a lot of doors, said Tang.
It doesnt end there. After the Chicago Showcase, Swanger will board a plane at Chicago Midway Airport and fly across the Atlantic to Austria to play in the World Tournament XII, Europes largest minor hockey tournament. Swanger will be part of a 16-and-under team made up of only two girls playing against the best squads from hockey-loving countries like Switzerland, Germany and Sweden.
It is going to be a real cool experience, she said. I have never been out of the United States or Canada.
She has also been invited and plans to participate in the Global Sports 2003 Female Hockey Showcase in Langley, British Columbia, May 1-4, which is basically the Canadian version of the Chicago Showcase, according to Tang.
We are pretty busy with hockey, Tang said with a laugh.
Swangers introduction to the sport of hockey isnt much different than how kids are introduced to the more mainstream sports, like baseball and basketball. She had family members who participated.
My brother (Tyler) used to play roller hockey, she said about her start in 1997. And I just started playing.
The family was living in Longview at that time, where Tang was working for Weyerhaeuser.
We had a bunch of Minnesota transplants down there who started a childrens youth league, said Tang. They signed up about 130 kids and they even went to nationals.
The family then moved the next year to the Federal Way area after a transfer by Weyerhaeuser and found no inline hockey leagues in the area. So Swanger took the next step she started playing on the ice. The rest is history.
She just loves the sport, said Tang.
Loves it enough to want to further her hockey career past high school, which is what the Chicago Showcase and the trip to Austria are aimed at.
I am going to try to get a scholarship for hockey, she said. My goal is Harvard or Yale. The only schools that are playing hockey are in the east. There are none in this area.
Swanger hopes her 3.6 grade-point average and her hockey skills are enough to get her into the prestigious Ivy League. She certainly has the work ethic and desire.
I go to track practice until about 5 (p.m.) after school, Swanger said. Then I get home and go right to hockey (in north Seattle) afterward. I get into bed about midnight. You kind of get used to it. I do a lot of studying on the road.
Womens collegiate hockey, and female hockey in general, are continuing to grow and gain acceptance. Organizations such as USA Hockey, the NCAA and the United States Olympic Committee are helping spread the word.
In August 2000, the NCAA announced it would hold its first Division I Womens Ice Hockey National Championship the following season. The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs captured the inaugural NCAA Division I championship, defeating St. Lawrence University, 4-2 on March 25, 2001.
Currently, there are a total of 27 Division I programs in four separate leagues around the country. The majority of the teams hail from the northeastern part of America, as well as the Great Lakes states.
During the 1990-91 season, 5,573 female ice hockey players registered with USA Hockey, the main governing body of the sport in America. Since then, that number has increased more than four-times, with more than 39,000 registered girls and women playing ice hockey across the United States today. While the number of all-women teams has grown from 149 to 1,530, many females continue to play on mixed-gender teams like Swanger. Approximately half of all females registered with USA Hockey currently play on boys teams.
I just love playing, said Swanger. If I dont have hockey, I dont know what to do.