Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Women's Hockey Wednesday

Today's article is all about women's hockey, but these are smaller stories that only require a few lines of writing to go with them due to the stories being fairly self-evident. Sometimes, these smaller pieces get overlooked, so I'm going to give them a little space here while the majority of the hockey world is concerned with the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the meantime, things are still happening in other parts of the hockey world, and women's hockey is part of that larger landscape of hockey! Let's get rolling with these stories!

New Boss In Town

Ok, I'll be completely honest when I say she'll never, ever call herself "the boss" while behind a bench, but former guest of The Hockey Show and current incredible Manitoban Christine Bumstead is on the move thanks to hockey!

Christine, as you may have heard, was doing amazing things in the Pembina Valley region in Manitoba when it came to women's hockey following a very successful career as a player in Winnipeg with the St. Mary's Academy Flames as a defender. We discovered that she was also part of the National Hockey League Coaches Association's Female Coaches Development Program, and that things were going pretty well as she had spoken with and learned from some of the NHL's coaching fraternity as part of the program. Things were obviously going well, and she indicated that she was thrilled to be included. And that brings us to the announcement by the Saskatchewan Huskies women's hockey program that Christine Bumstead will be joining the Huskies as an assistant coach as a mentee coach as part of that Female Coaches Development Program!

Honestly, seeing Christine leave for Saskatchewan makes me sad because she was just starting to build an amazing program with Pembina Valley, but I'm super-excited to see her learning from Steve Kook and the Huskies because he runs such an excellent program out in Saskatoon. There's no doubt that Christine is going to learn from one of the best coaches in U SPORTS, and I'm thrilled to see her get this opportunity despite it being in the green-and-white of the Huskies. Tongue-in-cheek, of course.

Congratulations to Christine Bumstead on this opportunity, and congrats to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for picking up Christine as a coach! You're not going to be disappointed with her passion or her effort, and I have a feeling she's going to learn a lot!

Holes In The Roster

Normally, retirement announcements come out piecewise as players take time to weigh options and figure out if they still have the passion for the game they once did. Women's hockey is different in that women often retire long before their playing days are over due to pursuing careers, and this is something that the PWHPA is working to change. The problem is it won't help Switzerland as they saw four players retire this week!
The announcement that Laura Benz (right) and the Waidacher sisters (Monika, Nina, and Isabel from left to right) were retiring from hockey probably didn't send a shock across the hockey world like it should have, but these three players have been solid performers for the Swiss National Team and the ZSC Lions for some time. Seeing all four go at the same time now means that the Swiss have to find four players who can fill those roster holes before the 2022 Beijing Olympics in eight months!

Combined, these four didn't have many points on the international stage, but Switzerland was starting to see good growth with women like Benz and the Waidacher sisters laying down the path to success. All four played hard for Switzerland, and all four never backed down in any game in whoch they were involved. Their absence on the Swiss National Team and for Zurich will be noticed.

Who will take their spots in the lineup in Beijing? I can't answer that as it will be up to the Swiss coaching staff to determine how to build the team, but replacing four women who had experience from eight Olympic Games and 17 Women's World Championships won't be easy. Best of luck in retirement to each of Laura Benz, Monika Waidacher, Nina Waidacher, and Isabel Waidacher, and here's hoping that this won't be the last time we hear those names when it comes to hockey!

Investing In The Game

There aren't many places that invest heavily in women's hockey across Canada despite the oft-repeated myth about it being Canada's game, but one place has seen some incredible investments over the last few years: Quebec. And they're at it again with another significant contribution to helping more Quebec-based women become world-class hockey players.

The 21.02 High Performance Center for Women's Hockey in Verdun, Quebec saw a $375,000 grant bestowed upon the Center by the Quebec government thanks to Isabelle Charest, the Minister for Education who is also responsible for the Status of Women. The investment in the High Performance Center will allow them to allow them to construct a "professional locker room, a medical clinic and a technological viewing center for the players" as they look to have more girls play at the highest levels of hockey. As stated in the article, "several members of the national team, including [Marie-Philip] Poulin, have taken advantage of the facilities to train up to five times a week", so there's some history in developing and training world-class players at the facility.

If there was one incredible piece of news that was tacked on to the press release linked above, it's "the Association of Professional Hockey Players (PWHPA), which had also organized the Secret Cup, is still working to set up a new women's league. It will eventually have a team in Montreal."

You read that correctly - the PWHPA will have a team in Montreal. Take that news to the bank because we might be closer to a professional women's league than perhaps what has been discussed in the media!

A Sniper Returns

We'll close this article by coming full circle back to the University of Saskatchewan Huskies where there are questions about which fifth-year players have moved on, who is coming back, and who still needs to make a decision either way. One player who will return in 2021-22 is one of the best offensive weapons the Huskies have in Bailee Bourassa, and the Master's Degree student has committed to playing her fifth and final year in Canada West next season!

"My last season was probably my favourite year as a Huskie athlete, and moving into Merlis Belsher Place was one of the most surreal experiences and one of the best things to happen as a Huskie," Bourassa told James Shewaga. "We just appreciate that building so much. And I just had a lot of confidence in my fourth year and I was really excited to keep that going into my fifth and final year. I felt like I was really missing out on something big here, so that is why I am determined to come back for my fifth year. I don't know how it is going to look, but I hope it is going to be a good one."

With Bourassa back in the mix for the Huskies, we're now talking about a favorite for the Canada West championship banner for the 2021-22 season. As stated above, Steve Kook's teams are always well-prepared and execute on the ice brilliantly, so having Bourassa back takes some weight off the forwards with a finisher like her in the lineup.

Welcome back, Bailee! Glad to see you finish off what has already been an outstanding Canada West career with the Huskies!

There are your updates from a busy week-and-a-bit in the women's hockey world. Again, get out and support women's hockey whenever you can. There are some amazing women doing incredible work in the hockey world, and they deserve more than a mere mention of support!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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