When the Butte Copper Kings high school hockey got into a fight during a game this season, nobody faulted Cassidy McGree for staying out of the fracas.
That’s because at 5-foot-1 McGree doesn’t exactly fit the role of an enforcer. Also, she is the only girl on the team.
“I just watched,” McGree says. “My dad wouldn’t be happy if I got involved in the fight.”
McGree plays for the Copper Kings, a high school hockey team. She also plays for the U-19 Big Sky Wildcats, a group of All-Star girls from around the entire state of Montana.
“Butte doesn’t have any girls’ teams, so that was my only option,” McGree says.
Last weekend was a big one for McGree and the Wildcats, who went to Gillette, Wyo., and won the regional title. The win sends the Montana girls to San Jose, Calif., for nationals, which start April 3.
McGree, a junior at Butte Central, also tried out for and earned a spot on a team that will compete in the National Invitational Tournament in Minnesota later in April.
“Track starts today, but I just extended my (hockey) season by a month,” McGree said on Monday, the day practice for spring sports can start in Montana. “It was a pretty big weekend. I’m excited.”
With a name like McGree in Butte, people might expect that Cassidy was born wearing a track uniform, and of course, she participates in track and field. However, hockey was always her passion.
“That’s my favorite thing,” she says of the sport she learned to love while visiting relatives from her mother’s side of the family. McGree’s mother, Laurie, is a former goalie from Edmonton.
“I started playing when I was in third or fourth grade,” Cassidy McGree says. “I saw my cousins play in Canada, and I said, ‘That is what I want to do.'”
McGree, a defenseman, has a hard time coming up with a number for the amount of hockey games she’s played in since the Butte Central volleyball season ended in November.
“Our seasons don’t conflict, so it’s kind of nice,” she says. “One weekend I’m with the girls, the next I’m with the boys. I’m never home.”
McGree, who points out that she’s probably 5-foot-3 on skates, isn’t just taking up a spot on the ice. She’s a co-captain on her girls’ team. She’s an assistant caption for the boys. Last March, she had an assist in the championship game as the Copper Kings brought home the state title from Missoula.
“I have a big white ‘A’ on my jersey,” McGree says of her duties on the Copper Kings. “On my girls team we have three team captains, but no one wears the ‘C’ because we balance each other out. So all three of us have an ‘A.'”
The other two captains on the girls’ team are seniors. McGree has been a captain on that team since she was a freshman. She’s played on the team since she was an eighth grader.
Cassidy’s father says he never had any reservations about sending his daughter onto the ice with the Copper Kings.
“I really wasn’t all that nervous about her playing with the boys,” says Cassidy’s father, John McGree. “She sees the ice really well, and the girls game has taught her that you don’t have to out muscle your opponent to compete, so she skates smart and avoids most of the big hits. Every now and then though, she’ll take one that makes you sit up and take notice, then you just hope for the best.”
Hitting isn’t a problem for Cassidy McGree.
“That was my favorite thing when I was little,” she says. “In girls, you’re not supposed to hit. But when you get to that level it gets pretty physical.”
Playing with the boys and girls has benefited McGree in other ways, she says.
“Playing with the boys makes you so much better because they’re so fast,” McGree says. “When you play with the girls, they’re not as fast.”
McGree says a lot of people really don’t understand what is involved in playing hockey.
“It takes so much skill to skate and handle the puck while looking for teammates, and trying or trying not to get hit,” she says. “Hockey is a lot harder sport then most people think. They think it’s always just a bunch of goons fighting, but it’s not. Especially girls hockey, it has so much finesse to it. Everyone is always surprised when I tell them I play hockey because I like to get all dressed up for things like Prom.”
McGree, who will turn 17 while in Minnesota for the NIT tournament, is one of two girls in her immediate family. She’s the only hockey player of the two McGree girls.
“She’s really into baking cakes,” McGree says of her 13-year-old sister Chelsey. “She’s really good at it. We get along pretty good. My little sister Chels supports me so much, and is my biggest fan.”
Cassidy McGree and the girls will be making their second trip to nationals. The team actually won the tournament two years ago.
Last year, the Wildcats missed nationals after losing a five-overtime game to Wyoming.
Last weekend, the Montana girls got some revenge. The Wildcats won Friday night’s game 6-0 before falling 4-3 Saturday morning. That set up another marathon game on Saturday night.
The Wildcats won in double overtime. The winning goal came 1 minute, 28 seconds before a third overtime.
“At that point, you’re just exhausted,” McGree says.
Also exhausting is the travel involved in playing hockey. McGree’s boys’ team is actually made up with players from Butte and — get this — Miles City, which is a 5-hour drive from the Mining City.
“Both my mom and dad sacrifice a lot for me to play hockey,” McGree says. “The travel, hours put in, money, things like that. My mom has helped coach both my teams since I was a little kid.”
McGree says her goal is to play college hockey before moving back to her hometown to be with her large extended family.
She also wants to give back to the hockey community in the Mining City.
“Hockey is not big in Butte. Even when we won state last year, nobody really knew,” McGree says. “I definitely want to come back to Butte when I get done with college. That’s where my family is, and I have a huge family.”
McGree says she wants to help make sure girls know they can follow their dreams. She also doesn’t want them to have to be the only girl on a boys’ team.
“I want to get people involved, especially the girls,” she says. “There’s so many opportunities for girls.”
Cassidy McGree’s trip to nationals and the NIT depend largely on sponsorships. To sponsor the Butte hockey player, contact McGree at firstname.lastname@example.org.