After lacing up her skates, Sara Wolf exits the locker room of the McFarland Ice Arena with her hockey bag slung over one shoulder and her 1-year-old son, George, tucked into the crook of her arm. Out in the arena, Wolf hands George off to her parents and takes the ice to play defense for the Madison Meteorites against Milwaukee’s Brew City Blades.
Toting along a toddler to matches is nothing unusual for the Meteorites, a Division 1 team in the Women’s Central Hockey League. Sixteen of the team’s active players have a combined 27 children — with several under the age of 4.
Last season, Wolf resumed playing just four weeks after George was born. When he was 4 months old, she took him to the USA Hockey Women’s National Championship in Boston. “There were three members of the Meteorites who were nursing at Nationals,” Wolf says. “Our cardio before the games was breastfeeding.”
At 40, Wolf is tied with one other teammate as the oldest player on the Meteorites. Many players are in their 30s. “My teammate’s husband commented that we go to Nationals and our average age is 35 and we are playing teams whose average age is 23,” Wolf says. “And most of the teams practice and have coaches, but we’re uncoached, we don’t hold practices and we don’t have a sponsor.”
The team has a large extended family who support the endeavor. When Wolf is sent to the penalty box for “hooking” late in the first period, her husband, Mike, is the one who sets the clock for her timeout.
Wolf grew up in Marshfield, Wisconsin, and started playing hockey at 5 when her older brother began playing, says Wolf’s father, Ken Olm. “Sara said ‘if I have to go along to the rink, then I’m going to play too,’” Olm says.
Wolf played on a boys team as a junior and senior in high school. She first played on a women’s team while attending UW-Stevens Point and joined a club team. Wolf moved to Madison 13 years ago and has played on the Meteorites for 12 years. “I like the speed, I like the gracefulness,” says Wolf. “It’s what I’ve been doing since I was 5. It’s what I know.”
Four Meteorites — including Kat Kraft — played for the UW Badgers women’s hockey team. After the game against the Brew City Blades — the Meteorites win 5-0 — Kraft explains in the locker room that not all the players can make every game. Tonight was unusual in that there was a full squad on hand, she says.
Kraft graduated from UW-Madison in 2004 and has a toddler. But she can’t imagine giving up the sport. “Once you’re a hockey player, you’re always a hockey player,” Kraft says. “It’s truly a lifelong sport — you can play until you’re 80 years old. And I want to pass the game down to my kids.”
“I’ve played my whole life,” says Jess Stone, the Meteorites’ manager and mother to two children, ages 3 years and 6 months. “Now I can still be competitive but I also get to hang out with my friends — it’s my adult time away from my kids.”
But her kids aren’t far away. During the game, her 3-year-old and other kids chase a puck with toy sticks just outside the rink, while her husband, Steve Gesualdo, and other family members, keep watch.
“None of the husbands played organized hockey much growing up,” says Gesualdo. “All of these kids are going to learn to play hockey from their mothers.”
First account of an all-women hockey game: Feb. 11, 1891, in Ottawa, Canada.
First college with a women’s hockey team: Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, 1895.
Women’s hockey introduced to the Olympics: 1998 in Nagano, Japan
Teams in the Women’s Central Hockey League: 57 in seven divisions, from Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Indiana.
Meteorites place in 2018 USA Hockey Women’s National Championship: 8th out of 12
The Isobel Cup: The award for the National Women’s Hockey League, the first professional women’s league in North America. The cup was purchased by Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley and named after his daughter, one of Canada’s first women hockey players.