Friday night, February 3, 2023 was a much-anticipated night for those of us who follow women’s hockey. Five players from the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) were participating in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition as part of NHL All-Star Weekend. This was not the first time the highest-level female players would be competing, but it was enough of an event for me to leave the comfort of the cable-tv-lacking Airbnb where I was staying to seek out a bar showing the spectacle.
As my luck usually goes, I arrived late and ended up missing seeing what was apparently one of the highlights of the night, PWHPA star forward Sarah Nurse’s breakaway goal against Igor Shesterkin, one of the NHL’s top net minders.
And as my bad luck would have it, this meant I had no recourse but to view footage of this goal online—Instagram, sports news stories, YouTube, all of which allowed comments.
I know, I know. . .DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. I have tried to adopt this mantra to no avail, particularly for posts regarding women’s sports—the temptation of an adrenaline rush and elevated blood pressure seems to be, illogically, something I can’t resist.
As usual, the comments provided such eloquent, constructive, and cerebral discussion!
(actual comments about the goal from public online forums in italics)
Scored on a goalie who didn’t move.
LMAO. He let that in on purpose.
He didn’t want to embarrass her so he didn’t even try.
When you let a kid score to make them feel good.
He let that in, otherwise he would be called a sexist bigot.
Watching the video, it is clear that Shesterkin didn’t try much to make a save. But what does that say? There is a whole lot to unpack here, and more than I will have time or space to do, but. . .
Not such a long time ago, in an arena not too far away from this, I was playing in my weekly adult rec coed game. Sometime in the first period, there was a stop in play, and since I was center, I went out to take the faceoff. The ref dropped the puck and my (male) opponent hardly moved a muscle and I easily won the faceoff. I felt quite insulted. I decided that the next time he and I were taking a faceoff, I would put in extra effort to take advantage of him not trying and get a scoring opportunity for my team that he would regret. On that next faceoff, he didn’t move at all, I won the faceoff, and he said brightly, “Great win!”
I could tell by his demeanor that he truly meant well. However, I didn’t appreciate this treatment in any way, as I noticed that he did not use this same approach with any of my male teammates, even those who were obviously less skilled. And for him to say “great win” when he didn’t even try was exceptionally offensive.
When a male player doesn’t try against a player solely because that player is female, it is, at its root, a controlling behavior. It can rightly be perceived as, “You will do well if and when I decide to let you, because I am so much better than you.”
My opinion has always been that when male players play against women and don’t put in the same effort as they do against their fellow man, this inaction puts them in a win-win situation. Regardless of the outcome of the play, that male appears to everyone watching to be generous and chivalrous. Furthermore, it can be an ego-protection mechanism; if the female does win the faceoff, get past the defender, make a great pass, or score a goal, well, that is ONLY because her male opponent wasn’t even trying. If they tried their best and got beat by a girl. . .well, you can imagine.
No one has ever accused me of being a very good hockey player, but one thing I can do well is take faceoffs. I don’t need or want charity. I want to be challenged by my opponents on these puck drops, given a chance to shine, certainly not allowed to win in such a way that my opponent looks like the ultimate winner, and let’s be honest, has made that interaction all about attention and recognition for himself.
Was this the motivation behind Shesterkin so obviously not putting in an effort to save the shot? A lot of observers have made comments, to support their arguments that women have no place in an NHL event, that the reason he didn’t try is because she is a lower-caliber player and she could only succeed with his benevolent charity.
It’s like the first time a dad lets their kid score on them to boost their confidence.
So nice of the goalie to let her score.
Shesterkin is quite a gentleman.
He got told to let her score.
He gave her that. That’s not a highlight reel goal.
However, more astute observers have noted that the All-Star Weekend is all about having fun where no one goes all out in situations where they could get hurt. Anyone watching the events can see that it is a festive, happy atmosphere. The players get to have fun and be creative without the usual pressure.
Dawg, the goalies don’t try during the skills comp, everyone knows this. Doesn’t matter if it’s a male NHL star or a female Olympic gold medalist.
It’s the all stars comp, of course he gonna try not to injure himself making a save
Multi-millionaire athletes who play a winter sport are on a Florida beach shooting hockey pucks at surf boards to dunk a dude and chumps are all like “I can’t take this seriously because women are playing.”
And then there are those of us who truly want to promote the women’s game, who were ecstatic that Nurse and the other four women were participating and were hoping that, like Kendall Coyne did at the same event in 2019, this would be another chance for women to prove, on a skill-based level, that they are in the same class as their male counterparts. Shesterkin not trying to make the save on Nurse led some of us to lament that lost opportunity.
The vast majority of people wouldn’t have a problem with the women participating IF the goalies actually tried and didn’t patronize them by letting them score.
Wow, him letting her score doesn’t help the women’s game.
I would be embarrassed if they just let me score like that.
We will probably never know Shesterkin’s motivation for his half-hearted attempt to make that save, but we can all agree that he really didn’t try. Interestingly, some commenters thought that Nurse was giving it her all and her skills were lacking.
She’s trying so hard but he don’t care
The deke wasn’t even good. If she transferred her weight and faked to her forehand first, it might have been ok. But she just dusted the puck and backhand slapped it into the net.
Hmm, let’s see, she wasn’t wearing a helmet, was smiling the entire time, and that was her “trying so hard”? She didn’t even celebrate after the goal, she just looked kind of surprised and confused, probably at Igor’s lack of effort.
What this reveals most of all to me is that a lot of these commenters, who I assume from the statements they made are male (I have left out the most misogynistic and offensive quips), have obviously never watched a high-level women’s hockey game. If they had, they would realize 1) Nurse wasn’t trying that much harder than Shesterkin, and 2) high-level female players absolutely have the ability and skill level to compete against their male counterparts in these events. Maybe some of these hockey know-it-alls should actually attend a top-tier women’s game before they just unleash a sexist barrage of hate against a sport they have never even watched enough to offer meaningful observations.
It is worthwhile to mention that almost any media attention on women’s hockey is an overall net positive, so good on the PWHPA players, especially Nurse with this entertaining goal, for skating into the pro hockey spotlight.
I was about to stop reading the comments on the highlight videos so as to not lose all faith in the goodness of humanity, when I found the comment that summed up the situation better than any other.
Can we just acknowledge that Sarah Nurse is an amazing athlete and was well deserving of that moment?
Yes, indeed she is an amazing athlete and deserves a lot more admiration and recognition than some are giving her!
featured image obtained from: https://www.instagram.com/p/CoVqHQCOMbJ/