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There is an unwritten rule in high school ice hockey and if players don’t follow it, it can mean trouble: don’t take out the ponytail.

Unlike most full-contact varsity sport, ice hockey and wrestling are co-ed, allowing girls to play on the same level as the boys.

Of the 11 public school teams in Montgomery County, four have at least one girl on the roster. In Frederick, two of the five Monocacy Valley Hockey League teams have at least one girl. And in Prince George’s County, both teams have at least one girl.

With limited ice hockey programs, girls grow up playing with boys. So when it comes to the high school level, it doesn’t feel out-of-place on the ice.

“It’s really fun,” Damascus forward Emily Hockey said. “It’s pretty much a bunch of older brothers running around there and protecting you if anything happens.”

Not that the girls don’t want to get hit. Hockey said she doesn’t shy away from a hit, unless she’s out-sized, and isn’t afraid to deal one, either.

“Most of the time, if he’s a defender, I just stay away,” the sophomore said. “But if it’s a forward coming in, you have to do what you have to do. You have a whole team of boys that will back you up if anything happens so I just go for it.”

Oakdale defender Mairead Carey feels the same security in her teammates.

She remembers once receiving a hard, open-ice hit which knocked her backward, causing her to land on her head. Teammates Ian Soifer and Josh Kehoe stepped in and started a fight with the perpetrator, sending one to the penalty box with a five-minute major.

Knowing her team is behind her allows her to play physically, and it translates to her all-female junior team, the Washington Pride.

“I play defense on my girls team too and I’m more physical. So, it’s easier because I’m not as scared with how I place my body, whether it’s to make a hit or block a shot,” Carey said. “Playing with the boys is a challenge, but it does push me because you want to show them that girls can do it too and play with them.”

Eleanor Roosevelt defender Anna Streifel, who also plays for the Pride, said it can be tough switching back from the physical game the boys play to girls rules, which disallow blatant hits. After one Friday game with the boys, she played on a Saturday with the girls team and got two misconducts for checking. Still, the advantages outweigh the drawbacks.

“When you play against the boys, they’re automatically going to be a good foot or more taller, so you have to learn how to protect the puck better and skate faster.

“I want to try to prove them wrong, so when you beat them it’s pretty fun.”

Oakdale coach Dave Soifer said the girls he’s coached have been more coachable than the boys. Damascus coach Dave Hockey says they play a different game.

“Girls are a lot less selfish and that’s what hockey’s about,” Hockey said. “Girls work hard on skills. I’m very proud of the girls on the team. They’re fantastic players, bring a lot to the team and teach our guys a lot about what it is to play hockey.”

There are two high schools in Montgomery County which offer ice hockey exclusively to girls and both are single-sex private high schools: Holton-Arms and Holy Cross.

The Panthers play in two leagues — one which fields teams from four states, the furthest city being Locust Valley, N.Y., some 260 miles from the Bethesda school. They fill a 20-game regular season schedule and field a 15-player roster. Holy Cross has a 20-person roster which plays a 10-game schedule.

Having more teams like this is the ultimate goal.

Said Damascus forward Olivia Michalewicz, “When you’re a girl and playing for a boys team, you have to earn their respect and be good enough and surprise them. ... The more girls that play, it’s great.”

cstevens@gazette.net