They traveled different paths to the same destination, and now, the eagle they carry in their hearts is depicted on the jerseys they wear.
Misty Spencer of the Spokane Tribe of Indians and Alexia Diablo of the Xaxli’p Band of the St’at’imc near Lillooet, British Columbia, are a driving force behind the success of the 4-1-1 Eastern Washington University Lady Eagles club hockey team in Chewelah, Washington.
“Hockey is in my blood,” said Spencer, who is a 36-year-old mother of one. “I’ve played all types of sports, but hockey is something I’ll never stop playing. We have some gals on the ice that collect social security.”
Diablo grew up playing hockey with the boys, getting her start in British Columbia. Momma didn’t teach her to let the boys win.
“It’s basically a boy’s world, but I don’t play soft. I like to let them know I’m there,” Diablo said.
“We beat the men’s JV team (in a scrimmage) the other day,” she said with a laugh. “I grew up playing with the boys. They needed a girl, so I started playing at a young age.”
Spencer, who is working on a nursing degree at Eastern Washington, started watching hockey at age 9 when the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League were playing in the Spokane Coliseum. Her family has been season ticket holders for as long as she can remember.
She went from fan to player and it took her all the way to club hockey at the collegiate level where she has played against teams from the University of Montana, the University of Idaho and Washington State University.
Two years ago, the Lady Eagles were members of the NCAA Division II American Hockey Association. But, with a drop in EWU members, the team changed its schedule to include women’s hockey clubs from Seattle and Spokane, as well as other university women’s teams in Washington state.
“The program is still a work in progress,” said Spencer, who is a senior in terms of eligibility and a junior academically. “It’s an excellent program with a great facility. It’s been a great experience. Hockey has given some me some of my best friends and a chance to travel.”
The game also introduced her to her fiancée Ty Jones, a former Spokane Chief, who was selected in the first round of the 1997 NHL entry draft by the Chicago Blackhawks.
Diablo is an 18-year-old sophomore studying recreation management. She grew up in British Columbia before moving to the United States when her father Keith relocated to take a job in Seattle 12 years ago. She is in her second year of college hockey.
“I was here at Eastern for a state track and field meet (when I was in high school) and I saw the women’s hockey brochure. I called the coach and decided it would be a good time to get back into hockey after being off a couple of years,” she said. “The girls accepted me with open arms and it’s like one big family.”
“Alexia progressed very quickly and is probably one of our best stick handlers,” said John Conner, EWU’s coach. “She can take the puck through crowds of players. Even my best players are saying, ‘How the heck did she do that?’”
Spencer played most of her career at Eastern Washington as a forward, but found herself on the other side of the blue line – on the defensive end – in her final season.
“Misty is one of those players you can put anywhere and she will do well. I could probably put her in pads and throw her on net and she’d do fine,” Conner said with a laugh. “She’s a good, smart player that plays the game right. Her fiancée was drafted by the Blackhawks, so she has a pretty good mentor off the ice too.”
As Native American players, Spencer and Diablo hope to inspire youth to pick up the stick and give the game a try.
“She was nominated as the president of the team and assistant captain and absolutely loves the game,” Alexia’s father Keith said. “Women’s hockey, period, is rare. So, to have two native women on one team is pretty cool. Back home in the Indian community where my family’s from, there’s a lot of teenage drug abuse or teenage suicide. [But], when they hear news of Alexia, she’s the toast of the reservation. They are very proud of her and so am I.”
Both women were asked to be a part of the Spokane Chiefs Native American Heritage Appreciation Month celebration at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
“Being asked to participate means so much,” Alexia said. “I’ve never participated in something like this. The little kids will see me as somebody they might like to be like one day. I just hope to inspire them to get interested in hockey.”