Friday, October 18, 2013

Swan Song for the Dynasty? Appreciating Team Canada and all they have accomplished.

Newsflash everyone: We are living through a hockey dynasty right now. When we think of hockey dynasties we think of the Detroit Red Wings of the 1950s, the Montreal Canadiens of the 1960s, or the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s. Those teams accomplished it all during their respective eras of supremacy. Their players dominated the competition, the teams won multiple Stanley Cups, and their successes captivated a new generation of hockey fans. Each of those dynasties is defined by players whose accomplishments during those periods have become the stuff of legend and have led to the players being worshiped and immortalized. The NHL has not seen a true dynasty come along since the 1980s, but that does not mean that hockey hasn't seen a dynasty since that time.

Three Olympic gold medals, ten World Championship gold medals, the emergence of several players into becoming household names and Hockey Hall of Fame candidates, and their successes leading to the sport more than doubling its enrollment numbers since its inception into the Olympics. That is the résumé of accomplishments for Canada's National Women's Hockey Team from the year 1990 till present day. Team Canada women's hockey has become an international model of consistency, commitment, and professionalism. The Wings, Habs, and Oilers had the likes of Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Jean Beliveau, Rocket Richard, Wayne Gretzky, and Mark Messier as the backbones of their respective teams. Team Canada boast equally illustrious names. Angela James, Geraldine Heaney, Manon Rhéaume, Danielle Goyette, Cassie Campbell, Jennifer Botterill, Hayley Wickenheiser, Jayna Hefford, Kim St-Pierre, and Caroline Ouellette are just some of the legends this era has produced. These women, along with the rest of their team mates, are directly responsible for the meteoric rise of women's hockey in Canada. They have also taken a sport that is becoming synonymous with multimillion dollar salaries and lucrative endorsement deals, and taken it back to a place of honest intentions and to a place where athletes are fueled by passion rather than by money or fame. To the women of Team Canada, the word "Role Model" is not just about signing autographs and posing for pictures. For them it entails running hockey camps, reaching out to international hockey federations, and growing the game both here at home and globally as well. 

Critics who are reluctant to see the rise of women playing hockey will cite the lack of parity in competition as a reason to banish the sport from the Olympics and to discredit the athletes from their efforts. Does the rest of the field need to catch up to Canada and the USA? Absolutely. Does the lack of parity diminish the top players' accomplishments and skill levels? Absolutely not. By the time all is said and done, many of Team Canada's players will have given more than half their lives to playing for the National Team. Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford played in women's hockey's inaugural Olympics in 1998 and both remain with the team today. Caroline Ouellette, and Charline Labonté joined Wickenheiser and Hefford to help bring home our first gold medal in 2002, and both remain important members of the current team. The game has already lost some great names, with several elite players such as Botterill, St-Pierre, and Becky Kellar calling it quits after the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and several others retiring even prior to that. The Sochi Olympics in 2014 might just be the swan song for many of the remaining members of Canada's original finest players. Considering that by the next Winter Games in 2018, Wickenheiser will be 39 years old and Hefford will be 40, this could possibly be it for them. Now this is going strictly by age. Physically, Wickenheiser, Hefford, and Ouellette (who happen to play on a line together) still look like they could go full throttle for years. They put me and my weak strides to shame that's for sure! But their retirements are still a possibility, and for fans of the game, just the thought of these legends hanging up their skates should evoke some emotion. We will look back on this era of Canadian women's hockey and call it the Golden Years. There will come a time where other nations will challenge us and overthrow us at the top of the ladder. When that day comes, we will look back at this era in Canadian hockey history and we will finally realize, "wow, those girls were good. What a great time that was to be a fan of the sport." By then the legends will be long into their retirements.

How many of us wish we could have seen Richard or Beliveau play live or even on TV? Well folks, the Richards and the Beliveaus of women's hockey are still here. They're on the ice at arenas near us and they're on TV for all of us to cheer on. Don't wait till it's too late. Tune in and support them. Google their bios, learn more about their journeys, and follow them on Twitter and get to know who they really are. If you have young sons, and especially if you have young daughters, introduce them to these players and teach them that this is what a role model should be. These are the players who got it all started. They will go down in history as the people who put women's hockey on the map. And their reign just happens to coincide with all of us being at an age where we can understand and appreciate all that they have done. If this is indeed the swan song for the first generation of women's hockey royalty, we can't let them stroll quietly into the sunset. We must take advantage of this privilege we have been given and enjoy every last minute of their brilliance on the ice. And when they give the word that it's all over, we must stand and applaud, for if it is one thing we know it is that dynasties are rare and can not be replicated, but that when a dynasty comes along, it changes the landscape of the sport forever.