They are women of all ages who come from all walks of life with varying degrees of experience in the sport, but all share a common bond — namely a longtime or new found love of ice hockey.

That was the scenario most Sundays this winter for those who participated in the Midcoast Women’s Ice Hockey League at the Midcoast Recreation Center.

During the recently concluded season, women skated onto the ice each Sunday to play as hard as they could for as long as they could and to make improvements in their games as each week passed.

On any given Sunday, when they did not have enough players, the teams would ask a husband, son or friend to play in goal or had a goalie at one end of the rink and no one between the pipes at another, with that empty goal flipped onto its face to make for a smaller space to score. Often, youth hockey players would officiate the games.

But, in the end, all the details did not matter because each woman was doing something she loved, including some being on the ice and doing something they never dreamed they could or never had the opportunity to try.

Some of the players have a deep background in the sport, either playing organized hockey as youngsters or through years of competing in adult hockey. Some even have played the sport in college.

Others, however, may have just picked up the sport but they always were as much a part of the team or league as the more talented players. Everyone is involved in all aspects of each game.

While MRC is known for hosting youth hockey and figure skating throughout a given week during the winter, as well as a popular adult men’s hockey league, lesser known is the history of local women’s hockey at the facility.

Cheryl Levin, one of the organizers of the women’s league, said the players range from ages 16  to 70. The average age is about 40. “We have a mix of ability levels from first-year players to former college players and everyone in between,” Levine said. “Our former college players help out a lot on and off the ice. Their biggest contribution is the organizing of our five-week preseason clinics. We offer both beginner and intermediate level clinics in skating and stick handling. Our clinics are a great introduction to new skills and excellent preseason conditioning. The majority of our women got their start in one of our clinics.”

Among the league’s most experienced players are Devri Byrom, who played at Colby College in Waterville and Northfield Mount Hermon High School; Meredith Currier, Bowdoin College in Brunswick and Princeton and Taft High School; Heather Wyman, high school and club level at Williams College, Mass.; Barbara Jean O’Brien, NEWTS travel team in New Hampshire; Andrea Garver, Assabett Valley High School; Katie LeBel, she and her husband created and organized a hockey group called Free Agents in the Brunswick area for several years and she plays lots of pond hockey; and Tori Willauer, high school.

Over the past two years, the league has experienced increases in new memberships and in order to accommodate the expanding range of skills and player intensity the league created two divisions. There is an Intermediate division for the more experienced players and recreation division with a mix of beginner players and experienced players.

“The pace of our recreation games is a bit slower and the goal is to make it a more instructive experience,” Levin said. “Having a slightly slower pace and decreased intensity allow skaters a chance to handle the puck more and apply new skills to their game. Having the recreation division has also been really key in enabling us to add new members in the middle of our season. Our season is long starting in October and ending in March and some of the women come to us well after our preseason clinics have ended, but are still gung-ho to give it a try and now with our recreation division we have successfully introduced and maintained those new members.”

Levin said the MRC rink opened in 2000 and, in that first year, a women’s-only pickup time on the ice was organized. “Either that year or the next year a women’s-only clinic was also added to the schedule. Women could sign up for either clinic or pickup or both,” she said. “The programs ran back to back during our Sunday evening time slot. The clinics ran the entire season for the first couple years then the clinics were shortened to the existing five-week preseason schedule we now have increasing the playing time and decreasing the expense.”

Levin began playing hockey in 2001 after having one of her work tasks being to buy skates for her employer Maine Sport Outfitters in Rockport. “Playing hockey to learn more about the hockey equipment I was buying and selling was more enticing to me than some of the other options so that’s what I did,” she said. “In my first year I participated in both the women’s clinic and the women’s pickup. Now here’s the insanity … I also played in the adult league with the men. Things were a little more laid back in the men’s league back then with two playing divisions, but it was still a bit of a stretch for me to be out there with them especially my first year. I played two years in the adult league and even organized my own adult team the second year. My team was the only team with three fulltime women plus three women filling in as substitutes. In the meantime, I continued playing with the women and ultimately ended up deciding to discontinue my participation in the adult league and play only with the women.”

Around 2005, Chris Bigelow, the skating director at MRC, asked Levin to organize the Sunday women’s hockey group and develop it into a private women’s league. “Up until that point the women’s hockey program was an MRC-run program with Chris as the organizer. He was hopeful that by now the women could run themselves freeing up more of his time to concentrate on the youth programs. Knowing how I felt about playing with the women versus the men and how I wanted to be sure that it was around for others to enjoy I took the plunge and agreed to organize the women’s program. I had some amazing women to help me make the transition that first year: Shannon Breslin, Kristin Terpening and Tracy Rescigno. I crossed my fingers and here we are … a women’s hockey league run by women for women — 30-35 members strong.”

The league hosted two games against away teams this season.

Against the Coon Cats of Portland, the MRC team, Snapshots sponsored by Fenn Fotography of Washington, lost 3-2. Scoring for Snapshots were Nina Jones (Kathleen Fleury assisting) and Meredith Currier. The goalie was Rosie Cooper.

For the Coon Cats, Cheryl Bascomb had two goals and Kim McClean one. The goalie was Nancy Quint.

The referees for the game were Oliver Fenn and Joseph Bridges.

The MRC squad also beat the Bangor Brutes 2-0, with additional information unavailable.

Levin said the women’s league has acquired eight full sets of protective gear through private donations and supplemented with minimal purchasing of used and new gear. “The gear packages are an essential tool we use to help introduce new skaters to the sport of hockey and ultimately grow the membership in our league,” she said. “We loan the gear out free of charge for trial use and then offer them as seasonal rentals for those women signed on in our league. This has greatly helped offset the upfront costs one must pay to even try out hockey. The minimal fees we collect from the seasonal rentals helps pay for additional gear and replacement gear for items that are worn out or damaged.”

VillageSoup Regional Editor/Sports Director Ken Waltz can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at kwaltz@villagesoup.com.