I recently picked up a copy of a book called “The Pursuit of Hockeyness: 99 Things Every Hockey Fan Needs to Do Before They Die.” It’s a bit outdated as it was published in 2009, but then again, with a topic like that, how outdated can the content really be? It was written by the editors of The Hockey News and organized into 99 chapters, each detailing something that a true hockey fan should seek to accomplish, such as touching the Stanley Cup or building a backyard rink.
I was happily cruising through the book, and then suddenly I came upon it—“#35 Watch the Women Play.” Until that point in the book, it hadn’t occurred to me that any attention to the women’s game was sorely lacking, but I was suddenly filled with joy at the (albeit limited) recognition given to the gals in this chapter. Then I started reading the segment. The first two sentences were all it took to send my blood pressure skyrocketing and force me to use all my self control to not toss the tome into the trash immediately. The FIRST sentence of the chapter attempting to convince readers to “watch the women play” condescendingly stated: “The first thing you must realize when it comes to women’s hockey is that even at the highest level, the quality of play is equivalent to Jr. B. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Really? Really? The first sentence was bad enough, but the second sentence was akin to some Jedi mind trick—“These are not the droids you’re looking for. The quality of women’s hockey is equivalent to lower level boys’ hockey. You must believe this, and anyone who tells you differently is a liar!”
The writer(s) then go on to say, “But you shouldn’t confuse quality of play with excitement level. . . “
Let’s see—you just implied the quality of play is somewhat above Timbits and now you’re trying to sell us on seeing the women play based on excitement level? Heck, if it’s about excitement level over the level of play, than I’d suggest watching a boys’ PeeWee AA game and observing the rabid parents and coaches that often are part of those games.
Why must (mainly male) hockey commentators and writers continually compare the women’s game to the men’s? It’s like comparing a veggie burger to a hamburger—they look similar, serve the same purpose, are full of substance, but they are not the identical and can’t really be compared. Women’s hockey has different rules. Women’s hockey has had historically less of a talent base from which to draw, thanks namely to the prevalence of ringette in prior decades as a girls’ alternative to hockey.
I wanted to write up all the reasons why comparing the men’s and women’s game is unfair, but I think that the readers who visit this site already know about the differences—someone who tries to assess women’s hockey (sans checking) using the same criteria as the men’s game just sounds idiotic and uninformed. We can debate for hours whether the rules for men’s and women’s hockey should be the same and what the outcomes would be and never really reach a conclusion.
Instead, I want to take on the entire book. The majority of their 99 things a true hockey fan should do are based on the men’s game. According to the IIHF’s 2013 statistics, 14% of the registered hockey players in Canada are female (13% in the USA). That means that one could make a good argument that at least fourteen of the items in the book should be focused on the women’s game.
Here is my list of fourteen things every hockey fan needs to do in the pursuit of hockeyness, beyond the vague “Watch the Women Play.” The first two apply to women only, but the rest should be enjoyed by all hockey fans!
1. Play in a women’s league
There are a growing number of women’s leagues in Canada and the US. In many city centers, you can find a range of leagues with levels or tiers to suit your own skills and experience. You can do a simple Google search for “women’s recreational hockey.” Or, in Canada, the Canadian Adult Recreational Hockey Association http://carhahockey.ca/932/hockey-finder is a good place to start. In the USA, the Women’s Hockey Web http://www.whockey.com/state/teams.html may be a starting point though it is unclear how up-to-date its listings are.
If you happen to live somewhere a women’s league isn’t within driving distance but an ice pad is, start your own league! Even if you are able to just start with a few gals who want to play pickup, put the word out—I know several women who have done this with great success. What started out for them as a way to find women to jointly and informally practice skills has often turned into a league. If you’re wanting to play hockey, you can bet there are also other gals in your area who are just looking for an opportunity.
2. Be a hockey godmother
This is a topic for a whole separate blog entry coming soon. But, if you identify a young girl in your life who wants to play hockey and doesn’t know where to start, volunteer to help her out with accomplishing this goal. Often her parents may not be familiar enough with hockey to know where to start. You can provide guidance in purchasing equipment, finding lessons, or even just watch games on TV with her. Best of all, take her to a university or professional women’s game so she can see that there is a point in pursuing playing the sport. Another option is to be a hockey godmother for a boy who has interest in the sport. My nephew who is eight years old and doesn’t know any better yet thinks I am one of the best hockey players he knows! I practice with him, watch games with him, talk about hockey with him, buy him books about hockey. I didn’t have any athletic females in my family as role models whatn I was growing up, and all my coaches and mentors for sports were men. I’m so glad that my nephew can see that a female, his aunt, can understand and play hockey, and I have also done my best to familiarize him with the high-level women’s game, including getting to know the US and Canadian women’s Olympic teams. Hopefully he will grow up to be an ambassador for the women’s game himself.
3. Attend a US v Canada women’s “friendly”
I don’t even know what the correct name is for these games between countries that are not part of any official tournament, but in soccer they are called “friendlies.” As recent encounters between the US and Canadian teams have proven, these games are anything but friendly. The players still compete as if they are in the gold medal game of a tournament. The passion runs high among the fans as well as the players. I attended the US v Canada game at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto last month, and the atmosphere was fantastic. Best of all, there were 17,000 fans there. In the end, I didn’t care which team won or lost because the game was exciting and the fact that so many people attended made it a win for the women’s game all around.
4. Go to the Women’s World Championships
In 2013, the Women’s World Championships were in Ottawa, Ontario. This was a great opportunity for North American hockey fans to watch the top teams in women’s hockey compete in an international tournament format that is only second to the Olympics as well as explore the capital of Canada. The tournament is not always held in North America, but when it is, plan a spring road trip! This year, the top teams in the world are playing in the Olympics, so there is no WWC for the top-tier teams. In 2015, the WWC will be in Sweden, so you have time to save up for the airfare! Then, the following two years, the tournament will be in North America, exact locations TBD.
5. Blog for Women’s Hockey Life
If you are interested in hockey on any level, and clearly you must be if you’ve gotten this far reading this entry, then you probably also have something to say about women’s hockey, something to contribute to the global conversation. Consider blogging for this site! If you find yourself making observations about the women’s game, reflecting on your own progress as a player, or have an opinion that differs from other blogs or articles your read, then you can contribute. Feel like you’re not a perfect writer? Find someone willing to proofread for you and you’re good to go!
6. Attend the Clarkson Cup
The Clarkson Cup is the championship for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the professional North American hockey league. There are five teams who play a full season and then are seeded for the Clarkson Cup tournament which takes place in March. The winner is awarded the Clarkson Cup, named after former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson who donated the Cup to the league. Like the Stanley Cup, the Clarkson Cup is displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame most of the year. The Clarkson Cup tournament is held over four or five days, with all teams playing each other and then the final game held on the last day. Many of the players you see on the ice in the Clarkson Cup are current, former, and future Olympians. (Just check out the rosters for the 2014 US and Canadian women’s Olympic teams and see how many are associated with a CWHL club team.) The tickets are very affordable, and the hockey is spectacular. In particular, it’s incredible to feel the passion that each of the teams brings to the tournament, and it’s great fun to see gals who are teammates on their national teams play each other as fierce rivals for their club teams.
7. See all the CWHL teams play
Speaking of the CWHL, do your homework before the Clarkson Cup and attend CWHL games if they are in your area. Just for fun, challenge yourself to see all five teams (Toronto, Montreal, Brampton, Calgary, and Boston) at least once during the regular season. The games are on weekends, and the tickets are $10 each or you can buy a season pass for $75. The players almost always come out to meet fans after the games. The players are approachable and genuinely happy to chat with their supporters!
If you don’t live anywhere near one of the cities that hosts a team, you can watch the games streaming live. For the schedule, rosters, history, and more information on the league, including how to watch the games streaming live, visit http://www.cwhl.ca The importance of this league cannot be understated—it is the pinnacle and future of women’s hockey in North America, a training ground for Olympians, and playing for one of these teams is a worthy goal for young players.
8. Go to a girl’s junior game
If you live in Canada, chances are there are girls’ junior teams that you can watch, probably for free or almost no admission. For example, in Ontario, the PWHL or Provincial Women’s Hockey League is made up of the most elite young players who are looking to advance in their hockey careers by going next to play at the university level. The reason to attend these games is more to support the other females working hard to succeed in hockey, but one can always learn and pick up tips from watching skilled players.
9. Become a referee or timekeeper
There is no better way to become a more well-rounded player or fan than by becoming a referee or timekeeper. This forces you to learn the rules, the signals, the way penalties are administrated, and also teaches you compassion for those brave individuals who face the wrath of unhappy players and fans on almost every call. Additionally, it can help you to earn extra money so you can buy that new stick you’ve been wanting. As a female player, I often find myself wishing there were more female refs. While I don’t usually have an issue with the male refs, sometimes they can be condescending or appear not to take the women’s games seriously. Above all, there is a place for female referees at the highest level, and that is also something to which young girls who love hockey can aspire—it’s another route to being on the ice for the Clarkson Cup or the Olympics.
10. Attend the CIS Women’s Hockey Championships
The Canadian Interuniversity Sport is the governing body of the championships of sports at the university level in Canada. The first time I attended a semi-final game between the Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks and University of Guelph Gryphons, I was astounded at the number of students who attended and their school spirit. There were cowbells. There were horns. There were painted faces. There were goalie taunts. It was one of the best atmospheres I’ve experienced in women’s hockey. And, a couple of years later, I noticed that some of these university ladies I’d seen playing are now playing in the CWHL.
11. Attend the NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey Championship
Same as #10 above, but in the United States. The Frozen Four Women’s tournament will provide all the college rivalry you would expect or want, as well as giving you a glimpse into the future of both the US and Canadian women’s hockey teams. In particular, a game between Minnesota and Wisconsin can really bring out the rabid student fans!
12. Play with the guys
Some people will say that if you are a recreational player who wants to improve, play with the guys either in pickup or in a co-ed league, because OBVIOUSLY the guys are so much better better hockey players. Personally, I don’t know how much my playing has improved through playing with guys, and this is another topic for another blog entry. But I can say this much—playing in co-ed has helped me to appreciate the women’s leagues more. It’s also helped me to learn how to handle the game mentally—when to keep my cool, how to encourage my teammates, when to say nothing. Regardless, the more ice time you can get, the more you will improve, whether you are playing with or against other women, men, or even against kids!
13. Volunteer for or coach a women’s or girls’ team
There are so many women’s and girls’ teams out there who could use help. Depending on the level, they may need a coach, a manager, a timekeeper, someone to take tickets, or someone to maintain their website. Women’s rec leagues need people to serve on the executive board and volunteers to help with league events. Almost all teams and leagues from the lowest level right up to the CWHL need and can use sponsorships. There are so many ways to get involved in hockey without ever even putting on an ice skate, and my experience has been that if you have something to offer, you won’t be turned down and your efforts will be appreciated. So often I see young girls’ teams where a player’s dad coaches and a player’s mom is the manager who handles the administrative work. Similarly to what I discussed about referees above, coaching is a terrific ambition for anyone, and if girls are seeing competent women in coaching roles, these same girls will realize that they can also coach someday. I volunteer on many levels for different women’s hockey organizations and teams, and that is truly one of the most rewarding and exciting aspects of my life. The connections and friends I’ve made and the knowledge I’ve gained about hockey goes far beyond any material compensation that I’ll never get. Find your niche in hockey and use that to give back to the sport by volunteering your time and energy.
14. Promote the women’s game
Promoting the women’s game can be as simple as going to a PWHL or CWHL game. It can be as simple as having a party at your house when the women’s Olympic games are on TV. It can be buying and wearing the jersey of your favorite national team player and knowing enough about that player to answer questions if someone asks you about her when they see you in the jersey. It can be organizing a bus trip to a women’s game. It can be starting your own league or pickup sessions. It can be convincing a young girl who has an interest to try playing. It can be putting links to women’s hockey websites on your own website. It can be sharing stories about women’s hockey on your Facebook feed. It can be e-mailing or calling TSN or CBC and asking them to broadcast the Clarkson Cup games or the IIHF Women’s World Championships or the NCAA Frozen Four games live.
It can be travelling to, or better yet, bringing your own team to another country where women’s ice hockey is not as popular or developed as a recreational or competitive sport to play in a friendly tournament. A trip like that can be the experience of a lifetime for you, and it can mean the hockey world to the gals in the host country.
It also can be finding the courage to call out people—be they relatives, friends, co-workers, journalists, authors, bloggers, or TV and radio commentators—who belittle or unfairly characterize the women’s game. The more you get involved with women’s hockey, the better you will be able to be an informed advocate for the women’s game.