The sound of hockey sticks and skates sliding across ice echoed through Jefferson City's Washington Park Ice Arena on June 4 as black and yellow jerseys flew around the ice rink. Eighteen-year-old Madison Tillmann and her 50-year-old father, Jeff, passed the puck back and forth during their first summer league game together, becoming the ice arena's first father-daughter duo in the WPIA summer hockey league.
Jeff and Madison joined the arena's adult hockey league team this summer, hockey Director Josh Anders said.
"I'm really good friends with my dad," Madison said. "It's bonding, (and) it was just finding something we had in common. It just feels normal."
Jeff added: "I didn't think I'd ever be on the same team as Madison as she was growing up. I just never really thought about it, honestly."
Originally from St. Paul Park, Minnesota, the Tillmanns are avid hockey players. Madison began playing hockey in second grade, while Jeff played throughout high school.
After the Tillmanns moved to Jefferson City in 2012, Madison joined Mid-Missouri Tigers Youth Hockey Club for a year; she was one of two girls on the team. She traded in her hockey stick for pom-poms in eighth grade, joining Capitol City Cheer after her mother, Bethany, worried other players would check and hurt Madison.
Five years later, during her senior year at Jefferson City High School, Madison once again put on her skates.
Last August, a former teammate encouraged Madison to rejoin the hockey team. She quit cheerleading to focus her attention on hockey.
"I saw cheer at the time as something that was wasting my time, like a job, and I wasn't really enjoying it by then. So I wanted to go and do something I enjoyed right before I went off to college," said Madison, who will attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale this fall to study medical science.
She said she has always felt drawn to hockey due to the adrenaline rush from the game and skating. Jeff grew up playing hockey and saw it as a way to have fun with friends.
Once Madison turned 18, she could no longer play for the Mid-Missouri Tigers. To continue practicing, she convinced her dad to go to the Washington Park Ice Arena's Drop-In Hockey. The father and daughter later joined the ice arena's adult hockey league, which consists of three teams and has 10 games in the summer.
Having not played competitively in 20 years, Jeff admitted he was a little nervous during their first game earlier this month, but was also reminded why he loved the game.
"Not playing for so long, it took me a little bit to get used to it again, but I enjoyed it," he said. "I had forgotten how much I enjoy it."
Having a five-year hiatus meant Madison had some catching up to do, too. Since returning to the ice, she has been working on timing, positioning and skating with the puck. She also looks to her dad for mentoring, while Jeff said he feeds off of his daughter's enthusiasm and love for the sport.
Even with that five-year break, Jeff said, his daughter was able to handle her own on the ice — both on Mid-Missouri Tigers and now on Washington Park Ice Arena's adult hockey league team.
"This past year, when she did start to play hockey again, she did pretty good, all things considered — for being gone for that long and all the other kids had continued to play throughout those years, the games and the practices," he said. "I was very proud of her and what she accomplished."
While men's and women's hockey are popular in Minnesota, hockey is primarily seen as a male sport in Missouri, Madison said. While on the Mid-Missouri Tigers, she was one of two girls, and she currently is the only woman in the Washington Park Ice Arena's adult hockey league, Anders said.
Due to the lack of women in the sport, changing facilities can be inconvenient, she said. Throughout her time playing in Jefferson City, she changed in bathrooms or closets because there were not women's locker rooms. Washington Park Ice Arena offers a women's locker room, though.
Many of the male players avoid her, she said. While this bothers her, Jeff said it's the players' decision to give her more space. With the WPIA adult hockey league being a non-checking league, Jeff and Madison said, they do not anticipate being seriously injured.
Hockey is not just a sport to Madison — it's a way to increase her confidence. Having a reading disability, Madison said, she struggled in school. Her parents encouraged her to play sports beginning at a young age, and hockey was her escape.
"On the ice, I had friends and I enjoyed it, and I didn't have to worry about the struggles I had in life when I had school. I didn't have to worry about every time a teacher gave me a piece of paper, being worried if we're reading it as a group that she would call on me," she said. "Having my parents introduce me to different sports and finding something I love and having something in common with my dad really helped me grow with confidence (and) as the person I am."
Madison might play recreational hockey in college, while Jeff is considering continuing to play in Jefferson City once the summer league ends.
"I kind of don't want to get away from it now that I'm back in it," Madison said.