It’s the first question most people ask Alexa Gaulke once they find out she plays hockey.
“They usually ask if I am Canadian,” Gaulke says. “I actually get that a lot.”
Those doing the asking, more times than not, anticipate yes being the answer. After all, who plays hockey? She has to be from the Great White North.
Moose Jaw? Medicine Hat? Saskatoon? It’s one of those, right?
A soft sigh normally follows before she supplies her response.
“No, I’m not Canadian,” Gaulke declares.
Once the Tacoma native sets the record straight on her citizenship, the conversation heads in another direction, one that significantly perks Gaulke’s interest up.
“Then they say they didn’t even know you could play hockey here,” Gaulke says.
If a sullen “no” proceeds the first inquiry, the second question is followed by a resounding “yes” from Gaulke, and it’s a confirmation filled with excitement and exuberance a plenty as you only need to have a brief chat with her to understand the extent of her hockey passion.
Absolutely you can play hockey here — and Gaulke couldn’t be happier because of it.
Gaulke, a junior at Wilson High School, proudly plays in the Tacoma Junior Hockey Association (TJHA ) as a member of the Tacoma Rockets for the past 2-½ years.
Gaulke says she knew little about hockey when she started, but everyone was just so welcoming. “The other players and the coaches were so supportive and helpful,” she recalls. “It was like that from the beginning for me. It definitely made it easier when you’re learning something new.”
Less than three years ago, it’s safe to say, Gaulke was right there with the other misinformed individuals who had no idea ice hockey was available to play locally.
Volleyball had always taken center stage in the past for Gaulke, who was the starting libero for the Rams varsity squad this past fall, but, as it turned out, there was plenty of room for two sports within her fandom once she attended her first Western Hockey League game.
Hockey is a unique sport. It’s fast and physical. Some believe once you attend your first live game, you’re hooked.
That scenario proved to be the case for Gaulke, who knew before the first intermission volleyball would finally have some competition for her attention.
“I went to a Seattle Thunderbirds game and I just fell in love with the sport,” Gaulke says. “I had never seen anything else like it. It’s so much fun.”
So, what initially generated the interest?
“The food and the fights,” Gaulke admits with a chuckle. “That’s what I remember most about that first game.”
New hockey fans pop up all the time, but Gaulke didn’t want to just sit in the stands as a spectator, she wanted to be out there on the ice.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to give it a try,” Gaulke says. “So, we just started looking around for places locally that I could join.”
It didn’t take long for Gaulke before she stumbled upon TJHA. And faster than a Ryan Getzlaf slap shot, Gaulke was slipping on a Tacoma Rockets sweater and lacing up her skates.
Everything was shaping up perfectly.
Except for one problem.
“I really hadn’t skated before,” Gaulke says.
You can mask a lot of your shortcomings out on the ice when you’re playing hockey. Lack of minimal skating skills, however, is not one of them.
But Gaulke was more than game.
Yes, the potential of being black and blue afterward was present, but Gaulke was tickled pink to be participating. The pure joy trumped all the bumps and bruises associated with the learning process.
“I do remember my first fall,” Gaulke recalls. “You wonder what you are doing out there when it happens, but you just get used to it and it becomes second nature. [Skating] was something I actually picked up pretty quick.”
With the skating part down, it was time to turn her attention toward playing against others.
“It’s a no-check league,” Gaulke says, “but you will still have some contact. I definitely felt it that first time I hit the ice. It’s all part of the game.”
And it’s a game Gaulke will continue to play as long as she can.
“I think playing volleyball in college is a more likely possibility,” Gaulke says, “but I definitely want to keep playing [hockey] whether in a rec league or someplace like that. I think hockey is always going to be a part of my life.”
Her current season runs September through April with practices on Tuesday and Thursday with the occasional tournament sprinkled in among the league games.
“It’s just great being part of the team,” Gaulke says. “There has never been a time when I felt like the other players treated me any different because I am a girl. It’s always been about the team here. That’s something I really love about hockey.”