By Tom Pedulla—
Perhaps one of the most important lessons Johanna Reimer learned during her four years at Sleepy Hollow High School is that breaking new ground is never easy, but it is extraordinarily rewarding.
Reimer’s determination to play hockey led her to be part of an all-girls team in Mamaroneck as an eighth-grader and later join a boys varsity team as a sophomore and junior at Sleepy Hollow. Now, she is a mainstay for the Section One East Green Wave, the first all-girls varsity team representing Westchester.
The 5-7, 145-pound Reimer has pretty much heard every cutting remark imaginable through the years. Yet she skates on.
“There is resistance everywhere,” said the Sleepy Hollow senior. “Everyone seems to have an opinion on how we should play, what we should play and whether we should even play at all. But I think the most important thing is, all I want is to go out with my team and play some hockey.”
Reimer recalls learning to skate when she was five or six. Her father, Darrell, was born in Canada, where hockey is king, and passed on his love of the sport to his children. She teamed with her brother, Daniel, at the boys’ varsity level before he graduated from Sleepy Hollow last year. Sleepy Hollow merges with other local schools in order to have enough players to constitute a team.
One concern often raised about having girls skate with boys in hockey involves fears about safety. Do girls have the size and strength to compete against their male counterparts?
Although hockey can be a very physical game while players vie for possession of the puck, Reimer did not find that to be an issue.
“It’s all hockey. I don’t think there is a difference between me going out there and getting hit and a boy going out there and getting hit,” she said. “I can definitely hold my own.”
Reimer said her time with the all-girls Mamaroneck team as an eighth-grader served as a wake-up call. “My skills were definitely lacking at that level,” she said.
With constant input and support from her father, she focused on fundamentals and made huge strides. Michael Arias, Sleepy Hollow’s first-year athletic director, is among those impressed by her dedication.
“I can’t say enough great things about her,” he said. “She really took a leadership role on the boys’ merged team last year. She was really helpful in communicating information to not only Sleepy Hollow but to other schools as well. She almost acted like an assistant coach in many ways.”
Arias went on, “I think it’s hard for any kid to take a leadership role. I think under those circumstances, it’s even more impressive, for sure.”
Stacey Wierl, who coaches the East Green Wave, views Reimer as a difference-maker for that inaugural program. Reimer has developed her skills to such an extent that she is able to play wherever she is needed. That includes goaltender, a position she knows well as a mainstay on Sleepy Hollow’s field hockey team.
“By her joining the girls’ program, it established a high level of play,” Wierl said. “She’s a strong, physical, great skater. When you have that level coming into girls’ hockey, it raises the level for everybody around her. She made an immediate impact on the ice because of her skills and hockey knowledge.”
Wierl credits Reimer for having a positive impact on the five eighth-graders on the roster as the fledgling team builds toward the future despite the pandemic.
“Anything that Johanna enjoys is quickly going to become a passion,” the coach said. “She has such an incredible, uplifting, funny personality that anything she dives into, she is going to do at full tilt.”
Reimer will go on to Queen’s University in Canada knowing that she helped pave the way for more girls to play hockey.
“She really embraced being part of the inaugural season,” Wierl said. “She really understands what this meant for the future of female hockey players in Section One. That was very important to her.”
Reimer is not sure where hockey will fit in as she adjusts to the challenges of college life. She is sure the sport will always be important to her.
“I think hockey will stay with me my whole life,” she said.