Women's hockey no joke
By ALISON KORN, Special to QMI Agency
Give it time.
The chorus of voices calling women’s hockey a “joke” because the top two teams are still so much better than all the rest need to lighten up and remember history.
For four straight Olympics, from 1920 to 1932, the Canadian men’s hockey team won Olympic gold every time. What a joke, eh? The Soviets also had a four-gold Olympic streak, from 1964 to 1976. Hilarious!
Dominant teams don’t render the sport meaningless. Rather, they should inspire the rest of the world to get better. That’s happened with the men, and it is indeed now happening with the women, say those in the know.
“When I watched that Slovakian team that lost 18-0 (to Canada), I really think they could have given our Nagano [1998 Olympic] team a good run for their money,” said Sami Jo Small, a goalie on three Canadian Olympic teams. “That’s how far our game has come. The Slovakian team is not far behind, it’s just that Canadians have improved.”
Small trains full-time in Toronto and, in 2007, was instrumental in launching the amateur Canadian Women’s Hockey League where she plays for the Mississauga Chiefs. She’s emerged as an articulate spokesperson and promoter of the women’s game, even though she’s no longer on the national team. Small contends that if women’s hockey is going to advance, it needs a professional North American league, one that partners with the NHL.
“Ideally, we would like to start a professional league this coming season, to keep the momentum going from this (gold-medal) game,” Small said. “It would allow girls from various different countries to dream of playing in what would be a women’s NHL, and would encourage a lot more people to put their kids in hockey when they see the opportunities and what the kids could get out of it.”
Last month, Small — who’s vice-chair of the existing women’s league — and its executive director, Brenda Andress, met with Gary Bettman in New York City. They pitched their vision of a professional women’s league, which would pay the players $35,000 and be based in cities within driving distance of each other, including Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and New York.
“We’re just waiting to hear back from them,” Small said. “Hopefully we can get some sort of answer to move forward together in some sort of partnership.”
In the meantime, she contends that if women’s hockey were to be removed from the Olympics, then the men’s should go with it. It would only be fair. Isn’t that right, Mr. Bettman?
Canada is a great place to be a woman. The performances of our female Olympians attest to that. What needs to happen now is for other countries to seriously nurture their women’s hockey teams, help them centralize, and offer the game to more girls.
The Finnish and Swedish squads were disappointing these Olympics — they should have improved more. And there’s no reason Russia and the Czech Republic can’t come up with strong women’s teams.
But, foreign teams, take note — you need to get more physical. According to Toronto coach and trainer Kim McCullough of www.totalfemalehockey.com, the majority of top North American players can bench press their own body weight, squat 1.5 times their body weight and do 10 chin ups, with one athlete able to do 29.
In Vancouver, the non-North American teams seemed hesitant to play a physical game. But give it time.
“I would encourage everyone to hang on and know that in the next five, 10, 15 years, it’s only going to get better,” McCullough urged. “It’s one of the fastest growing sports in the world.”