Koch: Iron Ranger Goalie
(click on the pictures to view
worked as a photographer for The Mining Journal back in 1969 and '70,
I shot many Iron Rangers games at the old Palestra. I can't imagine
a more photographically challenging venue. If the low light and fast
action didn't get you, the drunken fans would. Enclosed are two photos
I shot during a practice session at the Palestra. Both are of the first
female player in the US Hockey League, a goalie whom I believe played
for the Iron Rangers. I don't recall the young lady's name, but
I do remember that my photo of her ran on the AP wire and was reportedly
picked up by the Los Angeles Times.
Bob "Sudsy" Glantz
Vice President, Writing Director
101 Howard Street, 2nd Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
Girl Goalie by Leonard "Oakie"
How pro hockey's first woman goalie took the world by storm-right
here in Marquette-as told by her coach.
With the tremendous growth of girl's hockey, especially
here in the far north, I think it would be interesting to the sport's
fans and female players to where when and where the first woman hockey
player made her debut and how she fared.
It happened in October 1969 at the old Palestra Ice Arena in
Marquette. It came at opening tryouts for the Marquette Iron Rangers
when all comers war invited to show their skills.
I was the coach for the Iron Rangers, a very strong senior United
States Hockey League team, and the woman player was Karen Koch (pronounced
"Cook") from Gibraltar, Michigan.
In those days the first
night of Iron Ranger practice was a combination of a happening, a civic
event, and a circus with some serious hockey mixed in.
Several players from the previous season were signed to contracts
and two or three good players were signed or about to sign.
Then, there were the usual ten to fifteen guys who either felt
they were good enough to make the team, had been goaded into trying
out by their friends, or had bragged about their hockey skills all summer.
Now it was time to "put up or shut up!"
Upper Peninsula it was every young hockey player’s dream back then to
someday get paid for playing hockey. The Iron Rangers, or some other USHL team was usually their
only practical chance to get paid for playing.
Salaries ranged from $25 per game for marginal rookies to $100
or more per game for top-notch players with a Division I college, minor
league experience or occasionally a former NHL player on the way to
retirement. The USHL was a good deal for many excellent hockey players
because they could hold down full-time jobs and still get some decent
money for playing a game they probably would have played for fun.
Besides, in those days there
were only eight or nine NHL teams (the first expansion took place the
previous Year, 1968). At
that time, the USHL had ninety-five percent of the best American hockey
players, many Canadian Junior "A" graduates who had recently
graduated from U.S. Division I universities and were not quite good
enough for the NHL but wanted to continue playing while they started
their chosen careers.
was strong and the Iron Rangers were the defending champions.
Interest in the team for the coming year was extremely high,
so fan attendance at the first practice was high as well.
By 1969 I had coached for eighteen seasons, so I was used to
all kinds of hype and confusion.
I had a pretty good idea which players I could count on, which
new players should make the team and how to let down gently those who
simply were not good enough to play.
Consequently the Iron Rangers always had one or two guys coming
out of nowhere to become solid team members.
The best example was the Carlson/Hanson Brothers, later famous
for the movie Slap Shot.
I got a big surprise.
Our regular goalie was Brian Lunney, who had been sent to us
by the Toronto Maple Leafs via the Canadian Olympic Team. Outnumber
One backup was Lonnie Lytaikainen, a local kid who showed great promise.
Both were on the ice along with two goalies I had never seen
before and hadn't expected. After a brief talk to the entire group (four
goalies and about twenty-five players), we did some preliminary skating
drills and easy shooting drills so everyone had a chance to show what
they had. Of course, our
best goalie looked good, our backup looked pretty good, but one of the
two newcomers couldn't stop a basketball with a snowshoe. The other
one looked surprisingly quick and made some nice saves in spite of being
We'd been working
for twenty minutes when Barry Cook, our captain, skated up to me and
said, "Coach, did you know that little squirt of a goalie is a
I said. "How do you
"One of the
kids from Northern (Michigan University) told me," he said.
I quickly asked him
to take the practice so I could talk to her myself. She had given
no indication that she was a woman.
All players were required to wear helmets, so with the helmets
and goalie pads it was impossible to tell she was a female.
I motioned her off to the side where we could talk without being
run into or hit by a puck. She
was extremely apprehensive and wouldn’t look at me. (I found out later
that she had expected me to kick her off the ice).
Finally she told
me her name was Karen Koch, she was eighteen years old and she had enrolled
at Northern Michigan University specifically to try out for the Iron
Rangers. She had been playing
hockey and lacrosse with the boys in Gibraltar ever since she could
remember. She went on to
say that none of the senior teams in the Detroit area would give her
a tryout. She said she had heard nothing but good things about
the Iron Rangers and felt she could make the team. She desperately
didn't want to be cut without a fair tryout.
I thought to myself,
A girl goalie...what if she gets hurt?
Where is she going to change clothes? Just how good is
she? For one of the few
times in my life I didn't know what to do.
She had done nothing to justify cutting her.
So I told her we should see how well she did and that she'd be
given a fair tryout.
In subsequent practices
she showed remarkable ability.
Her only drawback was her size.
Both of our goalies were big guys.
They stopped more pucks by accident than she did on purpose.
Hockey's First Female Pro, Karen Koch
Koch's presence on the squad
brought complaints from the veteran players, but even they admitted
she was surprisingly good and probably equal to our regular backup goalie.
Their griping was far overshadowed by the national publicity
she generated after her photo was run in the daily and weekly newspapers.
We got calls from the Associated Press, United Press International,
Reuters and newspapers, radio and TV stations from all over the U.S.
and Canada. It was a major
news story. And, all the
while Karen Koch was stopping pucks and earning her place on the squad.
When it came time to cut the team down to eighteen players and two goalies;
I changed the number and kept seventeen players and three goalies, including
Lunney, Lytaikainen and Koch.
Koch signed a contract for $40 per game. As far as I know
she was the first female player ever to do so in the world.
She played as well
as any of our previous backup goalies when I was able to use her.
She wasn't solid enough to start and play regularly because the
league simply was too good. Word of her being on the squad preceded
our first game of the season in the Canadian Soo.
She caused so much interest that Soo officials called and insisted
that she be announced as the starting goalie to swell attendance.
City staff arranged for the Mayor of Sault St. Marie, Ontario,
who had been a pretty good hockey player in years past, to take a pre-game
penalty shot at Karen-the Mayor going in all-alone against the world's
only female goalie. Her
presence, along with the highly anticipated "shootout”, filled
the arena and she received a standing ovation when she stopped the Mayor's
shot. He received taunting boos as he returned to the stands. She played
the first period, giving up tow goals on twelve shots as the Iron Rangers
left the ice trailing 2-0. Lunney
finished the game with the Iron Rangers winning 5-3.
Later on Koch again
filled the Green Bay Arena when the rumor spread that she was going
to start against the Bobcats. I hadn't planned to start her, but the
sight of more than 5,000 fans in the arena changed my mind.
I decided it would be good for hockey and for the Green Bay coffers.
She played half of the first period but had to come out when she took
one of Paul Coppo's slap shots on the knee above her leg pad and below
her thigh pad. The score
was 1-1 at the time.
As the season wore
on Koch reached a plateau in her ability, partially caused by her small
size. She never missed
a practice and finally was accepted by all but the most chauvinist guys
on the team. Unfortunately, she seemed to have a "death wish"
for a facial scar caused by a hockey puck in a USHL game. She simply
and consistently defied my orders to wear a mask while playing.
After flagrantly removing her mask during all of the games after
Christmas, I was forced to let her go with about ten games remaining
in the schedule.
Koch left NMU the
next semester and went to Canada to play in the Toronto area.
She again made headlines throughout North America when she was
barred by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association from playing on men's
Today Karen is a
legal secretary in Minneapolis.
After her hockey days, she earned bachelors degree at Wayne State
University and a Master's degree at the University of Dayton, both in
the Liberal Arts. She holds
a black belt in judo and is training in jujitsu.
She also is writing and is illustrating her first children's
Kirkland Lake. North Daily News
MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP)
Billed as the first professional female hockey player in North America,
18-year-old goalie Karen Koch says she's not interested in boys, only
hockey. "I just don't have time for boys" says the 130-pound freshman
coed at Northern Michigan University who has already outclassed four
men as goalie for
the semi-professional Marquette Iron Rangers.
Len Brumm, coach for the United States Hockey League team, said Miss
Koch "will have a regular contract with us" although she isn't likely
to be the starting goalie since another player has that spot pinned
Brumm said that she would play in at least seven exhibition games this
year, starting November 5. He said he doesn't know yet if she will play
in the regular season games.
When the brawny semi-pro players thunder in and slam a 60-mile-an-hour
puck at the little brunette guarding the nets, they don't take it easy
SHE'S GOT GUTS
"She's got a lot of guts," says Robert Caster, 175-pound Iron Ranger
"It's hard to believe a girl would just stand there and let us shoot
at her. She's not scared."
"I can't remember when I wasn't playing hockey", says Miss Koch, a freshman
from Gibraltar, Mich. "It is probably true that goalies get hurt most
often but it's really not as bad as most people think".
It took ten stitches to close the gash under her left eye after her
Father whammed a puck at her two seasons ago. She was back tending goal
three days later, wearing a mask for the first time.
Miss Koch says her parents don't object at all to her love of hockey.
"They told me that as long as I think I can handle it, they won't interfere".
MAY BE A PROBLEM
Ranger players are wondering what sort of dressing room procedures will
be observed once she joins the team.
Right now there are no shower room problems since the coed leaves her
dormitory already dressed for the ice except for her bulky shin pads
and she trots back to the campus after scrimmages.
A hockey player since she was 12, Miss Koch said she enrolled in Northern
Michigan University expecting to play varsity hockey. She said she was
upset afterward that the school had no hockey team.
Persistent, she tried out for the Iron Rangers, who found themselves
without a strong backup goalie last year.
The United States Hockey League is composed of semi-pro teams in Rochester,
Minn.; Green Bay, Wisc.; and Sault St. Marie, Ont.; in addition
to the Marquette club.