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Sold-out crowd packs arena for heckled female hockey goalie’s return to the ice

Since a crowd chanted vulgarities at her during an Oct. 28 game, Olympians and other supporters have rallied behind the Pennsylvania high school goalie.

A female high school ice hockey goalie who left in tears after being viciously heckled at a game last month returned to the ice Monday night, this time to cheers from a sold-out Pennsylvania arena that included friends, fans and an Olympian.

Students from Armstrong High School chanted vulgarities at the Mars Area High School’s female goalie during an Oct. 28 game between the teams.

Videos surfaced on social media showing a group of dozens of students in the stands chanting offensive and sexist comments directed at the goalie, with no one stopping them. By the second period of the game, the goalie was in tears, Mars coach Steve Meyers told the Associated Press.

Armstrong students were later barred from attending the school’s hockey games and the team was placed on probation for the remainder of the 2021-22 season, including the playoffs, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League said Thursday. Siblings of varsity players can attend games only if with a parent or guardian.

Monday night’s game was a triumphant match for the goalie, who was met with support from over 800 people packed into the UMPC Lemieux Complex, the practice and training facility for the Pittsburgh Penguins, NBC affiliate WPXI of Pittsburgh reported.

Fans were seen holding signs that said, “Girls are strong!” and “We belong on the ice!”

Brianne McLaughlin-Bittle, a two-time Olympic silver medalist who now serves as goaltending coach for the U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team, was in attendance at Monday night’s game. 

“It’s pretty, pretty cool. Every time she makes a save this place goes nuts!” she told WXPI. 

Meghan Duggan, who won gold when she served as captain of the U.S. Ice Hockey Team at the 2018 Winter Olympics, also voiced her support for the goalie.

She tweeted last week: “Every time you take the ice, women & girls all over the hockey community are proud of YOU! You represent so much more than the hateful words that were directed toward you. I stand with you.”

Following the outrage over the video, the Mars Hockey Club Board of Directors issued a statement condemning the incident, while keeping the goalie’s name private. 

“Clearly, the incident that happened on Oct. 28 was completely unacceptable and the entire hockey community must take steps to ensure that any similar conduct will never happen again. We are hopeful that the attention this incident has drawn will shed light on the issues our female athletes face which must not be tolerated and that this attention will help with eliminating this type of conduct from our sport,” the Board said.

“We are proud of our goalie both as a student athlete and for her resilience in persevering though these events,” the statement added.

Mars Area School District Superintendent Mark Gross said in a Nov. 1 statement the Armstrong Area School District administration reached out to apologize for the incident and to ensure a “thorough investigation.”

“We are confident that the Armstrong Area School District’s efforts will lead to appropriate discipline for those involved while also minimizing the potential for future incidents. It is our understanding that they will also be reaching out to the victim through the issuance of a formal apology,” Gross said.

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