Kish kish kish the sound of sharp silver skates cut through the ice on a Shadyside rink in Pittsburgh. Here, you can find the power and precision of high-level youth hockey supported by Penguin Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.
What you may be surprised to find is that when many of these athletes, including three Blair County residents, take off their helmets, long hair cascades down over their heavily padded shoulders.
They are part of Team Pittsburgh, an all-girls multi-divisional traveling ice hockey program.
Seventeen-year-old Kim Badorrek is the only girl on the Altoona Area High School hockey team and also plays on a mostly boys Tracker team, based at Galactic Ice in Lakemont. The all-girls squad in Pittsburgh offers a unique athletic experience.
"Most people don't expect girls to play ice hockey, so it really gives us an edge," she said. "Girls hockey is growing. You need hand-eye coordination, and you have to be in good shape."
Kim's Team Pittsburgh team has advanced to the national championship tournament the past two years. Rachel Khalouf plays on the Team Pittsburgh U14 squad and is joined by Badorrek on a Trackers U19 team, the first all-girls hockey squad in Blair County.
Team Pittsburgh requires a great deal of dedication, with weekend practices in the steel city. League games, five per competition weekend, are played in Detroit or Chicago. The program is the real deal: rosters include Mario Lemieux's daughters, and the superstar even helps coach a team.
"It's a variety of girls that I really get along with," said Kim said. "They have a lot of athletic ability on the team that makes me strive to get better."
Badorrek received interest from several collegiate programs and plans to suit up for the Penn State women's college team next season. Like many other sports, hockey is now a goal for both boys and girls to pursue higher education.
Nine-year old Kenzington MacDonald is one of the younger players in the Team Pittsburgh program. She dreams of attending the same hockey-themed high school that produced Sidney Crosby and would one day like to skate for Harvard and then in the NHL.
"I love skating and being on the ice; it's a fun team sport," she said. "I like the fact that my dad plays and coaches, and I want to be just like him."
Playing on multiple hockey teams means commitment from the entire family, to juggle practice and travel schedules, plus school and other activities. But the hockey-playing girls feel it's worth it to pursue their on-ice dreams.
Women's hockey has been an Olympic sport since 1998, and it should receive a boost by the upcoming Winter Games in Vancouver. The local players say they'd love to see more young ladies on the ice.
"I think I'm pretty lucky," Kenzington said. "It used to be all boys."
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.