Thursday, November 24, 2011

Into the cage; into the spotlight: Female goalies should get their moment in the NHL

Cory Schneider is everyone's favourite Canuck right now. He is a co-Jennings Winner, uncanny Jannik Hansen impersonator, and the best backup goalie the team has ever had. The love for our beloved ginger is aplenty on the West Coast. And, while Schneider's rise to the NHL is a good story, it certainly doesn't rival that of fellow ginger and once (literally once) loved Canucks backup goaltender Chris Levesque.

Everyone remembers the story of Dan Cloutier getting injured in the Canucks' morning skate and the team needing a goalie to back up Johan Hedberg for the game that evening. Since the farm team was not an option (the Moose were away on a road trip out east), the Canucks turned to the unknown but soon to be famous Chris Levesque - goalie for the UBC Thunderbirds to assume a front row seat for the game that night. Even just sitting on the bench, the young ginger became the story of the game. Though he was never required to step in and play during the game, no one will forget the view of him on the bench calmly chewing his gum as trainers frantically tended to the injured Hedberg so as to spare Levesque from having to make an unplanned NHL debut. All ended well for the Canucks - Hedberg was able to finish the game, and the team won 4-3 in OT - and for Levesque, who got his moment of fame and then returned to the real world where he is now a sous chef at Joey's on Broadway.

There have been similar stories to that of Chris Levesque. A UBC goalie was once again summoned last season, this time to play for the opponent, as the San Jose Sharks needed a backup on an emergency basis for their game against the Canucks. And just yesterday, the Minnesota Wild signed a 51-year old beer leaguer to backup against Nashville. And while everyone loves a feel-good story like that of Levesque, one can't help but wonder what might have happened if Levesque, or the 51-year old Paul Deutsch, or anyone of those other callups would have been required to actually get into the cage and play a portion of the game. With the way goalies are being run nowadays, injuries are always a possibility. Even on an emergency basis, why not call up someone who would at least be capable of holding their own in the net just in case they were actually needed? "How many NHL-calibre goalies are out there just waiting for their moment of glory" you ask? Not many. Not many at all. But how many elite goalies are out there ready and willing to step in if needed?  Just ask Shannon Szabados.

When the Edmonton Oilers were looking for an emergency backup, one name that was thrown out there as a possible option was Canada's Olympic hero and gold medal winner Shannon Szabados. Minus international competition, Szabados has played most of her hockey career against men. She played games for the Tri City Americans of the WHL and went head to head against the Camrose Kodiacs (Mason Raymond's junior team) in the Alberta Junior Hockey League Finals. Despite being the only female player in the league, Szabados was named the league's most valuable goaltender. Who better to play backup for one game in the NHL? Who is more deserving of a moment of glory like that? The Oilers didn't follow through on the plan. They opted instead to sign a University of Calgary goalie who hadn't played a game for the Dinos all year.
"I'm just so disappointed," Szabados said. "It's the story of my life, being a girl goaltender. They don't give you the opportunity. That shows you right there."
Shannon wasn't backing down from the challenge. But apparently the Oilers were. The disappointment in that quote from Szabados says it all. I felt so bad for her that I felt the need to send her an email of encouragement. To my surprise (and elation), she responded back only a few days later conveying her gratitude for the support. She reiterated her disappointment at not getting the call but didn't dwell on it. Instead she opted to send me some encouraging tips on how to be a good goalie myself! Spread across Canada and the US are female goalies who are playing the game at the highest level there is. The Canadian Women's Hockey League is home to some of the game's best goalies:
  • Sami Jo Small - Toronto - Team Canada Olympic gold medalist
  • Molly Schaus - Boston - Team USA Olympic silver medalist
  • Brianne McLaughlin - Brampton - Team USA Olympic silver medalist
  • Christina Kessler - Brampton - Team Canada Four Nations Cup gold medalist
  • Kim St Pierre - Montreal - Team Canada Olympic Gold Medalist
  • Noora Raty - University of Minnesota - Team Finland Olympic Bronze medalist
Many of the above mentioned goalies have played for Ivy League universities and have spent their entire careers playing elite-level hockey. Certainly they would be equally, if not more qualified to play in the NHL than some of the men who have actually gotten the call. It may be seen as a publicity stunt, or it may open up a debate about women in the NHL (trust me guys, we don't want to play in the NHL - we want our own league!), or it may lead to many unpleasant jokes about "a girl in the locker room." But in that moment of glory, I doubt any of these players would care. They've spent their whole lives going up against the doubters and naysayers of the sport they love. Doing it once more won't hurt them one bit. Female goalies should not get the call with the intention that they can someday gain employment in the NHL. At the end of the day it's about growing the game, raising awareness of the sport, and giving its current stars a well-deserved opportunity to take their place among highly skilled players. It should have no implications on a co-ed NHL (which is where the panicked minds of some will go if they even hear about a woman playing in one NHL game!). It's just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the players, and some much needed insurance for the team who requires her services. And heaven forbid a women does have to step into the cage and play a few minutes of goal in the NHL, I think she'll do just fine. Just ask Manon Rheaume :)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Seeing is Believing - Celebrating World Girls' Hockey Day

IIHF World Girls' Hockey Day as being celebrated in Geleen, Netherlands. Photo courtesy of IIHF Facebook

Like most Canadian kids, my cousin and I spent our childhoods at the local ice rink. The rink was our playground; our home away from home. Many lunches were eaten at the rink (best hashbrowns I've ever had in my life!) , homework was done with the help of coaches who happened to be passing by, and we had even found a comfy spot under some heating vents in the skate sharpening room where we snuck in the occasional nap. When I wasn't on the ice figure skating I was running to the adjoining rink to watch my cousin play hockey. It's been roughly 12 years since I used to do this but that feeling I used to get when I watched him play - it's a feeling that's still fresh in my mind even today. It was a burning desire and a deep regret. "Why did I have to be born a girl," I'd think to myself. "If I were a boy I could ditch this horribly boring sport of figure skating and snipe some goals in hockey just like the boys I was watching." But I was a girl, and girls don't play hockey. That was what I was told and that was my belief. I was wrong and it cost me my dream. 12 years later, we are celebrating the first annual World Girls' Hockey Day - an initiative of the IIHF that is intended to boost awareness and registration in the sport worldwide. (1)  All over the world, young girls are being offered a hockey stick and are being told "Go ahead. Try it." Four words is all it takes to ignite their curiosity and their passion.

Seeing is believing. That's something I've learned watching my young nieces and nephews. They see Miley Cyrus, they become like Miley Cyrus. They see Justin Bieber, they become like Justin Bieber. No offense to either of those two teen stars who I'll admit are talented in what they do, but the new generation of yougsters are "seeing" the wrong things. What they don't need to see is another scantily dressed teen pop star who is making more money than she can count and whose highs require the use of a bong. Why not "see" Cassie Campbell or Hayley Wickenheiser or Tessa Bonhomme or Caroline Ouellette or Angela Ruggiero or Noora Raty or Terhi Mertanen or _____________ (fill in the blank with your favourite women's hockey star). All I needed when I was a little kid running around the rink (hashbrowns in hand) was to see a woman playing hockey. It would have changed everything. You see someone doing what you want to do and suddenly that dream becomes very achievable. That is what parents of young kids need to realize. To them I say this: the work has been done for you. The pioneers of women's hockey have paved the way and they have elevated the sport to the place it is now where it can produce high-level players but where it can also serve as inspiration to your kids. Make sure your kids see it. The name Tessa Bonhomme should be as popular in your household as Miley Cyrus (I'm pretty sure Tessa is a better dancer than Miley. Anyone watching Battle of the Blades can confirm this!). Put your daughters in hockey - it's a sport that builds team spirit, it'll make girls physically and mentally tough, and it'll show them the value of having confidence and a strong work ethic. And trust me, if a girl comes to love hockey as much as I do, that'll be the only high she'll ever need. Don't wait till it's too late. Listen to your daughters - if they show an interest in hockey or any other sport for that matter, don't delay. Give them a chance.

For someone like myself, today is such an exciting day. Tuning in to Twitter and seeing the various WGHD events that are taking place around the world is a relief. It's a relief because I know that my story will be in the minority. These young kids who are participating in events today don't know of a world where women can't play hockey. And that's the way it should be. Women can play hockey. They can play at the Olympics, they can play for Guinness World Records (2), and they can play for fun. All they needed was to see someone else doing it and they did it too. To those who did it first I say thank you from the bottom of my heart. To those who are doing it now I say keep it up. And to those who do it next I say bring your best and own that ice!

Happy World Girls' Hockey Day everyone! May this be the first of many more to come.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

CIS Women's Hockey - The fight for the future

The St.Mary's Huskies - Photo courtesy of team website
 Things have been going well for women's hockey lately:
  • A new winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award for the top female hockey player in the NCAA was just announced - Meghan Duggan of the Wisconsin Badgers (1)
  • A new winner of the Broderick Trophy for the top female hockey player in the CIS was just announced - Hayley Wickenheiser of the Calgary Dinos (2)
  • We just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics Gold Medal win by Team Canada
  • Team Canada's triumph has been permanently enshrined in an exhibit at Rogers Arena in Vancouver - see link for picture (3)
  • The Dinos were just given a generous donation of $500,000 to help cover their expenses for next season (4)
  • The Wisconsin Badgers will do battle with Boston University for the NCAA title this weekend in what promises to be a fantastic final (5)
  • The McGill Martlets re-claimed the CIS women's hockey crown by capturing the championship title over St.Francis Xavier (6)
  • The World Championships are just around the corner. They will be held in Switzerland, which will boost the profile of the sport in a country with great potential to excel at the international level
  • The Canadian Women's Hockey League and Western Women's Hockey League both enjoyed successful seasons and are now gearing up for the Clarkson Cup tournament
  • The IIHF and international hockey federations are starting to see the value in investing the time, money, and effort into women's hockey so that there can be more parity between nations at the international level (7)
  • The attitude shift of the general public with regards to women trying to conquer a male-dominated sport continues to improve and the sport of women's hockey is gaining recognition and profile like never before in its history.

    Then on Friday March 18th, it was announced that women's hockey would be eliminated from St.Mary's University (Halifax, N.S) athletics because of financial reasons. The announcement was a devastating blow to a program that has been steadily improving for years and one that has been founded and groomed by a passionate and talented core of people. The women's hockey program was cut despite being the school's third most expensive varsity team in operation because it was deemed that the two more expensive programs - men's hockey and football - generate higher revenues than women's hockey. The dismissal of the program leaves the team's coaches without jobs, current players without a team to play on, and prospective players with one less option for which university to attend - the University of New Brunswick cut their women's hockey team in 2008. Players and coaches were only made aware of the situation once the final decision had already been made and they were not consulted on any possible alternatives to cutting the program entirely. The elimination of an entire team could have been avoided by making smaller cuts to other varsity programs. But no, the convenient option was to cut women's hockey and the decision was made without any regard for what it would mean for the sport or its players.

    The CIS is where players are groomed for future roles on their respective national teams and on club teams in the CWHL or WWHL. The claim is that women's hockey doesn't generate enough revenue, and yet, if it isn't even being given a chance to grow how will this ever change? It's like expecting to put fourth a high calibre draft class into the NHL when junior teams like the London Knights, Kitchener Rangers, Vancouver Giants, etc. have been cut from operation. These organizations are an integral part of sustaining hockey in Canada and ensuring that the next generation of NHL superstars are well groomed and able to hone their talents at the highest level of hockey in the world. There would be no Sidney Crosby if there wasn't the Rimouski Oceanic. There would be no Wayne Gretzky if there wasn't the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. And there will be no future women's hockey stars if they don't have teams to play on.

    For every stride forward that the sport is making, it is being dealt blows like this one which sets it back even more. Perhaps the Huskies players and coaches were not consulted on the decision because the heads of the athletics department knew that they wouldn't give up on their beloved team without a fight. All of us, even a beer leaguer like myself, knows the feeling of having to fight for your team or for your league. We're women's hockey players and nothing we do happens without some sort of a fight - a fight for ice time, a fight for proper officials, a fight to be taken seriously in what we're doing. The sport is facing yet another fight and, by the sounds of it, the Huskies are up for the challenge. Heck they're the 2009-2010 AUS champions - they know how to win!

    To them I say don't give up. Right now you are fighting for your team but, by extension, you are also fighting for your sport and for women in general. There will come a day where fighting for equality in sports will be ancient history because that battle will have been won. Future generations of women's hockey players will look back on your team with a great feeling for pride and reverence because you will have paved the way for them to play the sport they love at a high level. As painful and frustrating as the situation is now, it is probably similar to situations that our heroes have gone through themselves. Long before there was the glory of a Hockey Hall of Fame induction, I'm sure the likes of Angela James and Cammi Granato had to fight for their turf too. It has only added to their legacies and this fight will only add to yours. From coast to coast, Canadians support you and we know that this day will lead to better days ahead for the SMU Huskies and for the sport we all love.

    Article from The Globe and Mail
    Article from the Canadian Press
    St.Mary's Huskies - Women's Hockey website

    Monday, March 14, 2011

    Farewell Jennifer Botterill a.k.a "The Harvard Hockey Player"

    Botterill celebrates after winning gold in Vancouver. Photo credit:

    This is the exact conversation I had with my mom immediately after Team Canada scored their first goal in the women's hockey gold medal game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics:

    Me: [Jumping up and down celebrating (and throwing in the occasional expletive)] Mom, we scorreeeddd. Oh my god what a great goal!

    Mom: Ya that is a nice goal. #17 made a nice pass.

    Me: That's Jennifer Botterill. She's awesome.

    Mom: Oh that really pretty one!? Now she makes hockey players look good. And she's so pleasant.

    Me: Uhhh she's pleasant? Have you met her before?

    Mom: No but I saw an interview with her the other day. She was so positive and soft spoken. Not like SOME people who swear every 5 seconds when they watch a game!

    Me: [Rolling eyes] Oh geez Mom sorry to let you down. You know she's a Harvard grad too?

    Ohhh crap, I really shouldn't have told her that! That was the moment - the moment I knew I'd never hear the end of it. My mom isn't great with names (she pronounces Hayley Wickenheiser as Hayley Wicken-howzer) so in our household Jennifer Botterill is known simply as "the Harvard hockey player."

    When Becky Kellar, Gina Kingsbury, Colleen Sostorics, and Carla MacLeod retired from the Canadian National Women's Hockey team (1) I stated that I would always view them as being members of "the original Team Canada." These were the players that I grew up watching and they were the ones who inspired me and paved the way for me to play the game I love. Jennifer Botterill is in that same category. To me, she is a staple on that team. The way I still find it weird to not see Cassie Campbell and her #77 out on the ice in the red and white, I think it'll feel the same way with Botterill and her #17. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer but through interviews and articles I think I can safely conclude one thing: that Jennifer is the ultimate team mate - she's the person who keeps everyone positive and happy, the one who helps sort out any issues or differences that may be occurring in the locker room, and the one who doesn't abandon a team mate when a 5 hour bike ride through the hills of Calgary is becoming just a little too challenging! (2) A team has to be lucky to have a player like that on the team. After a rigorous day of training, after a tough loss, and even after a big win, that attitude of loyalty, of passion, and of enthusiasm is so badly needed.

    And Jennifer was also a heck of a hockey player - 3 Olympic gold medals, 5 World Championship gold medals (voted tournament MVP twice), the only 2-time winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award (top woman college ice hockey player in the United States), and NCAA Frozen Four MVP are just a few of the highlights and honours of her illustrious career. Jennifer is the Harvard Crimson's all time leading scorer and holds the record of an incredible 80 game point streak! Her national team point totals are sparkling too - 65G, 109A, 174Pts in 184 career games - good for 5th on the all time list. (3) And oh yeah, she also graduated from Harvard with an honours degree in Psychology.

    Today Jennifer Botterill announced her retirement from the Canadian National team. Her performance with the team over the past 14 years has put her into a category of legends. She has left her mark not only on the Canadian team but also on the Harvard Crimson and on all club teams she's ever played on. She has inspired a generation of young girls and women to strive to be the best - in hockey, in academics, and in life. And her example is one that we can all learn from on how to be a good team mate, a good friend, and a good role model. "The Harvard hockey player" is a hero to so many of us. I'll miss cheering for her on the National Team but I wish her nothing but luck in her future undertakings. Thank you Jennifer :)

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    One Year Later: What Vancouver 2010 Meant To Me

    I remember waking up on Friday February 12, 2010 and thinking to myself "holy cow, the Olympics begin in my city TODAY!" It was a surreal feeling and one that never left me throughout those 17 days. Each day I would wake up knowing that somewhere in the city of Vancouver or Whistler an athlete's dreams were about to come true. As the days wore on I became confident to the point of cockiness. Canada was having so much success at the Games that after awhile it was not a matter of wondering if Canada would win a medal that day. It was about how many we would win.

    The Vancouver 2010 Olympics changed my city and they changed me. Even though the athletes, the visitors, the media, and the festivities are long gone I can still picture them as I walk on Robson Street. Prior to the Olympics I remember telling my friend "this is going to be creepy. So many people from all over the world will be converging on our city. I feel violated - like people are walking right into my house or something." I was not an anti-Olympics person. To the contrary, I had an urge to lay a good old fashion Canadian beatdown on all the rioters and protesters. But I am protective of my city and my country and I knew that we would be judged for who we were and what we did. I was scared that Vancouver would somehow lose it's international lustre for being a beautiful and culturally diverse place. But 17 days of glorious weather, amazing hospitality by all Vancouverites, and hard work from every blue-jacketed volunteer made our city even more appealing to the world. By the time it was over I was overjoyed to have so many visitors and I actually didn't want them to leave!

    During the first few days I felt a weird kind of pressure. I wasn't an athlete nor was I a member of VANOC or the IOC so there were no expectations on me to perform or anything, but I felt pressure on behalf of our city. So much time, money, and effort had gone into the planning of these Games that I wanted everything to be perfect. It was therefore devastating when, only hours before the Opening Ceremonies, we learned of the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run at Whistler. In my mind, the Games were over before they even began. How could any event recover from a tragedy of this magnitude? What was going to happen to the fallen luger's family? To the fellow Georgian athletes? To the luge competition?   Suddenly "Owning the Podium" seemed like such a far away goal. Had it been me in VANOC CEO John Furlong's position I don't know what I would have done. I think I would have waved the white flag of defeat. But with the world's scrutiny on him, Mr.Furlong didn't falter. He defended the Whistler Sliding Center and the event like any good leader should but he also allowed his emotions and his profound sadness over the tragedy to show. The Olympics were his main interest but he too was human and there were few people in the world who were more affected by the death than Mr.Furlong. I think it was important that he showed that to the world. I also think that the Georgian team agreeing to march in the Athletes Parade of the Opening Ceremony was important. It gave the fans at B.C Place a chance to show, on behalf of all of us, how we stood behind Nodar Kumaritashvili and Team Georgia as though they were our own. The feelings of Canadian pride were emitted like never before during the Opening Ceremony and suddenly it started to feel like maybe we could overcome the days events and still put on the greatest Games the world had ever seen.

    The days that followed were vastly different and yet also very similar. I had the TV, the laptop, Twitter, and all other forms of social media around me 24/7. There was so much going on that I didn't want to miss anything. I had the pleasure of getting to attend two events - both women's ice hockey preliminary games. My love for women's hockey goes far beyond anything else in my life. I have worshipped some of the Team Canada players since I was little. To finally get to watch them play live in front of a full house at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Center was a dream come true. With ever shot that Hayley Wickenheiser took and ever save that Shannon Szabados made my love and respect for the players and the game grew. And looking around I knew that I was not the only one. "In this arena, this city, this nation, and this world young girls are realizing the power of their dreams," I told myself. The amazing thing about the Olympics was the interactions with others. Everyone around me seemed giddy. They all wanted to talk even if they didn't know who they were talking to. Some wanted to know more about Vancouver. Others wanted to talk about specific sports. And yet others just needed to know where the heck the nearest Starbucks was (I had Starbucks programmed into my iPhone GPS because that's how many people kept asking me where to find one!). Either way, the Games were a coming together of many nationalities under one common banner: sports.

    Canada makes no secret of our desire to win gold in hockey. Prior to the Games I think we all felt that as long as our hockey teams (particularly the men) won gold, any other losses would not really matter. Such is the beauty of the Olympics though, that as the days progressed we all started falling in love with sports we'd barely even heard of. I found myself Googling things like biathlon, curling, and speed skating just to make sure I knew the rules for when I watched the events on TV. Suddenly, every event and every athlete became important. I was holding my breath every time a Canadian took center stage and was on the edge of my seat when Alexandre Bilodeau came down that moguls run on his way to bringing home Canada's first gold medal. I even fell in love with figure skating - a sport that I've hated for a decade because I believed it took me away from my real passion of hockey. With the exception of men's hockey, all the other athletes train year round, sacrificing their bodies, leaving their families, while making barely any money, all for a chance to compete on the Olympic stage. They deserved our support as much as any other team did.

    Out of the Games came stories of tragedy and triumph. Fans screamed and cheered with every medal their athletes won and they felt the heartbreak of every goal surrendered and every fall on the track. The world came to hold a special place in their heart for Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette who competed just days after her mom's sudden death, and for Petra Majdic the Slovenian cross-country skier who won bronze despite suffering four broken ribs and a collapsed lung after a horrific fall during training runs. These athletes and all the athletes in the Games showed us what happens when you have a passion and you work hard. They were ordinary people with an extraordinary work ethic and they showed the world what the human body and spirit are capable of pulling off.

    Since the Games I have made an effort to get in touch with a lot of the athletes. Since I was little I've had a dream of competing in the Olympics. It didn't happen for me because, unlike my heroes, I didn't have the courage to pursue it. The fear of failing overpowered the desire to become something big. But knowing that the Olympics took place in my city and that I was a small part of the volunteering and the fun made me feel that I was doing something to help other people's dreams come true. I wanted to get in touch with these athletes to tell them that I'm proud of their courage, their passion, and their commitment. Because of them, more people will be inspired to pursue their dreams. I wanted them to know that although being an athlete is not always glamourous, they have fans who hold them in higher esteem than they may realize.They needed to know that so that they never walk away from their respective sports thinking that no one noticed what they did or that they never made a difference. They did. They did make a difference, in my life and in the lives of so many who watched.

    Vancouver 2010 made us realize that if you begin a mission with a single goal in mind, and if you work hard, do the right things, and believe in yourself, your dream will unfold in front of you as though it were out of a movie. Unscripted and yet so perfectly choreographed, Vancouver 2010 taught me to Believe.

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    For the Greater Good of the Game

    The elated (and deserving) bronze medal winners: Team Finland
    I want my beloved Vancouver Canucks to win a Stanley Cup...NOW. After 40 painful year of suffering through rises and rebuilds, after being teased with the success of Pavel Bure in the early 90's and the West Coast Express in the early 2000's - neither of which resulted in a Stanley Cup - myself and my fellow fans are ready for Lord Stanley to be hoisted into the air by the Vancouver Canucks. And let me be clear about one thing: In hockey I don't switch loyalties. If the Canucks are eliminated from the playoffs I don't simply move on and jump onto the bandwagon of another hockey team. There is a long process of anger, acceptance, and healing and sometimes I even flirt with a visit to rehab. Rough times I'm telling you! My point is, I love my hockey team and I cheer for them and only them.

    It's no different with my other favourite hockey team - the Canadian National Women's squad. Prior to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics I had said that the only gold medal I really wanted was in women's hockey. I know that all of Canada was desperate for the men's team to win gold on home soil and I'm not going to lie, when Crosby scored that goal in OT I jumped about as high into the air as Alexandre Bilodeau did a few days earlier in his golden moguls run (albeit my jump didn't include a fancy twist in the air). But knowing that the Games were at home and that there would be young Canadian girls watching as our team took to the ice, I knew that this was the sport's greatest chance to gain some glory. This was a chance to inspire young players and, for the members of the team, it was a chance for them to become national heroes - a title that they so deserved. I wanted the women's team to experience the 18,000+ at Canada Hockey Place cheer for them and sing the national anthem with them. This is something the men's teams experience almost every day in the NHL. For the women, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

    Now that the Games are over and the team will go down in Canadian history for having won gold at home, I admit that my loyalties are starting to shift just a little bit. Many of the other women's hockey teams at the Olympics caught my eye - hearing Team China communicate on the ice in their native tongue, watching the Team Switzerland coach jump for joy when his team scored their one and only goal against Canada, seeing Team Slovakia still attempting to block shots in a game where Canada was leading them 18-0, and seeing Team Finland stand and sing their national anthem after winning the bronze medal made me acquire a great affection for these other teams. They have managed to play on the same stage as Canada and the USA with about half the financial and structural support from their respective national governing bodies. They share the same dream as their Canadian and American counterparts but whereas the latter have the backing of solid hockey organizations like Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, the former are usually supported only with funding left over from their nations' respective men's programs.

    For these teams to beat the likes of Canada and the USA it will be no small task. The level of hockey within their teams needs to improve exponentially because, at the present time, the discrepancy between the nations is glaring. And the level of play will not be improved simply through focusing on the twenty-somewhat members of the Olympic teams. The game has to be grown at a grassroots level, knowledgeable coaches, managers, and trainers have to take over at the helm of the programs, and the number of high level athletes needs to increase so that the talent pool from which the national teams are formed are larger and more competitive. But ironically, winning games and eventually tournaments is what will fuel this progress in the first place and it is imperative for the growth of the games in their own countries and worldwide. The women's hockey movement has to reach the furthest corners of each nation and talent needs to be discovered wherever it may exist. For example, not all the members of Team Canada come from big cities like Toronto, Montreal, or Calgary. Shaunavon, Ruthven, Beauceville, and Uranium City (ummm where the heck is that!?) are all cities that have produced top level hockey players. While the players may have eventually moved to bigger cities to gain better opportunities in hockey, they got their starts in these small town hockey organizations and yet were still discovered and given a chance on a bigger stage. By contrast, all 23 members of the Chinese National Team were born in one of two cities - Harbin or Qiqihar - and all belong to club teams from one of those two cities. This means that there are likely females who are interested in playing hockey but who live on the outskirts of the country and are, therefore, unable to gain access to the national program. That's like saying Canada will only look at players from Ontario. Well in that case, we'd have no Hayley Wickenheiser (a Saskatchewan product), no Marie-Philip Poulin (a Quebecois), and no goalies (Szabados, St.Pierre, and Labonte are all from outside Ontario). The greatest talents in the country would be left undiscovered.

    The easiest solution is to bring players from Europe and Asia over to North America. This is already starting to happen with players coming over to play college hockey in the US and in the CWHL here in Canada. But at the same time, it's one thing to ask Teemu Selanne to move to North America and quite another to ask a women's hockey player to do it. There are no multi-million dollar contracts, no endorsements, and no lives of luxury here for women's hockey players. There is only the prospect of leaving their families and their homes to live in a foreign land with the hope of being given opportunities to play hockey at a higher level. Financially though, the incentives are pretty sparse.

    Perhaps it would be in the best interest of the sport that Canada and the US send their own personnel over to these secondary nations to do some scouting and developing of the young players. In most sports, it's unheard of that nations help each other make progress. However, in the case of women's hockey, it is no longer about one country vs. the other. It's about the sport as a whole and, at this rate, the sport will not survive to see much past the 2014 Sochi Games. In such a short time span, women's hockey has made so many strides. Each nation has produced a few star players who have become the face of the sport in their respective countries. At events like the Hayley Wickenheiser International Women's Hockey Festival that was held recently in Vancouver, a spotlight was shone on a team from Kladno, Czech Republic. The team with no money, no matching equipment, and no real national program put on a show for the locals. Their brand of hockey was hard working and skillful and they ended up winning their tier of the tournament. It didn't matter that some of them had red hockey pants while others had black ones. They were given the opportunity to shine and they did. It's time to give that same opportunity to female players everywhere so that the positive strides can be reflected on the international stage.

    So, for the greater good of the game, I truly hope that someday soon I am forced to watch as Team Finland stands and sings their national anthem at the Olympics - only this time with their flag being raised higher than those of Canada and the US. I hope that Team China stuns my beloved Canadians with a big win at the Nationals. I hope women's hockey finds its version of the "Jamaican Bobsled Team" that comes out of the woodwork and takes everyone by storm. Because when that happens, I won't be disappointed or frustrated in the effort of Canada. I will be proud in knowing that it was our players and personnel who had a hand in another team's triumph. I will be satisfied in knowing that somewhere in that victorious nation young girls will be saying "I want to play hockey too." And I will be thrilled, because in that moment, the sport I love will have made its greatest stride yet.