Hemelgarn feels right at home on Mason Ice Hockey team

Sean Speidel | The Chronicle

Prior to this year, junior Kyra Hemelgarn had never even put on a pair of skates. Now she is playing forward for the Mason hockey team.

As a former lacrosse player, Hemelgarn went from not knowing how to skate just a few months ago to being an important member of the Mason hockey team. Hemelgarn’s hard work over the summer is what allowed her to be able to play in such little time.

“I was on the ice at least twice a week,” Hemelgarn said. “ I would sometimes stay there for multiple hours just trying to get comfortable with the ice and my skates.”

Getting on the ice became a freeing experience for Hemelgarn as she got more time to practice. Hemelgarn said that being on the rink separated her from the stresses of the outside world and that she only had to focus on hockey while she was on the ice.

“Practicing in the rink gave me more than just comfortability with the ice,” Hemelgarn said. “It started to become a safe space for me to get away from the world and do something to clear my head.”

With more practice and hard work, Hemelgarn became more confident and her abilities earned her a spot on the Mason hockey team under head coach Joel Das. When Hemelgarn tried out for the team, she exceeded Das’ expectations. Das said that for someone who had been skating for such little time, Hemelgarn had quickly developed an impressive skillset.

“When she came out to tryouts, I was very surprised,” Das said. “Her lacrosse skills have absolutely translated into the ice and she continues to improve every week.”

Hemelgarn is the sixth girl to play on the Mason hockey team over the past ten years, so when she originally decided to join the team she did not realize she would be the only girl.

Coming into a sport with no prior experience can already build pressure, but the added weight of being the lone girl on the team gave Hemelgarn anxiety and even nausea when she considered going out and practicing with the rest of the team.

“In my head, I was just like ‘I’m going to get bullied,’” Hemelgarn said. “I was so worried that whenever I stepped onto the ice, it was going to be the reaction of ‘ugh, the girl.’”

Hemelgarn found that her teammates were actually very supportive. Assistant team captain Aidan Albers said that he and others made a point to help Hemelgarn feel comfortable right away.

“We all try to work on encouraging each other on the ice,” Albers said. “We always include her and include everybody on the team and work on helping each other out.”

Although Hemelgarn is the only girl on the Mason hockey team, she is not given any special treatment. Hemelgarn said that she is very appreciative of how supportive her teammates and coaches have been since the beginning.

“It really means a lot to me that I’m treated less like [the] girl and more as another player by the coaches and the players both on and off the ice,” Hemelgarn said.”

With her older sister frequently being away from home, Hemlegarn grew up roughhousing with her three older brothers. Her parents told her that if she didn’t want to get hurt, she shouldn’t play with the boys. Hemelgarn wasn’t intimidated. Now she is playing on a hockey team with all boys.

Hemelgarn has not backed down from the physical demands of the sport and said she is instead focused on doing whatever she can to contribute to the team.

“I’ve never been one to cry about getting hurt,” Hemelgarn said. “I was not as worried about getting hit, but just trying to be helpful to the team.”

Hemelgarn serves as an example that you have to put in hard work and dedication in order to reach your goals. Hemelgarn likely would not have made the team if she did not put in hours of practice and preparation over the summer. Hemelgarn said that playing for the Mason hockey team cannot be a hobby, it has to be a commitment.

“It’s not a sport you do just for fun,” Hemelgarn said. “All I feel the hockey community at Mason asks for is all you can give.”

Photo contributed by Jamie Natorp