In 1972, Pittsburgh was reeling from their sports success. The Pittsburgh Steelers made the playoffs for the first of an eight-year run, immortalized by Franco Harris’s Immaculate Reception in the divisional playoff win against Oakland. The Pirates were coming off a World Series championship and finished first in their division. Over in the Igloo, the Penguins made the playoffs for the second time in franchise history.
But there was a new team hitting the ice that year; the Pittsburgh Pennies began their first season in the Mid-Atlantic Conference after raising enough money to pay for equipment and dues. “We did an awful lot of fundraisers like bake sales, raffles and flea markets. You name it, we tried it,” said team founder Jean Lombardi, a Fox Chapel graduate. The team became the city’s first all-women ice hockey team, featuring Lombardi at right wing. As a high schooler and University of Pittsburgh college student, she was a talented athlete. But when a professor suggested she join the men’s ice hockey team, she declined citing her worry of becoming the “token girl.” Instead, she simply started her own team.
Unfortunately, the lack of women’s teams made it difficult for the Pennies to maintain a regular schedule, and they were forced to scrimmage against themselves and play against the boys. In one story, Lombardi describes a no-checking game against the men’s team: “We were at one end of the ice but the crowd was cheering on something going on at the end other end,” she said. “I looked and a girl had a boy down on the ice, beating on him. He had to go to school the next day and probably hear about it for quite a while.”
Jean Lombardi and the Pittsburgh Pennies prove yet again that Pittsburgh’s ingenuity and passion are the stuff of legend.