When Kathleen Black’s sons gave her hockey skates for Christmas several years back, she never imagined that one day she’d lace 'em up and face off against Peter Bondra.

But there she was a little over a year ago, in hot pursuit of the NHL legend who was chasing a puck that was drifting dangerously into her defensive zone.

“He controlled the puck and looked up, expecting to be checked into the boards," recalls Black, director of government relations for The Coca-Cola Company in Washington, D.C. "But then he saw me, smiled and dumped the puck to a teammate,” 

Black and Bondra met on the ice again last week for the 7th annual Congressional Hockey Challenge, which pits “Lobbyists” against “Lawmakers” (and sometimes NHL celebrities) for a friendly competition in support of a good cause. Players give it their all both on and off the ice, helping to raise funds for charities that give youth access to education and hockey programs.

The game supports the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program for wounded veterans, several of whom played in this year’s challenge. It attracts an impressive lineup of members of Congress, including Representatives Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer from the State of Hockey, Minnesota. In the last couple of years, the "Lawmakers" have gotten an extra boost from Canadian Members of Parliament Gord Brown and Rick Dykstra.

While Black's team’s hopes of victory were dashed by a goal in the third period – scored by Rep. John Katko and assisted by Bondra, no less – she’s confident her team will settle the score next year. The teams don’t practice together year round, but many players on both sides play in D.C.-area hockey leagues.

Kathleen Black Out of Office
Black (top) laces up her skates at least once a week. She plays in one of the country's largest women’s hockey leagues in Laurel, Md.

Justin Mein/C-istudios.com

You can find Black on the ice at least once a week, regardless of the season. She plays in one of the country's largest women’s leagues, in Laurel, Md.. In the summertime, it attracts college athletes who are looking to keep their skills sharp.

“It’s a fun, fast game,” says Black, who didn't play college hockey herself. She was attending a skating event hosted by her sons’ school – wearing the skates they had given her the Christmas before – when a friend pointed out that she was better at skating backward than most of the adults were at skating forward. The friend suggested she try out for an adult hockey league.

Kathleen Black Out of Office
Kathleen Black

“I didn’t know that was even a thing!" she recalls. "But I thought ‘why not?’ and was hooked from the first day.”

Black wasn’t a total beginner. She played outdoor hockey informally during her elementary school years in Toronto. While attending college at George Washington University, she and a group of friends would play late at night after the library closed on the rink next to the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington. Occasionally, they faced off against Secret Service Uniformed Division officers who were coming off a shift at the White House.

In 2010, Black became the first woman to play in the Congressional Hockey Challenge. Back then, she was working for Senator Olympia Snowe and playing for Team Lawmaker. She heckled the guys she knew on both sides until they agreed to let her play.

Everyone who has worked with Black says her tenacity is a well-known attribute. Her former boss, Rep. Sam Johnson, once introduced her to then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with the disclaimer “Be careful, she plays ice hockey.” Secretary Rumsfeld was pleased to see she still had all of her teeth, Black recalls with a laugh.

Black's “Lawmaker” jersey from her first Congressional Hockey Challenge hangs on the wall of her office at Coca-Cola. It’s a great conversation starter – and a reminder that she's someone you do not want to mess with!