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The slap shot, fired from just over the blue line by college hockey's leading scorer, illuminated the red light in a nearly empty arena. The bewildered goaltender reached back to retrieve the puck. And Kathy Lawler put another notch on her stick.
In three seasons at Potsdam College, in upstate New York, Lawler has racked up 240 goals and 105 assists while her team has won 61 of 73 games. In the sixth game of Potsdam's recently completed season, the 5'2", 135-pound center with size 2 skates broke the women's career scoring record of 255 points set by Kathy Bryant of the University of New Hampshire from 1977-81. She is one point shy of the men's alltime career scoring record of 346 points set by Phil Latreille at Middlebury College from 1957-61. And she has a year to get those two points. As a freshman, she surpassed the men's single-season scoring mark of 108 points (also set by Latreille, in 1960-61 and later matched by Clarkson College's Dave Taylor, now a forward for the NHL Los Angeles Kings) with 74 goals and 45 assists for 119 points. In 21 games this season, she broke her own record with 93 goals and 30 assists for 123 points. For her career, she has averaged slightly more than a hat trick per game.
"Kathy is on a level that is about four or five stories above 95% of the women playing hockey right now," says Lady Bears Head Coach Brian Doran. "She knows where and when to go after the puck, she uses the boards like no one else and she has great feet. She could be a forward on a men's team."
Which is exactly what Kathy Lawler once was in her earlier years on ice. After whacking sticks with her brother Kevin and his friends on Putz Pond in Fitchburg, Mass., she tucked her hair under her helmet, filled out an application under the name "K. Lawler" and tried out for the previously all-boys youth team (ages 10 to 12) in the area.
"At first, they thought I was just another guy," says Lawler. "Some people at Webber Lumber [the sponsor] knew me but didn't say anything. I didn't want to do anything against the rules, so my mother and I told them the truth."
And so the mystery guest was uncovered. Lawler, known as "The Flying Braid" to her teammates, led the league in scoring midway through her first season and finished third.
"I heard comments all the time," she says. "People asked, 'Is she a girl? Is she a hippie?' The macho players said I didn't belong there and they took extra runs at me. I just gave it back with a good check. You've got to be able to dish it out and take it in this game."
Her parents, although concerned about her safety, never tried to dissuade her from playing with the guys. "When she started, she was a better skater than a lot of the boys," says her mother, Jane. And they knew she could take care of herself. Bill Lawler, Kathy's father, recalls, "One guy [in the peewee league] told her after a game that he had been after her and had tried to run her three times. Twice he hit the boards and then finally hurt himself enough that he had to leave the game."
After three years with the traveling squad in bantams (ages 12 to 15) and three more with the midgets and a junior high school team, Lawler was still the only girl competing with the boys in the Fitchburg area. Some parents complained, perhaps after Lawler shamed their sons, and wondered aloud, "What's she doing playing here?"
The inevitable tryout with the previously all-boys high school team paid off; Lawler landed a spot as a defenseman. The Fitchburg High School coach, Bill Putnam, a former resident of Potsdam who would later play a key role in Kathy's decision to attend Potsdam, had followed her progress and welcomed her to his team.