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 :)