I’ve been going to a lot of high school hockey games lately, covering the action for the local weekly newspaper. It’s a lot of fun.
This image is from the Harwood Union versus St. Johnsbury Academy game, at Chester Fenton Arena in Lyndonville, VT. The Highlanders beat the hometown Hilltoppers 4-3 in overtime. Pictured here is Ty Delphia, Harwood’s top offensive threat.
For the Love of the Game
Sports brought Harwood Union seniors Katie Martin and Siena Damon together at a young age, and a passion for hockey has been an integral part of their identity ever since.
They share a 13-year bond, forged on the ice as youth hockey teammates, that includes three state championships — as Squirts in 2006, as Bantams in 2010, and as high school juniors in 2013.
Martin, of Waterbury, and Damon, of Moretown, played on boys’ teams all the way through the youth hockey program, from Mites to Bantams. It wasn’t until ninth grade that they played ice hockey on a girl’s team.
They also played tee ball and baseball with the boys, “until they made us play softball,” Damon said. “We played hockey with the boys all the way through until we got to Harwood and we had to play girls for varsity.”
The pair first met at the ice rink playing hockey as 5-year-olds, and both say they were influenced by their older brothers. Before she learned to skate on ice Damon started by roller-skating with her older brother Cullen.
“Then I got roped into being goalie,” Damon said. She surprised her teammates by doing well at a game in Northfield. “I was always goalie after that.”
Martin, who started out on defense but soon switched to offense, says she started skating at age 3 or 4.
“I was always at the outdoor rink pushing crates around with my brothers teaching me, and I used to have skating lessons with a coach. I would have to push him around in a chair, but I had more fun making snow angels,” she said.
“They were rink rats first,” says Katie’s mother, Bindy Kirk, who set up a cot for her daughter to nap in a corner of the rink office where she worked.
Damon remembers spending all day at the rink.
“We would have a game or two and then we’d watch all the games in between. We used to just hang out in our pajama bottoms and championship jackets all day,” she recalled.
The girls have fond memories of skating the Harwood banner as youngsters before boys’ varsity games when the team came out on the ice.
“It was an old Harwood tradition, and there would be former hockey coaches like Moe Lacroix and guys in kilts, and we would skate the banner around the rink and then hold it during the national anthem,” said Martin.
They could have played in the girls’ youth hockey program, “but we always said no,” Damon said. They preferred the boys’ style of play, which she said is faster paced and more physical with checking allowed at the Bantam level.
“We wanted to play with the boys because it was our team, who we grew up playing with, had camaraderie with, and we were eventually grandfathered in,” explained Damon.
Martin agreed. “I wouldn’t have missed out playing hockey with the boys,” she said.
“I first met Katie and Siena when I was six years old playing House Mites,” says classmate and boys varsity team star, Ty Delphia.
“They had already been playing for a couple of years. They were the two people I first connected with when I started playing hockey. They helped me out a lot,” he said.
“Katie is a hustler. She would always push me,” Delphia recalls. “Having her on my line was definitely an advantage because she knew exactly where I was going to be all the time,” he said.
Playing on boys’ teams made them stronger players, said Harwood assistant hockey coach Scott Hunter.
Facing larger opponents and faster shots helped prepare them for high school play, if not over prepare them. “I think the biggest thing about Katie and Siena playing with the boys is they don’t have any fear,” Hunter added.
That toughness, and their competitive natures, helped the girl’s team accumulate a 50-8-2 during the three years the team was in the Lake Division and 53-21-6 including the 2013-14 season in the stronger Metro Division.
And that toughness came early. “We had to come to our manhood a little bit early,” remembers Damon. “You see a lot when you’re a girl on a boy’s team in the locker-room,” said Martin.
The girls could stick up for themselves, recalls their former Bantam coach, Jon Rutledge. “They took care of each other and they took care of themselves. The chemistry they have makes a good friendship,” he said.
Rutledge remembers Siena as a very feisty girl. “She was one of the boys and took care of the locker room. Katie worked hard and had a good stick. They were both very nice to coach,” he said.
“We always had good coaches but our favorite was Jon Rutledge because of his military background,” said Martin. “He commanded respect and we gave it to him,” added Damon. “He made everyone shipshape all the time,” admired Martin.
Hunter said it’s fulfilling to have been with the remarkable duo for so long. “To start with two kids at one level and then help coach them all the way through to the high school level, that’s special,” said Hunter.
But it was still an adjustment when they joined the girls’ team as freshmen, and for the boys as well. The boys missed having Damon and Martin on their team when they lost their only goalie and a key offensive playmaker.
“It was always a solid line with Katie and Ty,” Damon recounted. “When you’ve been playing on the same line as a center or a wing, it’s hard to switch-out teammates and lose that chemistry. It’s a partnership,” she said.
As freshman, Damon and Martin had to adapt to a different style of play and build chemistry with new teammates. Damon says it was difficult for her as a goalie to switch to a new team.
“It was hard for me because they were trying to block all the shots and I was screened a lot. They didn’t realize there were certain things they didn’t need to worry about,” she explained.
“But once we developed a good system in front of the net and got that mojo we did well. We went to the championships,” Damon said. (U-32 beat Harwood 4-1)
Martin says her sophomore season was her favorite because the team was a tight knit group and it was a tough season losing to Stowe in the semi-finals in triple overtime.
“Hockey means family, commitment and friendship to me and our seniors were great friends of ours,” said Martin. “It was a hard year to let them go.”
The girls’ senior season came to an end late last month when the Lady Highlanders lost a close playdown battle against Missisquoi on Feb. 22.
Now the two teens are preparing for the next phase of their lives, but playing collegiate hockey is not necessarily on the agenda.
Outside of hockey Damon is an equestrian. “I like to attend horse-training clinics, work with people, teach and go riding.”
After graduation she’ll move to Wyoming and learn natural horsemanship training methods from professional certified horse trainer-clinician Ken McNabb in order to one day do the same.
Martin plans to go to college and perhaps play field hockey at Plymouth State with hopes of being a sports broadcaster with a minor in coaching. “That’s what I want to do with my life, make the love of the game for other people.”
However, Martin doesn’t plan to hang up her ice skates forever and hopes to still have fun playing, “doing the thing we love,” in the future.
“I joke with Siena and say in forty years we’re going to be old and playing women’s league here having a few beers in the locker room talking and thinking we’re the hot poop that we are and having a good ol’ time,” Martin amusingly confided.