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Lady Jackets learning to play hockey

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Sarah Tyutin grew up in Guelph, Ont., surrounded by hockey and its culture and eventually met her husband, Fedor, in that same town while he played for the OHL’s Storm.

Courtney Calvert grew up in Brandon, Manitoba, a hockey-crazy city with a successful junior hockey team (the Wheat Kings) that husband Matt starred for. Her brothers also played hockey and she spent plenty of time around the rink and the sport.

Natalie Malone was born and raised in West Palm Beach, Fla., and went to undergrad at Boston College where boyfriend Cam Atkinson was a standout scorer for a perennial national championship contender. She’d never watched an NHL game until Atkinson made his NHL debut on Oct. 7, 2011 at Nationwide Arena against the Nashville Predators.

From left: Lady Jackets Courtney Calvert, Sarah Tyutin and Natalie Malone.

Between the three ladies, there have been hundreds of hockey games watched and countless ups and downs following the careers of their boyfriends and husbands – but none of them had gotten serious about learning to play hockey until Sarah joined a “learn to play” class put on by the Chiller Ice Rinks and Chiller Adult Hockey League commissioner (and former Blue Jacket) Martin Spanhel.

Five years ago, Spanhel started an hour-long class on Friday mornings for a group of hockey moms who had expressed interest in wanting to get on the ice and learn the basics. He has taught several groups over the years and helped introduce hundreds if not thousands of people to hockey, but until recently, those groups had not included the wives of girlfriends of NHL players.

One group email from Tyutin to the wives and girlfriends sought to change that.

“It definitely took some convincing,” Tyutin said, laughing.

“For them, I want (this class) to be fun, that’s the No. 1 thing,” Spanhel said. “Most of them have kids or will have kids that play hockey. It’s great to see them every Friday morning with the smiles on their faces. I also try to make it a workout for them; instead of going to the gym, they come here, have fun playing hockey and work out at the same time.

“With Sarah coming in here and trying it herself, she really wanted to have all the wives and girlfriends (involved). It’s been great, and I’m really thankful to Sarah that she brought those girls in. We’re so thrilled to have them and all the other girls love to be around them.”

The group has grown to as many as six of the Lady Jackets, but trades, injuries and pregnancies have contributed to that number fluctuating.

Spanhel, assisted occasionally by former Ohio State head coach John Markell, wanted to introduce ladies to hockey in a fun, relaxed environment and it seems to fit his personality perfectly. Some of the ladies make it a point to regularly tease him about his hair – and the occasional lack of product – or just give him a hard time between drills.

The drills focus on stickhandling, shooting technique and skating and Spanhel always tries to keep it light but educational at the same time.

“It’s just a fun time,” Tyutin said. “It’s laid back and a lot of us have kids, so we’re not really able to be injured with everything else going on in our lives. It’s competitive but not too competitive that we’re getting hurt. It’s a relaxed class, too, and Martin (Spanhel) and John (Markell) do a great job.

“You get a good appreciation for what our husbands and boyfriends do on the ice. I was always really athletic growing up and I just missed the aspect of team sports. It’s also a great workout and it’s a way that we spend our Friday mornings with a bunch of ladies just having fun.”

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