CRANBERRY TWP — When the Mars goalie stepped onto the ice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex to a deafening chorus of cheers, it was evident that what was to follow was more than just a game.
Mars returned to the ice for a matchup against South Fayette Monday night, but it was the outpouring of support for the girl, who was subjected to ill-mannered chants at a recent game that stole the show.
“The love that we have for everyone in the hockey community is shown tonight,” Mars Hockey Club president Jeff Mitchell said. “You've got people coming from afar, you've got people that are local, but everybody's taking time out of a night with a Steelers home game to come to support a local hockey game.”
In a decision last week, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League banned Armstrong students in grades seven through 12 from attending any River Hawks varsity or middle school hockey games for the remainder of the 2021-22 season, after fans had berated the female goalie from Mars during an Oct. 28 game. Video clips of that game were posted on online forums, and in those videos vulgar chants clearly ring out.
Mitchell estimated that the Planets' games typically draw 100 students and fans — mostly families of players — between both teams. This game was originally slated to be played at Warrendale's Baierl Ice Complex, but he understood the possibility for a capacity turnout.
“We were in contact with that rink's management, and they were concerned that they might not be able to hold everybody,” Mitchell said. “Baierl and the Penguins' UPMC Lemieux facility was gracious enough to offer to host it. They've had other big events here, and they have the capacity to deal with (this) large crowd tonight.”
Cardstock signs adorned the glass above the boards and beside the team benches, cheering the Planets' goalie on. Fans in the stands held them, too, with messages like “Girls Rock,” “Girls Rule” and “Stop Pucks & Hate” written on them.
Brandy Kennedy drove half an hour to bring her 5-year-old daughter, Adelei, to the game. In front of them, she propped up a neon yellow sign with the image of a roaring lioness. The words on it read, “She overcame everything that was meant to destroy her.”
“We came to the game tonight so that she could understand what solidarity really means,” Kennedy said. “If I don't teach her how to respect others, then who will?
“I think, a lot of the time, when somebody is saying something nasty to you, you tend to feel alone. Everybody is here to show her that she does belong and that she is respected.”
Mitchell was pleased by the “outpouring of support” for the goalie.
“Tonight is really to bring awareness to (that) whole situation so that it never happens again,” Mitchell said.
Tom Ray, an assistant coach with the girl's travel team, the Pittsburgh Amateur Hockey League's Arctic Foxes, said women as far away as Finland have reached out to express support for her.
“For (her) sake, it's important to get beyond it,” said Ray. “She wants to get beyond (it). She's a great kid. This has brought together a lot of different people.”
Ray, whose daughter played from the time she was 7 years old all the way through high school, also stressed the importance of girls and women having a role in the sport.
“Folks like the Pittsburgh Penguins organization have just been phenomenal,” Ray said. “She's been contacted by Penguins who say, 'Hey, we support you.' A lot of those guys have wives who play; they've got sisters who play. Hockey has always been and always tries to be all-inclusive.”