Growing the women’s game, Part II

At least one person is confident there’s no threat to the Olympic status of women’s hockey.

Luckily, that person is Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation.

That’s a decent bit of power.

“No, I don’t think there’s a threat,” he said following last night’s Hot Stove Sessions at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

n276855599228_1407“If we move women’s hockey out, it will be a huge loss for the Olympic movement.”

You know who agrees with that, right?

Yup, Hayley Wickenheiser – captain of the Olympic gold-medal winning Team Canada at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. A three-time gold-medal winner and the first woman to score a goal in a professional men’s hockey game, the topic is dear to her heart.

In fact, mention to her women’s hockey and the tenuous relationship it seems to have with the Olympics and a fire sparks in her eyes.

“If you take women’s hockey out of the Olympics, it hurts the game globally,” she said. “That’s 160 positions for women athletes and that doesn’t send a very positive message.”

Especially consider women are a huge part of the decision-making process in each family, she says – from the family purchases to whether or not Little Tommy or Tammy can play the game. They’re even playing the game, too, as many women – beyond the competitive players – are heading out to the rink for their own rec-league games.

But developing the game locally in Canada isn’t a great challenge, unless you’re talking about the ice times girls’ and women’s hockey are often forced to endure.

It’s planting the seed globally and growing interest in the European and Asian countries.

One might think girls in Sweden, Finland or Russia might be anxious to strap on the blades and start crunching each other into the boards, like so many of their male brethren who’ve gone onto great things in the NHL.

Not so, says Rene.

“It’s so different between North America and Europe,” he says. “In North America, girls go to college and play the game. It doesn’t work that way in Europe.

“When a girl wants to play hockey in Europe, it’s usually because she had a brother or a father play and they bring her in.”

The interest just doesn’t exist with our European sisters.

Hayley, however, is encouraged by developments in women’s hockey, including talks of a professional league and the induction of Angela James and Cammi Granato.

“No one paid attention to us before,” she says. “Now we’re on the radar. We weren’t on the agenda at the first hockey summit and now we’re on the schedule for this one. We can make a difference if we keep pushing.”

She looks to leaders such as Melody Davidson, head coach of women’s Team Canada. And former teammate Cassie Campbell, who has become a media personality with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.

“The people doing day-to-day work in the trenches, like Finland, they’re doing fantastic work,” Hayley says. “The next step is to get more buy in, to create more opportunities to play the game.

“But players also need to understand the amount of training needed to be successful.”

It will also be important, down the road, for she and her teammates to coach, manage and blaze trails off the ice for women’s hockey.

Would it not also help for the current players to spend time in Europe in the non-Olympic years — promoting the game, leading skills clinics and talking to young girls about the positive aspects of the game?

Our national-team players are the best in the world. If a young boy could a lesson or two about skating from Wayne Gretzky, wouldn’t that help spark a love for the game in that child?

What if that was a young girl in Sweden, Slovakia or Germany and had Hayley Wickenheiser showing her how to shoot a puck?

It would be great if we heard some real action items, realistic actions to achieve, come out of Thursday’s Summit sessions. The group, with Hayley as a speaker, will review the approach toward women’s hockey in all IIHF member associations and what visions they have for developing the game.

Fans of the women’s game will look forward to how we can apply our thoughts from Thursday’s sessions and how we can tangibly grow the game.

Once the talk is over, it’s time to get to work.

For real.

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