Weekend Warriors: The Pioneer of Women's Hockey In Minnesota

Roland Ring-Jarvi

Sue Ring-Jarvi has played for the Minnesota Blue J's since 1980 -- when she helped found the team.

Sue Ring-Jarvi proudly describes herself as an "absolute fanatic" hockey player. At 65, the Minnesotan has played for more than 40 years. She's on the ice year round, and when she has a day off, she misses it.

"I'm pretty much a hardcore," she says, laughing. "I love hockey, absolutely love it. I love the feeling I get when I play it. I love the camaraderie with all the kids that I'm playing with. Now I'm playing with kids I coached in high school."

Ring-Jarvi plays for several different teams near her hometown of Anoka, with seasons that stretch throughout the entire year. On some weekends, she plays three games.

She is also a pioneer in her sport.

Ring-Jarvi didn't play her first game until graduate school, when she enrolled at the University of Minnesota to pursue a postgrad degree in physical education and a coaching certificate. She met a group of women who played hockey, and loved the sport immediately.

So she founded a women's hockey club team at the school in 1974. That club eventually led to the founding of the school's women's varsity hockey program. She was as good a player as she was an organizer, with 65 goals and 50 assists in 38 games in one season. She was later voted into the school's M Club Hall of Fame in 2003.

In 1977, she helped form the Women's Hockey Association of Minnesota, and in 1980, helped launch the Minnesota Blue J's teams that play in that league (named for her parents, John and Jane, who sponsored the team every year). She also organized clinics and tournaments, and became a referee and a high school coach.

When her son, Ross, was born in 1987, she quickly got him into the game. She had him on ice in skates at 1, even though "he just stood there." When he was 2 years old, he was skating at least three times a week, playing tag and other games to develop his skills. "By the time he was 8, he was the best skater on the ice," she says. "He's still a great skater." Ross went on to play at Gustavus Adolphus College, and then played professionally in Sweden, Norway and the ECHL.

Gustavus Adolphus

Sue Ring-Jarvi (right) with her husband, Roland (left), and son, Ross, during Ross' NCAA career at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Today, Ring-Jarvi has been playing for the Blue J's teams for more than 35 years. For much of that time, she played for the Blue J's A team, helping win national titles. In recent years, she has dropped down to the B1 and B2 teams while adding more national championships on a Senior A team. On her current team, she's one of three players 60 and over, with most in their 50s and some in their 40s.

Ring-Jarvi hates the weight room, instead relying on canoeing to maintain upper-body strength. She walks two miles and runs two miles a day as well, and loves cycling. After competing in triathlons in the early '80s, she returned to the sport last summer, doing a sprint-distance race, and says it was a blessing. She lost 15 pounds in training and increased her stamina. "I have so much more energy," she says. "I can't believe it. I'm in better shape than I was three years ago." She plans to train all year for the same triathlon in 2016 and win her age group. She doesn't do yoga or much stretching. "I'm actually more worried about pulling a joint apart," she says.

She uses her lengthy hockey experience to make up for her loss of speed. "I used to be very fast on the ice, and I'm not now," she says, laughing. "I'm not slow, but I used to beat people just on going around them and now, if I don't plan ahead for somebody who's really fast, they will go right around me."

In 2013, USA Hockey selected her as Adult Ironman of the Year for her decades as a player.  But best of all, she has opened doors to the sport for thousands. She says it's "exceptionally gratifying" to know she has had a major impact on women's hockey in her state. Players she once coached as girls now play with her and against her on the Blue J's. "Players will come up to me and say I was the one that started them when they were 8, or whatever," she says, "I'm proud of women's hockey in Minnesota."

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