As Canadian men traded their hockey sticks for guns and headed to the battlegrounds of Europe, hockey began to suffer. In Montreal, the Wanderers made the patriotic gesture of offering free tickets to soldiers and their families – but only if the soldier was wounded. Clearly hockey needed help, and women skated in to fill the gap.
“Perfect ice is promised, and it is probable that the match will attract the largest crowd that has ever witnessed a girls' game in Ottawa,” claimed the March 4, 1916 Ottawa Citizen. The reason? The woman called “the Miracle Maid,” Albertine Lapensee.
The twenty-six year old Miss Lapensee played for her hometown Cornwall Victorias. Her hockey debut came in January 1916 against Ottawa and she scored five of the six goals in the Cornwall victory. Immediately after her debut game, Ottawa players complained that she was really a man. Suspicions and accusations dogged her the rest of her hockey career.
A week after her debut, Lapensee scored four goals in an 8-0 shutout against the Montreal Westerns. A crowd of about three thousand turned out to watch her play. Having been warned about the strength of Lapensee's shot, the Montreal goalie chose to wear a baseball catcher's mask to protect herself, which places her ten years ahead of Elizabeth Graham, who is usually credited with wearing the first goalie mask. The Montreal players also yanked off Lapensee's toque at one point in the game to see how long her hair was. She had braids that fell past her shoulders.
The continuous rumors about Lapensee caused the Cornwall Standard to vouch for her. Miss Lapensee, it seems, “played more with her brothers and other boys than with her girlfriends, and this accounts for the masculine style of play she has developed.” Further more, “scores of people in East Cornwall have known her since her infancy.”
Albertine played on, indifferent to the rumours, and the fans didn't seem to mind too much either, as a reported crowd of three thousand once came to watch her play. In one game she scored fifteen goals, and when the Victorias agreed to play against the Ottawa Alerts the Vics' manager had to guarantee Lapensee's appearance by contract. She even behaved like her male counterparts off the ice. She once refused to play until she had been paid, which nearly caused a riot. She also wasn't afraid to fight.
During one game against the Westerns, Lapensee was checked early and often by a Miss Deloro. After one particularly hard check, Lapensee took off her gloves and told her opponent to knock it off. Miss Deloro then challenged her by saying, “I'm not afraid of you, even if you are from Cornwall. I'll be glad to meet you after the game and we'll settle this the way men do.” The promised fight didn't take place, as the victorious Cornwall team had to rush to catch their train.
Frustrated by their inability to stop her and in an effort to find an answer to the Miracle Maid, the Montreal Westerns found Ada Lalond. Thought to be a prodigy one day, the next day hope was shattered when it was revealed Lalond was actually a boy hoping to play against Lapensee.
Although scoring records for the time are incomplete, they indicate Albertine scored 80 percent of Cornwall's goals in the 1916-1917 season. The next season, Lapensee led her team to an undefeated season.
After two spectacular seasons, Albertine Lapensee vanished. There is no record of her playing hockey again, at least as Albertine Lapensee. Family legend says she went to New York in 1918 and had a sex change operation. She then married, and settled down to run a gas station near Cornwall, all under the name of Albert Smyth.
Truth or just legend? No one seems to know for certain, not even her family. All that's left is the faded memory of the Miracle Maid from Cornwall.
by Jennifer Conway