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Lawyer Susan Burke’s path to the rink was a family affair. Two years ago her son, Jack, participated in a hockey clinic at a rink in Reston, Va. Burke at the time was working in Washington, D.C., but she moved to the Philadelphia area last June to become vice president and regional consultant for Tenet HealthSystem. While Jack played, his mom passed the time by skating in the facility’s other rink. Skating and loving it. “He quit hockey,” Burke said. “But I was hooked.” She is not the only one. Burke is one of four local women attorneys who, after a long day of wearing pumps and fighting for clients, lace up their skates and fight for position in front of the net for the Philadelphia Freeze. Burke, along with Elise Kraemer, Katherine Keefe and Brenda Waiter, play recreational hockey in the Delaware Valley Hockey League. “It’s a great game,” said Waiter, a senior counsel for Independence Blue Cross. “We just love it.” Still, obstacles are present for these career women, most of whom are middle-aged, who wish to play a traditionally male-dominated sport. When Burke asked the rink pro if he was available for one-on-one lessons, he replied, “‘Oh, sure. Have your husband give me a call,’” Burke said. “I think he got a kick out of it. Not too many 40-year-old women want to learn ice hockey.” Burke, who in April became a partner and health care litigator at Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads, picked up the new sport well for someone with no experience. Of course, nine months of 5 a.m. practices once or twice a week can have that effect. “It’s just fun to learn a new sport,” she said. It’s not a new sport for all. Keefe has been around the sport for nearly a decade. Both her children – a 13-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter – play ice hockey, while her husband coaches. All that Keefe, who “knew how to skate,” needed was a little hint that the family wanted 100 percent participation. Keefe, who became a partner at Reed Smith two years ago after leaving Independence Blue Cross, arrived home from work one day and found a set of hockey equipment spread across the floor. Her husband had found out about a local women’s league and bought the equipment for her. “He laid out all that money,” she said. “It was the push I needed.” Ten years ago, there might have not been anywhere to land for a woman pushed into ice hockey. Kraemer, 34, a Philadelphia deputy city solicitor working in the claims unit, has played for the Freeze for nearly a decade, joining the squad in 1994. Over this time, she has witnessed the rapid rise of the sport to prominence. For most of that period she was the only attorney on the team, but the fourfold increase in lawyers on the Freeze in the last four years is merely indicative of the growing popularity of the sport. There are approximately 10 times the number of active women’s hockey teams now as there was in 1990 according to the Detroit Free Press. “It really took off after the Olympics in 1998,” Kraemer said. “The U.S. women won [the gold medal] and attracted a tremendous amount of women to the sport.” The growing popularity helped change the nature of the league. Kraemer originally participated on the only team playing under the Freeze banner. Now she and the other lawyers play on the “C” team, the third most competitive of four teams that share the name. While formerly Kraemer had to travel to many locales on the East Coast and as far north as Canada to find other women’s teams, there is now a league comprised entirely of local teams that is enough for an approximately 16-game season. The relatively low level of competition means that the team can get by on one practice a week, usually 8 p.m. Mondays at the Class of 1923 Ice Rink, on the campus of Kraemer’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Less travel time is an important consideration. These woman are busy. “We have kids and demanding legal jobs, so you get to play but not at a level where you have to travel to Montreal,” Kraemer said. The demanding nature of their jobs might be one of the reasons the women gravitated to the sport. Few things relieve the tension of a long day like swinging a big stick. “It’s a great stress relief,” Keefe said. “And depending on the day at work, you can picture a lot of different faces on that puck.” The rising popularity of the sport should also help ensure that other aspiring women hockey players get to play against other women hockey players – in sharp contrast to Burke’s first experience with the sport. In Washington, D.C., she was forced to play against men’s team because of a lack of female participants. Befitting a group with three lawyers with work related to health care, injuries are a concern. While the league outlaws checking and is populated by players as slight as the 5-foot-2 Kraemer, it is not that it never gets physical. After all, these are competitive women. “It’s more about skill and strategy, but there’s lots of incidental contact,” Kraemer said. “I mean you have to use your body, especially on defense. If someone’s in front of the net, you have to move them.” Sometimes contact is not even necessary. Waiter fell to the ice in a practice in 1999, her first year playing hockey since pond hockey games with her older brothers and neighborhood friends while growing up in Canada, and tore the meniscus, or shock-absorbing cartilege, in her left knee. Despite the injury, Waiter does not regret being recruited by Keefe four years ago, when both worked for IBC. After five weeks of rehabilitation, she “could not wait to get back,” she said, and has played ever since. Given the amount of contact, there is fear of an injury that would be, if not debilitating than at least embarrassing. Embarrassing in their real jobs. “You really can’t show up with missing teeth or a black eye,” Keefe said. “That wouldn’t look good to clients.” Waiter’s Canadian heritage and Keefe’s and Kraemer’s long exposure to the sport give them the advantage over Burke in family familiarity with the ice. Some in Burke’s family still just don’t get it. “‘Mom, why would you want to go out on the ice and get hit by other people,’” Burke recalled her 13-year-old daughter, Laura, saying. “But otherwise there’s a typical lack of interest in anything I do,” Burke added with a laugh. However, the veteran Kraemer’s family has had more experience. In the most recent game that her husband and daughter attended, “mommy went to the penalty box,” Kraemer said. “It was bulls — t anyway,” she said with a laugh. “Lawyers tend to be a bit competitive,” Waiter said. “Hockey is a natural extension of what I do.” However, they remember that the importance of the extracurricular activity isn’t really measured by the final score. “We always have a good time,” Keefe said. “And sometimes we win.”

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