April 24, 2003
Have Stick, Will Travel
By Howie Mansfield
Women’s Hockey Player Joins Team USA in World Tournament
BRIDGEPORT — Patricia Koch has ice running through her veins. With a dad as a hockey coach and a mother who was a figure skater, going out into the homemade ice rink was a part of family life, Koch said.
“As my brothers and I got older, we started playing hockey. At that time, girls weren’t allow to play hockey. But because my dad was a coach, he would let me play during practice sessions when there weren’t many kids around during the holidays — but never in a game,” she said. “Then this man, Mr. Knight, came up to my dad and said, ‘Do you think your daughter would like to play hockey?’ And during the 1980-81 school year, I played in my first game with real equipment.”
Koch, a parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bridgeport, was selected by the U.S. National Amputee Hockey team to play in its first ever world tournament in Helsinki, Finland from April 25 through May 3. Koch is one or only two women on Team USA and in the tournament. She said the other countries participating have no female players on their squads. The American Amputee Hockey Association (AAHA) is a new hockey association with a primary mission to develop hockey for amputees, individuals missing one of more of their upper or lower extremities. The league’s mottos are “Put your disability on ice” and “Hockey is for every body.” Koch said the AAHA is leading the effort to promote Standing Amputee Hockey in the hope of full recognition as a future sport in the Winter Paralympic Games.
Koch traveled to Massachusetts and Minnesota to try out for the U.S. national team this winter. After intense competition over a number of weeks, Koch was selected for the team. “I was doing some research on the Internet when I found out about this U.S. amputee team, but I didn’t know if I’d make it,” she said. Members of Team USA represent 13 states and range in age from 17 to 40. Now, Koch has the chance to perform on the world stage.
“This is just an awesome opportunity,” said Koch. “It’s hard to explain to people — when I play on an able-bodied team, everyone can pick me out, because I have one arm. People will comment, ‘Wow, she’s good.’ But now, I will be on the same level on the amputee team as the other guys. I never knew other amputees played hockey, and now I do and they are really good.” Koch was born with one arm. She described some of the difficulties, but also shared her triumphs. “People might feel sorry for me, because I have one arm, but I feel blessed. I have the opportunity to travel and meet new people,” Koch said. “Being on Team USA has been great. And some of the guys are also missing their upper extremities. So, I’m not the only one opening a packet of ketchup in a restaurant with their teeth.”
Using the end of the stick on her hip, Koch handles the puck with ease. In fact, she said using a prosthetic would be too cumbersome. She is the only person on Team USA not using one. “I am pretty good with wrist shots,” she said. “I don’t have a strong backhand, but I’m working on it.” While playing on her women’s hockey team in Syracuse, Koch is on defense. But for the national team, she will play wing. “Because I’m quick, they have me go get the puck in the corner and I pass it out to the guys with the big slapshots,” she noted. Koch works full-time as an occupational therapist for the Central Square School District. She said she really enjoys helping others. “I tell them, ‘If I can do this with one hand, you can do it with two.’ It’s a little easier for me to motivate the kids when I’m doing the stuff they need to do,” she explained. “I just love helping people. That’s why I also volunteer so much at the parish, at Bingo and our annual fish dinner.”
The parish really stepped up to help her, she said. “The parishioners are just great. They bought all of the tickets I had to sell for my trip without much effort. Once one person heard, news spread quickly,” she said. “We have truly wonderful priests here, as well as all the parishioners. They have gotten just as excited about this opportunity as I have.” Father Ralph White, OFM Conv., pastor of St. Francis Church, beamed when asked about Koch. “She’s outstanding,” Father White said. “When I mentioned that she was going to Finland, I did it from the altar. Everyone thought it was great. For such a small parish to have someone go to play hockey for Team USA, it’s great.”
Koch talked about receiving a large stack of letters from one parishioner’s elementary school classroom recently — little notes and messages of encouragement for the trip to Finland. She said the letters were special and very meaningful as she prepares for the tournament. Since childhood, Koch has been involved with hockey at some level. She said growth of girls’ and women’s hockey through the success of the USA Women’s Hockey team’s gold medal in the Olympics has continued to drive her interest. “I absolutely love playing hockey. Hockey doesn’t make me frustrated at all. It just comes naturally to me,” Koch said. “Up until two years ago, I was on a team with my brothers. It was a little pick-up game but it was fun. Hockey has always been that way for me.”