Most sports films and novels focus on men’s sports and are intended for an assumed male reader, so much so that if one wants to find a story about women athletes or teams they have to specify “women’s sports films” or “women’s sports literature.” Women’s sports stories, on the page or screen, are comparatively rare and it is even rarer for mainstream media to acknowledge these stories. For instance, in Sports Illustrated’s “The Top 100 Sports Books of All Time,” from 2002, there are two books about women’s athletics on the list: Joan Ryan’s Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, and Madeleine Blais’ In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle. Neither book is a novel; both are non-fiction. Additionally, in The Athletic’s “Top 100 Sports Movies,” from 2020, there are six movies about women’s athletics: Love & Basketball, Bend It Like Beckham, I, Tonya, Fighting with My Family, Million Dollar Baby, and A League of Their Own. Simply put, women’s sports stories are often left untold in popular culture (novels, films, popular sports reporting), and one usually has to go smaller outlets to try and find these stories. Or in other words, when it comes to men’s sports you are likely going to see or hear about it whether you like it or not, whereas for women’s sports you have to actively seek it out.
Hockey and hockey literature are also overwhelmingly focused on men’s hockey and men’s stories. If we apply Raymond Carver’s famous short collection’s title, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, to hockey (and hockey literature) it could be said that what we talk about when we talk about hockey is men’s hockey, but here I would like to talk about the often unknown and untold genre of (women’s) hockey literature. There have been two major book-length examinations of hockey literature, Jason Blake’s Canadian Hockey Literature (2010) and Michael Buma’s Refereeing Identity: The Cultural Work of Canadian Hockey Novels (2012). Both books are important critical examinations into a literature that is often overlooked, but at the same time these works also overlook women’s hockey literature and neither really addresses women’s stories in-depth (largely because they focus on male masculinity and nationalism). Between the two books, Buma and Blake identify three women’s hockey novels directed at adult readers: Cleo Birdwell’s Amazons (1980), Judith Alguire’s Iced (1995), and Cara Hedley’s Twenty Miles (2004). Three is a disheartening figure, especially when considering that women have been playing hockey for over 120 years at the time of Blake and Buma’s books in 2010 and 2012. It is important to note that historically adult oriented hockey novels are a relatively recent phenomenon that didn’t truly become popular until the 1990s and 2000s (Buma 22), but even still there are countless hockey novels focusing on men’s hockey and less than a handful on women’s. Worse still is of the three documented women’s hockey novels (directed to adults) published before 2012 two are out of print, so only one is readily accessible.
Before I go into the three novels, I would like to clarify that there have been other women’s hockey novels (primarily lesbian hockey romance stories) published since Blake and Buma’s books, but I am hesitant to list them because I am still trying to find all of them and so any list here would be incomplete (alternatively, if anyone else is aware of women’s hockey novels directed at adult readers, I would love for you to share them in the comments). So the three books listed below are not meant to be a definitive list of all the adult women’s hockey novels ever written, but rather adult women’s hockey novels published before 2012. Alternatively, the three novels I discuss are generally the most well-known women’s hockey novels in the hockey literature genre. I would also like to specify that what I mean by adult oriented women’s hockey novels is simply a novel where the plot focuses on a women’s hockey player or team and the intended reader is an adult.
Cleo Birdwell’s Amazons (1980) (Out of Print)
The story behind this novel is fascinating and worth looking into (it is outside the scope of this article), but essentially Cleo Birdwell is a pseudonym for Don DeLillo (Sue Buck also co-wrote this novel). The fact that Don DeLillo, one of America’s most celebrated novelists, wrote a women’s hockey novel and no one talks about it is astounding—but this was also intentional as DeLillo will not publicly acknowledge he wrote the book and it is excluded from his bibliography. Amazons is a faux autobiography of the first woman to play in the NHL, twelve years before Manon Rhéaume accomplished this. However, calling Amazons a women’s hockey novel is a bit of a misnomer. Cleo Birdwell is a women’s hockey player, but the novel is not really about hockey and very little of the plot has to do with the sport. The novel is more concerned with DeLillo’s usual themes such as capitalism (and consumerism), masculinity, Americana, and medicine/technology than it is with hockey or what it would be like for the first woman in the NHL.
Judith Alguire’s Iced (1995) (Out of Print)
Judith Alguire’s Iced is the first women’s hockey adult novel to focus on women’s hockey players—since DeLillo’s book only focuses on a single woman in the NHL. Iced is a lesbian hockey love story that follows Alison Guthrie and the team she coaches, the Toronto Teddies, in the inaugural season of the Women’s Professional Hockey League. When Buma and Blake’s books were published it was the only hockey novel to have a lesbian protagonist, but since then there have been several queer hockey novels. Alguire’s novel is also unique in that it is very clearly a feminist text and is interested in exploring the tension between sports and (radical) feminism. Iced is an amazing novel that lets us imagine not only a professional women’s hockey league (written 20 years before the NWHL and CWHL could afford to pay their players), but also what a queer world of belonging fostered through hockey communities could look and feel like.
Cara Hedley’s Twenty Miles (2004) (In Print)
Cara Hedley’s Twenty Miles is the only adult hockey novel (listed in Buma and Blake’s books) that is still in print. Twenty Miles tells the story of Isabel Norris as she joins the Winnipeg University Scarlets hockey team in her first year of university. The novel is based on Hedley’s experiences playing for the University of Manitoba Bison, and this really comes through in Hedley’s descriptions of the locker room and team(mate) dynamics. This novel seems more concerned with what happens off the ice than what happens on the ice, or in other words, what it feels like to be a part of a team and the struggles of trying to find your role on and off the ice. The novel is really more of a meditation on the texture of team bonding and explores areas that are often overlooked in hockey novels such as team meals, bus rides, practices, and the quieter moments that happen in and around games.
So if you are looking to read a women’s hockey novel (which hopefully you are) then I’d recommend Cara Hedley’s Twenty Miles or Judith Alguire’s Iced; Hedley’s novel is available from Coach House Books and there are used copies of Alguire’s novel online or you could also try your local used bookstore. They’re both fabulous novels and each offer thoughtful insights into the women’s game. Moreover, Carrie S. Allen’s Michigan vs. the Boys and Sara Biren’s Cold Day in the Sun are two more recent young adult novels that are in print and available from most booksellers (but they are not about women’s hockey teams and instead follow teenage girls playing on boys’ teams).
I would also like to acknowledge that there is a problem in considering novels as the sole source of stories, especially for a topic such as women’s hockey. What I mean by this is that traditional storytelling venues have not been particularly interested in sporting women or women’s hockey, and so these stories have not been told on the page. To this day, while I love and value Hedley’s Twenty Miles and Alguire’s Iced, the stories that I return to again and again and turn over in my mind are the stories that I have heard from the players themselves or from the fans. And it is often a story that seemingly isn’t a story, more a feeling or a memory than a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Perhaps, all this is to say that while they are great novels out there (although far too few) on women’s hockey, I also value the ephemera, the gossip, the divergence that sidetracks a story being told, the memories, and all those “informal” stories that circulate around and make up women’s hockey.
 Which isn’t to discredit or dismiss these smaller outlets as they usually do a better job than mainstream media of telling these sports stories accurately.
 Patricia Hughes-Fuller also wrote her PhD dissertation, “The Good Old Game: Hockey, Nostalgia, Identity,” on hockey cultural texts, but she does not focus on hockey novels and her dissertation is not published.
 Buma also discusses Susan Zettel’s The Checkout Girl (2008) and the difficulty of describing it as a hockey novel because although the main character loves hockey very little of the story is about hockey and the main character doesn’t actually play hockey but rather skates around or imagines herself playing.
 The first documented proof of women playing hockey in Canada begins around 1890 with photographs of Isobel Stanley, the daughter of the Lord who donated the Stanley Cup, playing hockey at Rideau Hall with other women—women have certainly been playing hockey since before these events, but this is the earliest material account that is well-known and accepted.
Alguire, Judith. Iced. New Victoria Publishers, 1995.
Birdwell, Cleo. Amazons: An Intimate Memoir by the First Woman Ever to Play in the National Hockey League. Henry Holt & Company, 1980.
Blake, Jason. Canadian Hockey Literature: A Thematic Study. University of Toronto Press, 2010.
Buma, Michael. Refereeing Identity: The Cultural Work of Canadian Hockey Novels. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012.
Hedley, Cara. Twenty Miles. Coach House Books, 2004.
3 thoughts on “Women’s Hockey Literature (Pre-2012)”
Thanks for this post! I don’t think I’d heard of “Iced” or “Twenty Miles.” I’ll have to track them down. My novel “Seeking the Center” could be called a women’s hockey novel, as it’s about hockey and the main character is a woman who plays. It was published in 2016 (Cuidono Press), though, so maybe it’s outside the scope of this article.
Thanks so much Leslie! I didn’t know about your book and so I will definitely have to buy a copy!
Thank you, Jamie! I look forward to your comments/critiques!