FALMOUTH — Flowers and brunch are nice, but for one dedicated group of moms in Greater Portland, Mother’s Day means something else entirely.

Competitive ice hockey.

For the sixth year in a row, about two dozen women will gather late Sunday morning at Family Ice Center, lace up skates, pull on shin guards and buckle their helmets in order to play a game almost none of them learned as children. Some kids and husbands will be in the stands or working the scoreboard.

“But mostly, it’s for us,” said Megan Guertler, a mother of three from Yarmouth who took up the sport nine years ago. “The older our kids have gotten, the less they come to games. When they were little, I think we looked a lot cooler.”

Members of the Morning Hockey Society, as reads the tagline on the bottom of their jerseys, meet on Monday and Friday mornings during the school year for a few warm-up drills followed by nearly an hour of pick-up hockey.

“It’s truly the best two hours of the week,” Guertler said. “We rearrange everything around these two hours.”

On Friday morning, Guertler was one of 14 women playing 5-on-5 with two subs per team. Instead of goaltenders, they tipped the nets forward so that any goal would count only if shot into the half-moon-shaped netting, above the red metal crossbar that lay flat on the ice.

Not that they even kept track of the score. On Friday, there were no officials, no whistles, no coaches and no fans. Seven women wore white jerseys, six wore dark blue. Tamiko Davies wore red because she had subbed the previous hour with an older men’s group. She also plays with men Tuesday and Thursday mornings at Portland’s Troubh Arena.

Davies, 46, of Portland played field hockey as a girl but didn’t take up ice hockey until 10 years ago, at her wife’s suggestion.

“When you’re playing, you’re so in the moment,” said Davies, a mother of two teenagers. “It’s not ‘Did I pay the rent or mortgage?’ or ‘What am I going to feed the kids for dinner?’ None of that. It’s hard to find that (escape) now. You’re just: Where’s the puck? I want the puck.”

“Hockey is like recess,” said Patti Martin, 53, of South Portland. “You can’t worry about anything else when you play.”

Martin, an airline pilot, had never even skated before she took up the sport seven years ago.

“It used to be just about the hockey,” she said by phone during a layover in Chicago. “Now it’s about the women playing. We are a family. I would do anything for them.”

Annika Ziervogel gets a high five after scoring a goal at Family Ice Center Friday, May 12, 2017. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

‘SOCIAL SUPPORT … AND EXERCISE’

These moms are part of a growing trend in America. Since 2009, when the Morning Hockey Society first began playing together, the number of adult women registered with USA Hockey has grown 31 percent to 18,335 in the 2015-16 season, according to the most recent statistics available.

Sounds coming off the ice Friday came from the usual carving of skates, shouts muffled by mouthguards and the slapping of pucks on sticks. Absent were any arguments, bodies slamming into boards or insistent pounding of sticks on ice, demanding a pass.

Once, after Sally Morris fell to the ice because of an inadvertent bump from Annika Ziervogel, there was laughter, an apology and a helping hand from Ziervogel to assist Morris back to her feet.

“We’re always like, ‘I’m sorry. Are you OK?’ ” said Laura Newman, 52, of Portland while watching from the bench. “It’s so fun to have this combination of social support and fun and exercise.”

Newman, in her sixth year with the group, said the camaraderie – among women she might not otherwise have met – is a big reason she keeps coming back.

“We’ve been through divorces, parent deaths, kids’ sicknesses, buying and selling of houses, politics,” she said. “You play hockey to forget about the miserable stuff. Well, that’s not the only reason, but it’s certainly a benefit.”

Hockey requires so much gear that the half-hour in the locker room before and after each session turns into valued social time, said Kristen Stetson, a graphic designer from North Yarmouth whose two teenage boys both play, the eldest for Greely High. He’ll be a referee at Sunday’s game. When she watches them play, she doesn’t utter a peep.

“There are some parents, when they’re watching their kids they’re screaming at them,” said Stetson, 50. “It’s clear to me that they have no idea how hard it is.”

Jill McGowan of Falmouth is a noted shirt designer. Her son Theo Hembre is a junior at Falmouth High who caught the hockey bug early and hopes to play in college. At first, McGowan lamented her fate.

“I thought, oh my God, this is going to be my life, in rinks,” McGowan said. “I really wasn’t into it.”

Seven years ago, upon turning 50, she received hockey skates for her birthday from her husband and son. The trend continued on that Mother’s Day with socks (pink and black horizontal stripes), a stick, a jersey from the University of Maine (her alma mater) and a hockey bag.

“I had said I wanted to do it, and then I didn’t follow up, so I was surprised when they got the gear,” McGowan said. “One thing that’s really been great is when I saw the kids get hit on the boards, I would cringe. But now I know how well the gear works.”

Her first big fall came after she backed into the net and fell on her face.

“You think you’ve broken every bone in your body,” she said, “but the gear works!”

Kristen Stetson and Laura Newman share a laugh in the locker room after playing in a hockey game at Family Ice Center in Falmouth Friday, May 12, 2017. To the right is Kim McLean. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

FOR THE LOVE OF THE SPORT

Ziervogel, the accidental checker of Morris (they were neighbors in Pownal), started playing shortly after her two children took up the sport. Now her 16-year-old daughter plays lacrosse and her 13-year-old son soccer and tennis.

“They gave up on it but I stuck to it,” said Ziervogel, 43, who now lives in Cumberland. “I had played a tiny bit of pond hockey between the ages of 8 and 10, but only on figure skates.”

Morris, 50, of Portland grew up in Massachusetts when Bobby Orr was a star for the Boston Bruins. She played in Learn to Skate programs until she was 7, when she was told only boys could continue into organized hockey. She has two brothers, and played with them on ponds and the family’s backyard rink.

The only reason she still has cable television, she said, is to watch the Bruins.

“The reason I love hockey is the flow of the game,” she said. “It’s one of the few sports that the offense and the defense are involved in every play. It makes it really fun.”

Both of her teenage sons play for Waynflete, which has a co-op team that includes players from South Portland and Freeport. They had been playing for about five winters before she laced up skates and joined the morning group.

“We don’t really take ourselves too seriously,” she said. “It’s fun to have a good workout, but we also try and make sure any beginners who come and want to learn the sport, there’s room for them, too.”

And every May, on the second Sunday of the month, you can find her on the ice in full gear.

“That’s the best way to celebrate Mother’s Day,” she said, “to play hockey with your friends.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH