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Cloquet resident recalls starting first women's team

Dawn Cockburn in 1985. She was jersey number 4, because she had four children. Special to the Pine Journal1 / 3
This early women’s hockey team from Cloquet made up of players from high school through age 31 took third place in the state tournament in 1985. The subject of our story, Dawn Cockburn, is standing far left in the front row. Special to the Pine Journal2 / 3
Dawn Cockburn stands with her newest hockey stick outside the Barn, the hockey arena in Cloquet where the women’s hockey team she played on in 1985 could only practice after midnight, as the men managing the facility thought it was inappropriate for women to play hockey. At 31, Cockburn was the oldest player on the team, which also included a few high school students as there wasn’t yet a girls team. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal3 / 3

Dawn Cockburn watches girls' sports today with a sense of pride. In a way, she feels she helped build them.

Cockburn, 63, of Cloquet, was a charter member of one of the area's first women's hockey teams: the Cloquet Lady Lumberjacks. In the winter of 1984-85, she got in on the ground floor of what has grown into an international sport.

"My two boys played hockey for eight years," Cockburn said this week. "I was at the old barn a lot because you needed to clean and do concessions. I used to do a lot of announcing during tournaments, mainly to get out of cleaning."

Cockburn speaks with an easy smile and a ready laugh as she recalls the early days of women's hockey in the area.

"There was a note on the bulletin board," she said of how the Lady Lumberjacks were founded. "If you want to join, call this number. Ed Blalock was the main coach. There was another fellow from Scanlon named Terry, but I don't think any of us knew what his last name was. He was 'Terry' to us."

Cockburn jumped at the chance to play hockey.

"When I was in school, there wasn't a lot for girls to do," she said. "Nowadays, you can letter in just about anything. My second-eldest daughter had so many chevrons on her jacket it was like she needed another one."

Her desire for adventure was another reason she decided to play.

"It would have been nice to be able to be part of something that was exciting," she said. "They didn't have much as far as athletics for girls. Synchronized swimming or something."

In the early 1970s, when Cockburn was in school, girls' basketball was just getting off the ground in Minnesota. There were few opportunities for female athletes.

"It was unladylike," Cockburn said. "But I grew up in Scanlon. After I did my homework I was at the skating shack until it closed. Girls weren't allowed on the hockey rink. We had figure skates, not hockey skates. But when the boys started playing, I got a pair of hockey skates and went out there with them."

And the Lady Lumberjacks didn't have things easy when they started, either.

"They gave us ice time in the barn at midnight," she recalled. "If we had practice, it was at midnight. If we had a game, it was at midnight."

The Lady Lumberjacks met the University of Minnesota Duluth Lady Bulldogs, then a club team, often in those days.

"They scrimmaged us a lot," Cockburn said. "We played with Shawna Davidson in that era. We practiced and had drills together. Then we would play teams from the Twin Cities. We used the Lady Bulldogs coaches and drills and we got along great."

And then they would play at the state tournament, which was an entirely different thing back then.

"There were no medals, trophies — nothing," she said. "One year, I was riding home with one of the coaches and a teammate and the coach was looking at the results. Suddenly, he said, 'We took third in the state.' Nobody kept track of the standings."

Cockburn has a litany of stories.

"Women were not allowed in the back room at the old barn," she said. "That was the inner sanctum. We couldn't run the Zamboni. One night, Big Dave Anderson had me on the Zamboni to show me what it did. I didn't drive it — he was just showing me. Someone must have been mad because the next day, there was sign saying no women were allowed to run the Zamboni."

But Cockburn got a dose of schadenfreude soon after.

"The very first week, one of the fathers got on the Zamboni and drove it right through the end boards," she said. "Broke them wide open."

And even though women's hockey was no-check, as it is today, there were still incidents.

"One time I went behind the net, and this woman from the other team hit me into the boards and elbowed me in the kidneys," Cockburn said. "I dropped to my knees, took my stick and hooked both of her feet. We ended up in the penalty box together and she called me everything but a lady. I just laughed at her and said, 'You started it. I wasn't going to let you get away with that!' The more I laughed, the madder she got."

"One time, we were playing in Minneapolis and I was at center ice. This really tall, thin woman skated up to me. She couldn't skate. She lost her balance and legs were like rubber. She was so tall, her elbow hit me right on top of the head. It felt like a chiropractic treatment. She adjusted my whole neck."

Cockburn remembers everything, right down to the uniform.

"The jerseys were white, with blue and green," she said. "I had blue skates, a blue helmet and blue breezers and gloves. I was No. 4 because I had four kids. I don't know who has those jerseys. I'd love to have mine back."

She also remembers her teammates, but some don't remember her.

"I don't think anyone knows anybody anymore," she said. "I ran into an old teammate at Walmart and she didn't recognize me. I saw a woman named Michelle at a baseball game I played with and we laughed about how we always had to play at midnight."

But Cockburn knows what she helped start in Cloquet.

"We helped start women's hockey in Cloquet," she said. "Look at us now. I had a blast and I hope the other girls did, too."