Hockey moms, like their sports-professional counterparts of any sex, kick butt when necessary. Here in the mid-Hudson, the go-to place for adult women who like to play hockey for fun is the Kiwanis Ice Arena in Saugerties. It’s the home base for three USA Hockey Association teams: the coed Mustangs, the Fillies for youths and the Nightmares for women. “We’re a horse town,” notes Tina Dierna with regard to the team names.
Along with teammates Katelyn Baxter and Amy Montalbano, Dierna has been busy the past couple of months organizing a big fundraising event set for Saturday, January 7 from 7:45 to 9:30 p.m. at the Arena. This is not an exhibition game or tournament, but a Disco Skate open to all who enjoy ice skating for a $10 entry fee. A live disc jockey will play danceable music, decade by decade, under disco lighting. There will also be a silent auction and a basket raffle – the fun kind where you put your tickets in the jar next to the prize package you most want to win.
The Nightmares fundraise for charities for women and girls on a regular basis, but the beneficiaries whose plight inspired them to pull this latest event together are a family in Catskill who lost their home and nearly all their possessions in a November house fire. “They were living in an RV in a friend’s driveway for a while,” Dierna reports. While the family has now found housing, their $15,000 in renters’ insurance didn’t make much of a dent in getting them reestablished. A relative set up a GoFundMe appeal that at presstime was almost halfway to its $20,000 goal (www.gofundme.com/f/ydjut6-house-fire?member=23316473&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_content=undefined&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer&utm_term=undefined).
The mother of the household struck by tragedy, Rachel Leo-Zwoboda, is a “longtime hockey mom” whose “kids played in Saugerties Youth Hockey,” says Dierna. “Rachel is a widow who was playing with us for a while. She has two children from her prior marriage and works as a store manager. She and her late husband were really involved in the community. After her husband died of cancer, she ended up finding love again, settling down with a widower with four kids and blending their families. It was so nice to see her working through her trauma. She had a new baby last year, and after she healed from that she rejoined the Nightmares this year.”
Both parents had been at work and their older children in school when the fire broke out on November 15, but a babysitting grandmother was able to get their infant out safely. “Nothing could be salvaged,” Dierna says sadly, “except her hockey gear, which was hanging up on a tree outside drying out.”
For Dierna, the coincidentally saved equipment was a callback to an incident in her own life that seemed like a message from the universe that it was time to turn to her hockey family. She had played the game as a kid and signed up to be a coach for the Fillies when she moved to Saugerties in “2008 or 2009,” she recalls. “Then I had a high-risk pregnancy and had to quit. I didn’t even know they had a women’s team.” In 2018, as she was going through a divorce and in need of some fun in her life, a friend invited her to join the Nightmares, saying, “Maybe you’ll like it.”
“So, I brought my hockey gear upstairs. And then the city septic system backed up into my basement and destroyed almost everything. I said to myself, ‘Is this a sign?’”
What Dierna found was a warm welcome from a tight-knit, supportive group of women. “I felt empowered and cared about,” she says. “I joined and became fully committed. I took over the Nightmares’ social media and created a Mailchimp landing page. In the next few years, we started winning games; we went from a small recreational team to become more competitive.”
These days, women come from a 45-mile radius of Saugerties to play with the Nightmares. “We are the mid-Hudson women’s ice hockey team,” she says. While the players come from diverse backgrounds, many work in the helping professions – Dierna herself is a social worker – which may help explain the nurturing atmosphere cultivated by the group. They all pay an annual fee of $575 to cover the team’s ice time and pay their own way to attend games and tournaments throughout the Northeast. The coaches all volunteer their time.
Each March the Nightmares participate in the Stick It to Brain Tumors fundraiser at Union College in Schenectady; each May, at the end of their skating season, they host their own May Melt Tournament and donate the proceeds to a charity with a mission focused on girls and women. This year it will benefit Miles of Hope, a local organization that assists Hudson Valley families impacted by breast cancer. So, raising money for one of their own who has encountered personal tragedy is a natural step for the team. “When the Nightmares do something, we don’t just do it – we do it hard,” Dierna says proudly.
The team is always looking for new members. “Our mission is to support young females in being active in their communities and for themselves,” says Dierna. To try out, “The only thing you need to know is how to skate, how to stop and how to get up.” The Kiwanis Arena hosts regular “Sticks and Pucks” drop-in practice sessions where wannabes can borrow gear and hone their skills.