For the love of the game
ROBIN DEMAREST COURTSEY PHOTO
Goalie Robin Demarest and a teammate on the O’Leary Hawks hockey club discuss the next play. Demarest has been playing hockey since she was 15.
Robin Demarest is taking a technical writing class at Wash-tenaw Community College as a part of her business for her work. She works at Horiba Instruments in Ann Arbor, which makes equipment for emissions for the Emergency Protection Agency and automotive companies.
This tells you nothing about Demarest, though.
She’s a hockey goalie.
She started playing when she was 15 years old and never looked back. She’d have her mom tie up her skates, then walk down to a pond through the snow to play with her brothers who are seven and five years older than her.
“I was the smallest, so I was put at goalie,” said Demarest, who is from Flat Rock.
She didn’t play organized hockey until she was 20, out in Garden City.
“The team wasn’t very good, and I had friends on a team in Livonia,” said Demarest. “They needed another goalie and asked me. It was like being traded from a really bad team to a Stanley Cup champion.”
The Livonia team, which was later named the Michigan O’Leary Hawks in 1989, was definitely a champion. Its 20-year statistics include seven state titles and one USA National Championship in 1995. During that span, the Hawks went 556-211-113. Demarest was on the team for 12 of those years, which included the National Championship year.
“In our first year, we went to Boston for the women’s championship,” said Demarest. “We finished runner-up.”
Demarest played with many Olympic skaters. She skated with Shelley Looney, who scored the Gold Medal game-winning goal to beat Canada in the first-ever Women’s Hockey Olympic Finals matchup in 1998 in Nagano. Looney played on the 2002 Silver Medal USA team too.
“She’s really nice,” said Demarest of Looney. “Some people have quick shots, but she had a really heavy shot.”
Demarest also played with Oona Parvianine, who played for Finland in the Olympics in 2002 and 2006.
“At U.S. Nationals, one team had a girl from Russia, a nice and big girl,” recalled Demarest. “She came in on a breakaway and I stoned her to win. That’s one of my favorite moments that sticks out.
“I loved those one-on-ones. The shooter has all the advantage, and you rob them.”
Demarest served in the Army and later the Navy, which took her from playing for the Hawks. She spent four years in the Army as a vehicle mechanic. She went to the Navy for 16 years as an aviation storekeeper, taking care of parts for aircraft and equipment flight crews.
“I was at Navy air stations, or on aircraft carriers,” said Demarest. “Blessed I never ended up on a destroyer.”
When she came back, she continued to play hockey, only now with the boys. She played at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube and Vets Park.
“I played in the men’s leagues, and that’s when I really start getting injured,” said Demarest.
The injury that forced her to retire was a radial tear in her shoulder by her C5 disc.
“Guy came crashing into the net after I stopped his breakaway,” said Demarest. “But I stopped his breakaway.
“It was always fun to stop guys on breakaways. They thought ‘oh it’s a girl’ and I’d stone them, and they’d smash their stick and say obscenities while skating away.”
But the injuries took their toll.
“One guy broke my ankle,” she said. “He was going to the boards and cut across, my leg had weight on it and flexed my ankle, but it went the wrong way and flexed inward to the bone. Had to screw it back together at UM Hospital.”
That’s not the only abuse she took from boys. Following her playing days, she stayed in the game as a referee. She officiates at Vets Park and The Cube. She refs women, too, but finds men’s league’s far more challenging.
“It’s difficult,” Demarest said modestly. “I feel like putting my résumé on the back of my sweater. Refs quit because of verbal abuse, and I put up with more than my male counterparts. They respect a male who might not know the game more than me, and that’s tough.
“But you got to have tough skin and take it and enjoy it.”
Demarest is finding more joy in lower-level leagues. She refs two leagues that are at the beginner stage where as a ref, she’s helping to teach the game.
“It’s great seeing people improve every year,” she said. “I plan on refereeing until I can’t do that anymore.”
Although her glory days of playing may be over, Demarest is still getting so much out of the game she loves.
“It’s been a good way to stay in the game and give back.”