When Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin burst onto the political scene as John McCain’s running mate, it was probably fitting that the self-proclaimed hockey mom’s acceptance speech was made inside a hockey arena in Minnesota. The Republican convention was held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, where a giant banner hanging from the ceiling proclaims Minnesota as “The State of Hockey.”
A few miles away from the arena, another hockey mom is preparing to pack, drive, shiver, and cheer for her two children as another season begins in a state that, as the banner says, is crazy about the sport.
Theresa Burgess is sitting at the kitchen table of her family’s home in a new subdivision of Farmington, a rapidly growing suburb of Minneapolis and St. Paul, talking about hockey and hockey moms. At the center of the table is a collection of buttons that bear photos of her kids in their hockey uniforms.
“You have to be willing to shuffle them around everywhere, you have to like the game, you have to like seeing the sport being played,” she says. “You don’t mind being cold because ice arenas are always cold. You’re in it to see your kids do well, but it isn’t always about winning. You’ve got to lose, too.”
Hockey is a major activity for the Burgess family. Daughter Katie, 14, is a ninth-grader whose Farmington High School team qualified for last season’s Minnesota state tournament. Son Ryan, 11, is a fifth-grader; he and Katie have been playing hockey for six years.
Theresa works part time as a teacher’s aide at Meadowview Elementary School and her husband, Greg, is a Minnesota state trooper. Theresa has a sister who lives in Palmer, Alaska, a short drive from Wasilla, the town that has become almost as famous as that state’s governor.
“I’m not into politics at all,” Theresa Burgess says. “What I know is what I see on TV and I read a little bit in the newspaper. My sister has sent us some articles on [Palin]. She said she did not vote for her. I don’t know the reasoning behind that, but to each their own. Truthfully, I think having a woman in the White House would be great.”
During Palin’s speech in St. Paul, she described herself as “an average hockey mom,” adding the now famous line, “You know what they say the difference is between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick!”
Soon after the speech, a political website called Hockey Moms for McCain-Palin was launched. But it was preceded by another site, www.hockeymoms.com, which was started in the Canadian city of Edmonton, Alberta, in October 2007 by hockey moms who wanted to share tips and advice with others. A wide variety of topics can be found on the website, including equipment, fundraising, hockey theme parties, and recipes (think Zamboni cake with, of course, white icing).
According to Liz Goddard, editor and executive director of www.hockeymoms.com, Palin’s sudden rise has generated plenty of discussion on the website. The “pit bull” reference spawned a lot of talk. Among other things, the site is soliciting blog entries on whether it plays into a stereotype of hockey moms as overly aggressive and loud.
“Some women felt closer to Sarah Palin because they had shared the hockey mom experience,” says Ms. Goddard. “Others thought it would have no bearing on whether or not Sarah would be fit for the job of vice president.”
“Hockey mom” is the latest pseudo-demographic in political campaigning, following soccer moms and NASCAR dads. Theresa Burgess, who spent one summer as a soccer mom, says the only real difference between that sport and hockey is the small amount of equipment required for soccer.
“But you still need to be dedicated to the team and to the kids,” she says.
The hockey season in Minnesota is gearing up on many levels. Ryan Burgess is in the midst of age-group tryouts, Katie will soon be involved in practices with the Farmington High Tigers, the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild is already playing preseason games, and college teams from the NCAA Division I level down to the junior college ranks are also on the doorstep of a new season. Overall, more than 55,000 hockey players are registered under the auspices of Minnesota Hockey, the sport’s largest single-state governing body in the nation.
The ultimate treatment for hockey moms in the state is reserved for the mothers of the men who play for the Wild. Last season, the team invited the players’ moms to travel with their sons on a week-long road trip to Phoenix and Los Angeles. The group flew by charter jet, and while the sons practiced and played, the moms shopped, visited spas, took in the sights, and cheered for the team.
“Without them, we wouldn’t be here,” says player Niklas Backstrom. “It’s one way to pay something back to them and show how the life is like here.”
Native Minnesotan Barb Parrish, mother of Wild player Mark Parrish, says, “I don’t have to ride with smelly equipment. It’s a very nice change.”
For Theresa Burgess, planning is vital during the hockey season. A color-coded calendar, which hangs on a bulletin board in her kitchen, guides the busy family through each week. Ryan’s plans are in blue, Katie’s in black, and Greg’s work schedule with the Minnesota State Patrol is in red. He works a lot of nights and has alternate weekends off.
“The minute I get their schedules I put it on here,” says Theresa. “I check it two or three times a day just to make sure I know where I’m going.”
There are no visions of professional hockey careers in the Burgess household; the game is simply an activity the kids enjoy.
“For me, and I think even for my kids, we’re in it to have fun and enjoy the game,” Theresa says. “We’re not the hard-core parents, where it’s ‘win, win, win.’ ”
Only one ice arena exists in Farmington, and it’s used by all age groups from preschoolers to adults. That means plenty of trips to other arenas in the area, as well as practices that can start as early as 6 a.m. and end as late as 9 p.m. It can be a grind, loading and unloading bags of sticks, skates, helmets, pads, and uniforms into the family vehicle.
Theresa and Greg have never tried to add up the dollars they have spent on hockey or the miles they have driven.
“Now that the kids are older, I don’t usually stay at the practices any more, so that means two trips back and forth,” Theresa says. “I guess I should try to find something to do at the arena, but it’s cold and I don’t like being cold. I’m kind of a wuss when it comes to that.”
But once the season gets rolling, families bond with other families and hockey becomes as much of a social event as a sporting activity.
“You get to know the moms, you visit with them,” Theresa says. “When Katie started playing and Ryan didn’t have practice or games, we would go as a family, and he would get to know the younger siblings."
“We usually try to get together, having sleep-
overs for the kids, birthday parties, going out to dinner or having people come over. I think these friendships will probably be lifelong.”