Proving Black people do play hockey

Courtesy U of M Crystalyn Hengler on the ice

An estimated 15 Black women hockey players are on NCAA Division I and III teams this season:

Chayla Edwards (Wisconsin), Rayla Clemons (Syracuse), Sierra Benjamin (SUNY-Plattsburgh), Avery Mitchell (Clarkson), Tamara Thierus (New Hampshire), Jada Burke and Teagan Heaslip (Lindenwood University), Kiersten Goode (Yale), Maria Di Cresce (Nazareth College), India Charles (Finlandia), Jennifer Costa (Dartmouth College), Sophie Jaques (Ohio State), Asiah Taylor Waters (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Kensie Malone (Augsburg) and Crystalyn Hengler (University of Minnesota).

Malone and Hengler recently talked to the MSR in separate phone interviews. Hengler is from Eden Prairie and in her third season with the Gophers. She, Edwards (Cleveland), and Jaques, who is from Canada, are the WCHA’s only Black players. The Minneapolis-born Malone, in her first season at Augsburg, and Charles are the only Black Division III female hockey players.

 “I actually didn’t want to play [hockey] at first,” admitted the 5’-5” Malone, who plays defense, “but both my grandparents really stressed me to play it. [Also] one of my friends that I played soccer with played [hockey] and she pushed me to do it. I tried it out and I loved it.”

Courtesy of U of M Hengler Crystalyn

The 5’-8” Hengler also plays defense and is the only hockey player in her family, the only girl among seven brothers. “When I wanted to play hockey,” the Gopher junior recalled, “one of my brothers said, ‘You know Black people don’t play hockey, right?’ I am the only one. I love it.”

Playing hockey, or any sport these days in the age of COVID, obviously requires adjustments. “We have to wake up much earlier to get tested,” noted Hengler.

Said Malone, “It is definitely hard on everyone, emotionally and physically. We all adjusted and learned that anything can change in a day, in an hour. We’re told that we’re playing, then the next we’re not.”

Such was the case when a scheduled game last week was called off, but in the next game Malone scored a goal and two assists in a 7-3 win over Bethel March 3.

Courtesy of Augsburg Kensie Malone

Hengler and Edwards played against each other last weekend—the latter had two assists in Wisconsin’s 5-3 win over Minnesota in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinals at Ridder Arena.  Edwards’ and Jaques’ teams faced each other the following day for the WCHA title. Wisconsin won the WCHA title Sunday in OT, and the 2 players were named to the all-tournament team

“I think it’s cool that we get to play against each other each season,” said Hengler on playing against the two other Black females. All three women made the 2020-21 WCHA All-Academic Team, and Jaques made third team all-league.

Malone, on the other hand, said she hasn’t seen someone who looks like her on the other side of the blue line. “I’ve been playing hockey since I was seven. I only came across four other POCs” along with a teammate of color just once as well, she pointed out.

Off the ice, both women said there have been academic adjustments as well. “It’s pretty busy taking classes on line,” said Malone, who hasn’t yet decided on a major. “You are mainly in your dorm room all day until you go to practice. It’s what you have to do right now and adjust to it.”

Hengler’s major is kinesiology and she hopes to pursue a physical training career after graduation. “Now in the third semester [of online classes] I do really miss going to class in person.”

Both players would like to see more diversity in their sport at all levels. “I think if we can push it [with] younger athletes or kids to start early, that would really help,” surmised Hengler.

“I don’t think it’s growing as fast as I expected it to,” said Malone. “With only 15 people in [all three] NCAA divisions, I have to encourage younger generations that they can play at a higher level as well.”