Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Breaking Down Barriers

The image to the left is of Hayley Wickenheiser. Miss Wickenheiser has basically done it all in her illustrious sports career, including playing for Canada at the 2000 Summer Olympics in softball. She's won World Championships with Team Canada, Olympic gold medals with Team Canada, and has even played professional men's hockey in Europe. In 2003, she played for HC Salamat in Finland where she scored two goals and added ten assists in 23 games. This would also make her the first woman to score in a professional men's hockey game. Today, it was announced that Hayley Wickenheiser signed a one-year contract with Swedish third-tier team Eskilstuna Linden. The 29 year-old Canadian is looking to break down barriers in the sport again.

I've been a big supporter of the women's game mainly because it emphasizes everything the men's game doesn't: skill, speed, and scoring. I've spoken at length about how the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto is holding all women back, not to mention the sport as well, with their exclusion of women in the Hall of Fame. I have championed the women's game for the fierce rivalry that exists between the American and Canadian women. I've covered both the Women's NCAA Frozen Four and the CIS Women's Championships, and have seen nothing wrong with the level of hockey being played in either league.

It has been said for some time that Hayley Wickenheiser is the best women's hockey player on the planet right now. She routinely leads Team Canada in scoring, and is always near the top of the list for scoring leaders throughout the various tournaments in which they play.

Which leads me to this question: should she be suiting up for a Tier-3 professional men's Swedish team?

The short answer is "why not?", but that doesn't really say anything, does it?

There's a huge difference between the Swedish Elite League and the Finnish Elite League. She'd be playing in a better league than the third-division of the Finnish Elite League. Granted, she didn't do as well in the second-division of the Finnish Elite League, but I'd put Tier-3 of the Swedish Elite League somewhere between Tier-3 and Tier-2 of the Finnish Elite League.

This isn't 2002 any longer, and she's grown as a person and a player. I think she'll be able to use her experiences as a learning tool. That being said, the guys playing against her won't back down, and she'll have to keep herself moving at all times. Foot speed, as we've seen with aging NHL players, is always a concern, but being only 29, she's in the prime of her career.

Of course, Eskilstuna Linden will be using Miss Wickenheiser's on-ice appearances to help them draw a few more fans that what they normally may attract. However, the Swedish team is also giving girls in Sweden a chance to see one of the best women's hockey players of all-time. This can only result in positive growth of the sport in the Scandinavian country, and that's good for everyone. Sure, some fans may call it "a gimmick", but if more girls start playing hockey, isn't that good for the sport in general?

I'm all for Miss Wickenheiser playing in Sweden and making herself better, as well as growing the game. Women's hockey outside of North America doesn't have the growth it experienced here, and anything to help the game along is better than nothing. If playing against men makes Miss Wickenheiser a better player as well, that's also good for the game and Team Canada.

Good luck, Hayley, and all the best in Sweden!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is impressive for Haley to make a mens team in Europe, and I'm not at all surprised, but unfortunately women's hockey at it's highest level still looks too much like a Midget AAA travel hockey game, minus the physical element. THAT is why the sport has had trouble catching on all over the world.