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1930s & Earlier / Albertine Lapensee Mystery
During the First world War, most of Canada's young able-bodied males enlisted in the military. As a result the quality of men's hockey dropped dramatically. For a short time, women's pro hockey took center stage--and Albertine Lapensee briefly and mysteriously became a superstar. Nicknamed 'the Miracle Maid,' the 26-year-old Lapensee played for her hometown Cornwall (Ontario) Victorias. Her hockey debut came in January 1916 against Ottawa; she scored five of the six goals in Cornwall's victory. Immediately after her debut game, Ottawa players complained that she was really a man. Suspicions and accusations dogged her the rest of her brief career. A week after her debut, Lapensee scored four goals in an 8-0 shutout against the Montreal Westerns before a crowd of about 3,000 fans. At one point the Montreal players yanked off Lapensee's toque to see how long her hair was. (She had braids that fell past her shoulders.) The continuous rumors about Lapensee's gender prompted her hometown newspaper, the Cornwall Standard, to vouch for her. Miss Lapensee, it said, '...played more with her brothers and other boys than with her girlfriends, and this accounts for the masculine style of play she has developed.' Furthermore, '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 large crowds came to watch her play. In one game she scored 15 goals. 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. Although scoring records for the time are incomplete, they indicate Albertine scored about 80 percent of Cornwall's goals in the 1916-1917 season. The next season, Lapensee led her team to an undefeated season. Then, 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/he supposedly married and settled down to run a gas station near Cornwall under the name of Albert Smyth. There are no known photos of Lapensee. Her story is not widely known--not even in Canada.