Monday, 30 July 2007

Next To Gretzky

There was an interesting article posted today on the online edition of the Ottawa Citizen. It was written by Dave Harrison, and it dealt with getting a Hall of Fame built for women's hockey players. Personally, I think this is a great idea in theory, but poor in its practicality. Why is it that the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto cannot house the women elected to the Hall of Fame? It is the Hockey Hall of Fame, not the NHL Hall of Fame and not the Professional Hockey Players' Hall of Fame. It is there to honour all those people elected for their commitment and dedication to hockey as well as the significant achievements and accolades received by other well-established players. Why can't the women stand next to the men? Why can't those women who have given the better part of their lives to hockey be given the same respect as the men who did nothing more but nothing less?

The first argument is that women's hockey isn't quite what the men's game is. Mr. Harrison writes:

"Men's hockey is lightning fast, hard-hitting and often edge-of-the-seat exciting; powder-puff hockey is anything but.

Women's hockey is just a shade faster than Tai Chi but only half as interesting.

If any event is worthy of an "escape call" early in the first period, it's women's hockey.

As a crowd pleaser it seems to appeal only to other women who have convinced themselves that it's entertaining, feminist promoters of lost causes, anxious sponsors who are about to lose their shirts, milquetoast males who allow their women to choose their clothes (Real Men Don't Eat Quiche), and husbands who nod in agreement if they know what's good for them.

No self-respecting, red-blooded, beer-drinking, Canadian male hockey fan ever takes women's hockey seriously."

I don't want to ruin Mr. Harrison's testosterone-driven rant here, but I am a single, self-respecting male in the country of Canada who loves his beer as much as the patriotic red blood flowing through my veins. I have not only watched women's hockey games from start to finish, but attended several over the course of time as a paying customer to the entertainment. I have never left early, and I never intend to.

I can understand what Mr. Harrison is trying to say. Hockey, when played by men, is faster and more violent. That's due to our genetic make-up, though. As men, we're supposed to be bigger, faster, and stronger than women. That is who we are as men. It has nothing to do with how the game is played.

If anything, the women's game emphasizes the very things that the men's game does not: skill, speed, passing, and defensive zone coverage. If you take body-checking out of the men's game, how many men would find themselves too slow and too underskilled to be playing at the NHL or Olympic level? If anyone has ever watched a women's hockey game, the speed may not be the equivalent of a men's game, but there is far less holding, far less stick infractions, and far more scoring chances. Isn't that why we watch hockey? We want scoring, we want action, we want end-to-end rushes.

"You're going to see a lot of contact and physical play without penalties, but you're not going to see the typical lowering of the shoulder to remove the puck," says Margot Page, head coach of the women's team at Niagara University in western New York.

According to the International Ice Hockey Federation rules, the main difference between body contact and bodychecking is that in the former there is an attempt to play the puck first.

"I think you see people wanting to try and execute and use their skill more, instead of individual tactics," says Page, who points out that international men's games are also more fluid than the NHL.

If Wayne Gretzky is the role model for men's hockey as an ambassador, the same would go for Hayley Wickenheiser in Canada as an ambassador for women's hockey. In the United States, Cammi Granato is to women's hockey as Mike Modano is to men's hockey. Kim St-Pierre has established herself as the premiere women's goalie in the game much as Martin Brodeur is arguably the best men's goalie in the game today.

Arguments can be made for a number of players in the women's game, and comparisons can be drawn. However, the one thing that is clear is that the women have faced the same challenges as the men, and are overcoming them at a greater speed. This is a monumental reason for incorporating women into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In 1998, the Royal Canadian Mint World of Hockey opened with the blessing of the IIHF. This section of the Hockey Hall of Fame "provides an unparalleled tribute to international hockey, with an unrivalled collection of artifacts and media on display, including histories and exhibit materials from all 63 IIHF member countries. One of the most significant refurbished areas is the IIHF Honour Roll, which pays homage to the finest players and executives from around the world".

There are some women already in the HHOF, so why not just dedicate a wing to women's hockey altogether? Cooperstown did it for baseball. Heck, they made a movie out of the All-American Professional Girls' Baseball League. You might remember it. It was directed by Penny Marshall and starred Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, and Rosie O'Donnell. If baseball can do it, why can't hockey, especially since women's hockey has a much bigger foothold in the world than just a couple of midwestern states in the US?

Personally, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a shrine to hockey players worldwide. There have been notable exceptions along the way, but those have been since fixed. Some of the Russians who played behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet regime have been recognized, but others still have not. It will take time to correct these glaring omissions. Omitting women from the HHOF is a crime against the sport itself, though, and it should be corrected sooner rather than later.

From Manon Rheaume suiting up for the Tampa Bay Lightning to the first Women's World Championship to the inclusion of the women's game at the Winter Olympics, the women have fought long and hard for their sport to be taken seriously, and Mr. Harrison's article goes about setting the women back 15 years.

"Oh my God, it's changed so much – sponsorships, uniforms, funding," says Page, Canadian team member from 1990-94, commenting on the evolution of women's hockey since 1990. "Then, it didn't matter. We were playing – we were just happy to be on the international stage."

The women are not trying to supplant the men's game in any way. As Miss Page said, the women were just happy to be playing in 1990. Now, the game has become bigger than any of those players may have imagined. TSN covers the women's game more than ever in Canada. The NCAA Frozen Four offers both a men's and women's championship. The World Hockey Championships offers both men's and women's tournaments. And the big party of them all, the Winter Olympics, has both a men's and women's ice hockey tournament.

It's time for the Hockey Hall of Fame to open its doors to the many great women out there who have grown the game at the grassroots, built the game up at every level on the way, and played the game at its highest level. Women are every bit as important to the growth of the game, both in the NHL and internationally, as men are. Yet, authors like Mr. Harrison continue to try and segregate the men's and women's games with articles like his and ideas of separate Halls of Fame.

If you're a hockey fan, speak out on this. I appreciate women's hockey for what makes it different than the men's game. Let's give all women - Canadian, American, Russian, Swedish, German, and whoever else dreams of making it to the Hockey Hall of Fame - a place they can be proud of in Toronto with the rest of the hockey gods, and not in some Western Canadian city.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


The Dark Ranger said...

A good and thoughtful look into women's hockey. As a Canadian based and subsidized museum, the Hall of Fame has a fiscal and moral responsibility to include the history associated with the sport. It surprises me that they haven't thus far. You should forward your entry as part of a CBC campaign with a number of hockey bloggers backing you. Count me in.

In the states, it is remarkable how American audiences are perfectly willing to accept finesse games such as tennis and golf, but the Women's Basketball League - hugely subsidized by for-profit-bitter owners - more aggressive games, such as hockey, are a blip on the screen. No one cares. Sad. And more sad is that American audiences are yet to mainstream embrace the game of hockey in general....THE REVOLUTION IS COMING...

You Go Jeebz...change the rules.


Anonymous said...

Jeez, if he doesn't like women's hockey, no one's forcing him to watch it. And if women are enshrined in the HHOF, no one's forcing him to go look at their plaques.

What is it with people who equate their personal likes and dislikes with some objective measure of something's worth?

Teebz said...

TDR - I am investigating exactly why women aren't being treated equally in the HHOF. It's not like all the players in there didn't have moms who sacrificed their lives for their sons' hockey careers. If I get a response from the HHOF, I'll post it on here.

Sarah - Mr. Harrison needs a reality check. In case he hadn't noticed, the New Jersey Devils play astoundingly boring hockey. Personally, he and his editor have lost all journalistic credibility with me.

The Dark Ranger said...

The Hockey Monologues coming to a theatre near you.