Monday, 16 July 2018

Post #4000

While Fox hasn't cancelled me, I'm actually pretty humbled by reaching my 4000th article here on HBIC. When I started this blog in 2007, I never expected it to go this long as a site with a daily entry about the major stories in hockey that caught my attention. I thought I might do it for a while, but it has become so much more than a blog. It's a community that includes a number of great people - contributors, contest entrants, and commenters - and I'm grateful for everyone who has helped me get to 4000. But I'm here with a bit of a reflection today on how we, as bloggers and reporters, write our stories.

"The worst thing about North American journalism is its insularity: the feeling that the United States is the world. And this is true even of the New York Times; nothing comes from the perspective of other places…" - Anthony Bourdain to Maria Bustillos.

As I settle in to write a piece that hopefully makes one think, I want to draw special attention to the late-Mr. Bourdain's comment regarding journalism and how we only provide our own perspectives. I'm just as guilty of this as anyone else who may write a story on any piece of news. While we try to be objective, we ultimately tell the story we want to write that we see, hear, and experience from our own point-of-view. It's in this point-of-view that we may miss the story altogether, especially when we write these stories from afar rather than being on the ground and in the mix where these stories are happening. Even then, our own perspectives can change the actual story that should be told.

I want to draw upon two specific examples that are happening in the world of women's hockey right now. Both have immense human-impact stories that will affect the players in a number of ways, yet these stories seem to be nothing more than footnotes if they're mentioned at all. By changing one's perspective, suddenly these stories take on a new angle that changes the entire premise of what is important.

The first story is regarding the removal of funding from Sweden's National Women's Team at the start of July. The Swedish Olympic Committee made the decision to cut off funding to the Damkronorna after some rather lowly finishes at major international tournaments. The end result is that fifteen female athletes are each losing approximately $8100 annually in funding that allows these women to train and prepare for future tournaments.

Now this may seem like a decision that is justifiable when one considers that Sweden has fallen from medal favorite at the Olympics to also-ran, and the team itself has finished at other tournaments off the podium and down the standings. Meredith Foster of The Ice Garden wrote a good piece on this decision and how it affects the program, but the program is nothing without the women and there was very little said about how this decision to cut funding affects the women who are expected to represent the national team in future tournaments.

It is expected that these players will still make time to train and prepare for upcoming events, but the issue becomes a little harder when they have lost a major chunk of money they used to supplement their regular incomes to pay for training, ice time, equipment, and anything else they need to compete at an elite level.

Working shift work or a nine-to-five not only reduces the amount of time for training that these women once had, but it makes traveling as part of Sweden's National Team significantly harder. Holiday time from work, leaves of absence, and finding creative ways to take time off work gets a little harder when these women have to work in order to pay rent, buy groceries, find ice time, buy equipment, and anything else that they need to compete.

No one seems to consider that these women were already giving a significant amount of time to the Swedish program in exchange for the funding they were receiving. Without that funding, these women need to find a way to replace that funding, and asking them to sacrifice the time they're using to make the money they need to pay their bills in order to train and play while wearing the Tre Kronor uniform is extremely shortsighted on the Swedish Olympic Committee's part.

But there has yet to be one follow-up on this story to find out how the women were handling the loss of pay. There is not yet a mention of whether the women were struggling to work, live life, and find the time to train for the national team. There isn't an examination of the effect on the women from an everyday-life perspective when that's where this story truly exists. The Swedish National Women's Team will still exist, but the question is in what capacity if the current team's players can't find a way to make it work?

Granted, it's only been two weeks since this story broke, but there should be some follow-up in the coming weeks to measure the effectiveness and the impact of this decision on the women of the Damkronorna. I say "should be" because I don't know if there will be despite my belief that this story should be followed to the end of the story.

I'm hopeful it will happen because any follow-up with the Swedish women affected by the Swedish Olympic Committee's decision and the fans who support this team changes the perspective of this story entirely from a money-performance issue to a real-life human impact issue. And that's important when trying to understand the struggle that women's sports face when it comes to funding, support, and long-term growth.

The second story is one that happened today. I'll preface it with this.
Yes, it's brutal that the Canadian pro women's league decided to contract the Vanke Rays, and that does mean less jobs for all involved. Some will undoubtedly move to Kunlun Red Star, but Mike makes a point in that six North American women will lose their "hockey ambassador" jobs that paid them a reported $100,000 annually.

The only problem with that sentiment?
The North American players can return to North America and find jobs. While it likely won't be for $100,000 annually, they can return and play hockey and work a job just like every other North American player currently does. The Chinese players on Vanke - a team that seems to have been contracted due to costs - don't have that luxury as very few will be invited to play with Kunlun, and most will likely have to go back to jobs that see them, like the Swedish players above, consider abandoning the idea of training and playing for their national team.

We're sending a dozen women back to the workforce in an oppressive-to-women China, and we should worry about the six North American players losing their hockey ambassador jobs?

Regarding this oppression, as recently as March 7, 2018, reports in China had women earning 22% less money annually than men with the average monthly salary of women being "6,589 yuan ($1,039), while that for men is 8,006 yuan" or $1197 USD. Further to this, Guo Sheng, CEO of Zhaopin.com, suggested that Chinese leaders should "consider moving up the starting age for school from 3 years old to 18 months old, which can help women put their main energy into work instead of looking after their little children" in order to assist women earn promotions in their chosen field. But those living wages earned by the North Americans sure stand out as the human impact story?

For the first time possibly ever in their lives, fifteen Chinese women were earning money by being exceptional in their field without competing with men for the same job. For the first possibly ever in their lives, fifteen Chinese women were on the largest professional stage for women of their calibre. For the first time possibly ever in their lives, fifteen Chinese women were traveling to North America to play hockey for their country rather than to seek new opportunities away from their country. And for the first time ever today, those opportunities were taken from them.

What do their futures hold? What do these women do when it comes to their hockey aspirations? How do they train to be part of the national team, and does that opportunity even exist now that they aren't playing professionally? We know what Brooke Webster, Emily Janiga, and Zoe Hickel are doing next season after they returned to North American and signed with North American professional teams, but the same cannot be said for Naixin Zhou, Minghui Kong, and Han Gao. Their futures are anything but clear when it comes to playing hockey.

These are the stories that need to be told. I'm not picking on Meredith or Mike in any way. They're reporting factual information and making conclusions based on that information, and that's an important part of the equation when it comes to telling the story. However, in this day and age of "grow the game," we may actually be seeing the game take steps back due to a lack of funding for women's hockey, and that's the piece of the story that seems to be missing from these specific stories.

Again, I'm hopeful there will be follow-ups regarding these two stories, but Mr. Bourdain's comment of "nothing comes from the perspective of other places" is something we seem to lose when telling these stories. As I stated above, I'm as guilty as anyone else for not following up on stories as vigorously as I should, but starting with article #4001 I pledge that I will do more human interest and human impact stories to give the full story when it comes to hockey-related matters. Not only will that pledge happen here, but it will also happen on The Hockey Show in order to bring an understanding of what people in the stories we feature are experiencing from their perspectives.

I have always wanted to tell hockey stories better. Today, I pledge to be a better story-teller.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Gone Too Young

I had plans on writing something about French hockey after their national soccer team won the World Cup today, but it was hard hearing that former NHL goaltender Ray Emery, pictured on the left with boxing legend Joe Frazier, had passed away today at the age of 35 after drowning in Lake Ontario in Hamilton, Ontario. Emery, who played for four different NHL teams, five AHL teams, one KHL team, and one DEL team professionally, was controversial at times, but his intensity, his devotion to his teammates, and his abilities to tend the net were never questioned. After hearing the news today about his passing, it's a sad day in the hockey world.

This was the tweet that I first saw about the tragedy in Hamilton.
It's actually quite well-known that Lake Ontario has a number of undertow currents that are far stronger than your normal undertow, and these are often called rip currents. For those not aware of what a rip current is, it is defined as "a relatively strong, narrow current flowing outward from the beach through the surf zone and presenting a hazard to swimmers." According to The Weather Channel, "an average of 12 people are killed by currents and 25 more are rescued on the Great Lakes, according to the National Weather Service." This may have been the cause of Ray Emery's drowning as his body was found by dive crews some seventy-feet away from where he jumped into the water.

We hear about water safety every summer, but it's hard to predict where these rip currents may exist. If this is indeed the reason for Ray Emery's drowning, it's a reminder to be extra vigilant when venturing into the water. Losing the man they called "Razor" at the age of 35 is a loss that should remind us that no matter how fiery of a fighter one is - and Ray Emery certainly could hold his own against anyone - there are still forces that can end a fight very quickly.

Rest in peace, Ray Emery. You were taken far too young from us, and you'll always be remembered for the passion you had for the game, your teammates, and life.

Until next time, hold your sticks high in memory of Ray Emery!

Saturday, 14 July 2018

A Legend Gone

I try not to get too sentimental on HBIC, but there are times where something hits home and you have to address it. Yesterday, Venla Hovi tweeted out the above tweet, and it really caught me in its finality of her U SPORTS hockey career. Venla's been a face and presence in these parts for some time now, and her enthusiasm and attitude have rubbed off on everyone. It's a hard pill to swallow, but the University of Manitoba may never see another athlete of Venla's abilities and accomplishments on the ice for some time.

Make no mistake that Winnipeg and Manitoba has produced some outstanding female hockey players. Jennifer Botterill, Sami Jo Small, and Halli Krzyzaniak are among the current names of players who have held the torch high in recent years, and there are more on the way as women's hockey in the province and city become more prominent with prep hockey academies and high school clubs producing better talent each and every year. There will never be a shortage of amazing women who are playing the game who call this province home, and that's exciting for hockey fans across the spectrum as more and more U SPORTS and NCAA programs recruit Manitoba-born women into their programs.

What makes Venla special, though, is how she adopted this province as home as fast as this province adopted her. She is constantly busy in the community and on campus, and her work with the Bisons and with other elite athletes is making her one of the city's gems when it comes to athletics. Venla, from what I've been told, is still planning on competing for Team Finland, so you know her diet, training, and exercise all are Olympic calibre, and that training regiment has pushed other athletes around her to train harder, be stronger, move faster, and be better thanks to her work ethic.

Most people probably haven't encountered Venla in their daily lives, though. She's incredibly upbeat, sugary-sweet in her positiveness, hilariously funny, wicked smart, and a joy to be around in any circumstance. Having had the opportunity to get to know her over the last few years while she played for the Bisons, there was never any doubt about her talents on the ice as she routinely wowed us with her abilities. It was off the ice, however, where she went from a shy foreigner to a an absolute tour-de-force as we got to know her more, and I cannot express how grateful I am that she let us, as broadcasters, into her life. She truly is a wonderful person, and I am a better human being for knowing Venla Hovi.

Her impact on the hockey world in this city and on the international stage will surely still be felt as she continues to train the next generation and compete for her country of birth. Of this, I have no doubt. The one thing that I will selfishly miss is seeing her at Wayne Fleming Arena weekly, seeing that smile that lights up the rink, and watching her dazzle the crowd with her hands and her speed. Selfishly, I'll miss her barking orders at her teammates on the bench, the intensity in her eyes when a big play was needed, and the chirps she used to toss at me between the benches during warm-up with that patented smile on her face.

Thank you, Venla Hovi, for being one of the greatest Bisons to ever wear the jersey.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Friday, 13 July 2018

Solid U SPORTS Team

If you missed out on the many opportunities to see the University of Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team last season, you missed out on seeing Alanna Sharman live. Sharman was one of the engines that drove the Bisons all the way to London, Ontario where they won the U SPORTS National Championship, and now Alanna will head to Calgary this summer for the Hockey Canada Summer Showcase from August 2-11. She's a leader and playmaker, and she put those talents on display in London where Hockey Canada's Melody Davidson was in attendance, and Alanna clearly did enough to impress Davidson to garner an invitation alongside 19 other U SPORTS players who legitimately can be called "the best of the best".

It's the third-straight year that Bisons players will go to the Summer Showcase. This year's U SPORTS squad will get to play the two squads from Hockey Canada National Women's Development Team as well as Japan's National Women's Team. This will be Sharman's second invitation to the Summer Showcase after she was named to the inaugural U SPORTS squad that played at the showcase in 2016.

"I'm super excited to be heading out to Calgary," Sharman told John Gaudes of Bisons Sports. "I'm looking forward to playing with and against some of the top Canadian athletes. Hopefully it'll be an opportunity to learn and have some fun as well."

Her teammates are a collection of impressive players, the majority of whom played in London at the U SPORTS National Championship this past March. Among the players that Sharman played against in London, the Concordia Stingers are sending four players including goaltender Katherine Purchase, defender Marie-Joëlle Allard, and forwards Audrey Belzile and and Claudia Dubois. Western University, who Manitoba defeated in the final, is sending one player in forward April Clark. In total, 11 of the 20 players representing the U SPORTS team played in March's National Championship tournament.

The roster is as follows:
  • G Katherine Purchase - Concordia
  • G Maude Trevisan - Montreal
  • D Marie-Joëlle Allard - Concordia
  • D Cayle Dillon - Alberta
  • D Lindsey Donovan - St. Francis-Xavier
  • D Cassidy Herman - Ottawa
  • D Celine Tardif - UBC
  • D Alex Woods - St. Thomas
  • F Audrey Belzile - Concordia
  • F Mélodie Bouchard - Ottawa
  • F Sarah Bujold - St. Francis-Xavier
  • F April Clark - Western
  • F Maria Dominico - Nipissing
  • F Jade Downie-Landry - McGill
  • F Catherine Dubois - Montreal
  • F Claudia Dubois - Concordia
  • F Ailish Forfar - Ryerson
  • F Alex Poznikoff - Alberta
  • F Alanna Sharman - Manitoba
  • F Kaitlin Willoughby - Saskatchewan
The squad will be coached by Stacey Colarossi from Laurentian, and she'll have Moncton's Marc-André Côté, Ottawa's Greg Bowles, and Mount Allison's Terry Rhindress helping her as her assistant coaches. That's a solid staff, and they'll have a talented squad to work with having seen a number of these women in living colour. Can they improve on their 2-2 record from last year's showcase? It's possible, but these women have to come together quickly.

Katherine Purchase's performance for Concordia at the U SPORTS National Championship has me convinced that she'll provide impeccable goaltending for this squad. Allard, Dillon, and Tardif are all medal-winners at the U SPORTS National Championship over the last two seasons, and all have incredibly high hockey IQs. Belzile, Bujold, Clark, Dubois, Dubois, Poznikoff, Sharman, and Willoughby all posses incredible speed and skill, and this U SPORTS team will fly if the coaching staff lets them skate. I expect this all-star squad, with the talent assembled, to at least replicate that 2-2 record from last year.

Congratulations to Alanna Sharman on her invitation as she definitely was one of Canada's best university players last season!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

The Hockey Show - Episode 303

The Hockey Show, Canada's only campus-produced radio show that strictly talks hockey, continues with the Summer of Interviews tonight as we bring back another guest who we really enjoyed having on the show the first time. She's a champion, she's earning her PhD in awesomeness, and she's doing amazing things in nature and in her community. It isn't often we get to chat to someone who hoisted hardware, but we're happy to be doing that tonight!

Beans and I get to welcome back the woman on the left as we first spoke with her on March 3, 2016 in Episode 180. At that time, she played for the Brampton Thunder which has since become the Markham Thunder which has since won the Clarkson Cup! Tonight, we welcome back CWHL champion Fielding Montgomery as we get caught up on her season, her experiences in China as a player, her PhD work as she earns her Master's Degree, her sister who is just as awesome as she is, and the amazing things she's doing in the community as a member of the Thunder! Fielding's last couple of years have been busy, so we're happy to get an hour with her to talk about all the amazing things she's doing!

"Hey, I know Fielding! I wanna listen!" you say. Well, the easiest way is for you to download the UMFM app on your phone or tablet. It's literally the most convenient way to listen to any of UMFM's great shows any time of the day, so go get it! Just follow this link on your iDevice or this link for your Android device and get the UMFM app! It's never been easier to tune into The Hockey Show or UMFM! Download the UMFM app today, and don't miss any of our great programming or shows! Of course, you can do the radio thing at the 101.5 frequency on the FM dial and you can always listen online via the UMFM website as well!

If you prefer social media, we try to remain up-to-speed there! Email all show questions and comments to hockeyshow@umfm.com! Tweet me anytime with questions you may have by hitting me up at @TeebzHBIC on Twitter. You can also post some stuff to Facebook if you use the "Like" feature, and I always have crazy stuff posted there that doesn't make it to the blog or show.

Tonight, Beans and I talk with Fielding Montgomery about the Thunder, winning the Clarkson Cup, getting her PhD, some great community initiatives she is part of, and more only on The Hockey Show found exclusively on 101.5 UMFM, on the UMFM app, on the UMFM.com web stream!

PODCAST: July 12, 2018: Episode 303

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!