Lauren Orynawka practically grew up in ice skates. She started playing ice hockey when she was barely 4 years old. By age 6, Lauren was skating as a forward for youth hockey teams. At Iroquois High School, she played goalie on the boys hockey team. She also competed on the girls lacrosse team.
At age 19, Orynawka wears goalie pads for two different teams. She is a netminder for Buffalo Stars 19U, competing in a women’s league. As a full-time student at D’Youville College, Orynawka starts in goal for the school’s club-level men’s hockey team, the Spartans.
Orynawka, a freshman who studies physical therapy, is the only woman on the roster. D’Youville founded its club hockey program in 2010. Sponsored by the college’s Department of Veterans Affairs, the Spartans are coached by Ed Draper.
People Talk: Hockey must play a major role in your family.
Lauren Orynawka: My dad went to college for ice hockey at Geneseo. And I have two brothers. One is 26. One is 20. My dad kind of got us all into it, and I just took after my brothers. We all did and we all loved it, but I’m the one who stuck with it the longest.
PT: How do you train? Do you do yoga?
LO: I practice all the time, four or five times a week. I work on my movement, speed. I do a lot of skating.
PT: What part of being a goalie is mental?
LO: It’s definitely a different mindset for sure. Mentally it’s different from playing any other position. You have to be mentally ready to accept the fact you’re getting hit. A lot of people can’t do that. They flinch from shots. Like if a puck is flying at your face, you have to not flinch and just take it.
PT: What did you think the first time you were hit in the face?
LO: Ouch? I mean, it hurt. It rattles your brain, definitely – you feel the impact. But helmets these days are so good. I haven’t had one concussion yet. So I’m definitely well-protected, and because of that I realize nothing is going to happen to me. I feel safe in my equipment, which makes me a better goaltender.
PT: Was your uniform made with a woman in mind?
LO: I wouldn’t say so. I wish they would make the chest protector different. I feel like they should make more padding for girls. It’s kind of thin, and you can definitely feel it when it hits you.
PT: What’s the locker room like?
LO: I definitely get my own locker room for every game because I’m not going to get dressed with the boys. That’s just weird. It’s kind of nice, very peaceful. If you go in their locker room, there’s music blasting. They’re all talking and throwing stuff. And in mine it’s dead silence. I like it that way.
PT: Do you replay games in your brain?
LO: Sometimes, but most of the time – especially when I’m on my A-game – I kind of live in the moment and forget. I’ll get off the ice and not remember how many saves I’ve made, where they were. I’m so focused on the here and now that in one second, it’s gone. That’s how a goaltender should be, because you kind of have to forget things or you won’t play well.
PT: How do you get in focus for a game?
LO: When the players warm up, they skate around and shoot the puck into the net. The net is empty; I’m not it in yet. I watch each puck go into the net. I watch every single person shoot the puck into the net. It helps me focus on just that one thing that is important for that one moment. It helps me focus on the puck.
PT: Do you wear makeup for a game?
LO: Sometimes I do. When it’s like a morning game? No. If it’s an afternoon game, yes. Especially when I’m playing with boys. I don’t want to look bad.
PT: How does the other team react to you?
LO: It’s funny, because some people don’t like it. My first game of the season, actually, one of the players on the other team ran me and knocked me over on purpose just because, I think, they wanted me to get scared and never come back. So some guys I feel are not intimidated but mad at the fact a female is entering their domain. Other people are OK with it. They barely ever hack at me. They show me respect. My teams love me, and I love them. That’s all that really matters.
PT: Did you ever get in a fight on the ice?
LO: Not for college, but when I played high school hockey I did punch a guy in the face once. He fell on top of me and I was really mad because he did it on purpose, so I punched him in the face with my blocker. I got a roughing penalty, but that’s OK. That was my only penalty ever.
PT: Goalies, place kickers, punters all get tagged as loners or weirdos. What do you think about that?
LO: I agree. We are kind of loners, and we are weird because we have our own mindset about the games that we play. We have our own special things that keep us kind of sane in our position. I know a lot of people who have to smack the post a couple times when they play goalie. They have to smack it a certain way and hit it so many times. Little superstitions like that make people think we’re weird, but it’s kind of like the sane environment for us. That’s really important, because nobody understands our job until they do it themselves.
PT: Who is your goalie hero?
LO: Martin Brodeur. I love the New Jersey Devils. They’re my favorite team, and the Sabres. I love the Sabres, too.
PT: Is there anything you don’t like about hockey?
LO: The checking part. It’s fun to watch people get hit at Sabres games and stuff, but I’ve seen people get separated shoulders, knee injuries – stuff that could easily have been prevented if you played aggressive hockey instead of going out to clobber people. Some players, especially guys, don’t wear their helmets properly. They wear them very loose, or they don’t wear their mouth guard. That’s something that really needs to be cracked down on because concussions are a big thing. My goalie coach actually can’t play hockey anymore because he got too many concussions.
PT: How did you come to study physical therapy?
LO: I saw a lot of injuries that occurred over my time playing sports. I played field hockey, too, and lacrosse. I saw how my friends had to recover from those events in order to get back to the sport they loved. I realized that may be something I’d want to do, because I know how important sports are to me. To be able to help somebody else get back to the sport they love would be the best thing in the world for me.