International women’s hockey needs more leadership

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We can all breathe a sigh of relief now that the World Hockey Summit has been held.

Some of hockey’s most powerful figures were in the centre of the universe last week for the Summit, which had a stated goal of exploring some of the most pressing issues in the game in an open forum type setting.

The average Joe Q. Hockeyfan had the opportunity to shell out $450 dollars of their hard earned cash to sit around and hear the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) try and outdo each other.

NHL commish Gary Bettman was non-committal on the issue of NHL’ers playing in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, while IIHF president Rene Fasel told attendees the NHL had a snowballs chance in hell of expanding into Europe.

Posturing aside, the summit did touch on an issue that I believe is very important in the game that we consider to be our national sport (for the record, lacrosse is our national sport, but hockey I would say is our national “passion”)

The state of the women’s game was laid out for all to see, with Canadian standout Hayley Wickenheiser making some very pointed comments about what needs to be done to improve the state of women’s hockey and save it from the Olympic chopping block.

After Canada demolished Slovakia 18-0 in the opening game at the recent Olympics held in Vancouver, women’s hockey took a beating, with critics calling the sport nothing more than an intramural competition between Canada and United States. (Everyone seemed to forget that in 2008, Slovakia hammered Bulgaria 82-0 to qualify for the 2010 games, but I digress.)

But it was a criticism that very few of us could disagree with.

Since 1998, when women’s hockey was first introduced as an Olympic sport, Canada has won three golds (2002, 2006, and 2010) and one silver (1998), with the Americans taking one gold (1998), two silvers (2002, 2010) and one bronze (2006).

Sweden, which stunned the USA in 2006 before falling to Canada in the gold medal game, is the only other country to win gold or silver in the history of the Olympics.

In her address last week, Wickenheiser spoke of the need for more leadership, more funding and more infrastructure in countries where the game is still in its infancy.

She said countries that are trying to catch up to Canada and the USA can’t compete on the same level because they don’t have access to the right coaches, a bigger pool of players or rinks in which they can sharpen their skills.

I couldn’t agree more.

Let’s take a look at the female hockey program that is set up in our very own neck of the woods.

Central Alberta is very blessed with not only a strong female program, but a massive pool of players to choose from.

I think of someone like Camille Trautman, who tended the twine for the Midget AAA Sutter Fund Chiefs last season, as a perfect example of the type of players our local program churns out every year.

But it wasn’t always like this.

A lot of work has gone in at the grassroots level over the years and people like Mickey Girard, who once starred for the national champion Red Deer Rustlers, have devoted countless hours to make the program as good as it is today.

And that’s the kind of local-level work that needs to be done in countries like Finland, Sweden, China, etc, where women’s hockey is showing signs of progress, but not enough where they can compete consistently with the likes of Canada and the USA.

If that kind of work doesn’t happen soon, Wickenheiser’s fear of women’s hockey being shown the door from Olympic competition may soon be a reality.

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