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

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