One of the best goalies in Womens Hockey - Noora Räty may end up retiring from Hockey at 24 years of age - because she cant find a competitive & paying league to play in.
Imagine right now Carey Price, or Tuukka Rask quitting hockey right now because they could not find a team to play for in a league they felt was at their skill level. Absurd right? I mean if they were for some reason unable to play in the NHL, they would have the KHL as a viable back up. Rask could surely go home & play in Finland & be a star there. They have options. Lets also take into consideration, neither of them are even in the top 5 goalies in the game right now at 26 years of age.
This brings me to Noora Raty. For those who dont follow women's hockey outside of the Canada/USA battles, Raty has been for a few years now 1 of, if not at times, the best goalie in the world in women's hockey. She has backstopped Finland to wins over the U.S. in the World Championships, Four Nations Cup last year & the Hockey Canada Cup here in 2010. A feat that is few & far between for teams not from Canada.
Raty carried her college, University Of Minnesota to back-to-back NCAA championships. With a career mark of 114-17-8, including a 38-0-0 mark in her final year with 17 Shutouts. She holds the record for career shutouts & single season shutouts in women''s college hockey. As a teenager she won the Best Goalie honours at the Women's World Hockey Championships, twice. In 2008 she was given the MVP of the entire tourney. Noora Raty was the best goalie in the world, and she wasnt even out of her teens yet.
Winning an Olympic Bronze medal in 2010 will be the highlight of her international career. Her two NCAA titles will be the only major championships she will likely ever win in the sport. The reason is, Noora Raty, at just 24 years of age, will likely retire.
Early retirement isnt rare in women's hockey. Some do it due to injuries, others do it to start up families. But rarely has there been someone in the women's game, still near the peak of her career retiring because she cant find somewhere to play that still wants to. This is a situation unique to Raty right now, but not unique to the women's hockey players as a whole.
Despite the feverish crowds that Canada-USA women's games get on both sides of the border, there is no professional women's league. The only pro women's hockey league currently of note is in Russia, and Raty herself has stated, it isnt "the best". North America has a women's league. The CWHL, but it isnt pro. Players travel expenses and equipment are paid for, but they do not pay the players to play. Players are expected to carry on with real every day jobs, and play a sport they love, for essentially free. This is the top level of competition in North America right now for women's hockey, a free league that doesnt travel outside the eastern time zone.
Raty stated in a very public statement on twitter that she needs a league that can challenge her (CWHL could do that) and pay her (the Russian league can do that) but finding 1 that does both is not an option at this time. Noora could play mens hockey. An option she likely has considered. Perhaps she still will. But what about all the others? What about Raty proving herself against other women's players? Growing the game? This seems to be something Noora seems eager to do. She wants to be paid AND play against women.
Noora Raty's very public plea yesterday on twitter might not help a league form in time for her career, but hopefully it will be instrumental in getting things in motion for such a league very soon. Hopefully one that can pay players, and more importantly expland beyond an area so small you can drive from the furthest 2 points of the league in a few hours.
Women have a professional basketball league, backed by the NBA. Its in its 17th season coming up, has 12 teams. With a minimum salary of $35,000 a season.
Women have a professional soccer league. The NWSL and while it pays very little comparatively, it does at least PAY its players. Minimum $6,000 a season. But there are also professional leagues in Europe for them to go to that pay much, much better.
So why is there no professional hockey league for women in North America? I'm not saying it has to pay WNBA level salaries just yet, but it could, if it had the right marketing behind it.
Cue the NHL. Like the NBA's involvement in women's basketball, the NHL could vastly boost the image, and viability of a women's league. Association with regional teams would bring recognition and would almost instantly boost the sport. It would also allow payment for services. The NHL is a multi-billion dollar juggernaut in sports, yet, no involvement in trying to develop a women's league or game. They have no problem tossing money at markets that failed from the get go, and trying to sway fans over seas with tours there that include actual regular season games. Lots of money to waste on those ventures. But women's hockey? Nope. Despite the NHL using women's hockey stories to get a few more eyeballs on broadcasts, puck dropping ceremonies & traffic to their website. That, they can do. They have no problem USING women's hockey moments & players to promote hockey, just dont put any actual money into it.
Somewhere today in Sochi, Russia Tuukka Rask is probably going to have a meal that he didnt have to pay for, and will be indifferent to the experience or even annoyed that its not what he would usually have. Noora Raty might very well have that same meal, and just be glad she didnt have to pay for it, with the $0 she earns doing the same job, and so far, more successfully in less years on this planet. Tuukka Rask will get $7M U.S. this season. He is 1 of the top 20 goalies in the NHL, MAYBE even top 10. He will make $7M because a team felt having 1 of the top 20 at his position is worth that. Noora Raty is 1 of the top 5 in the world for women, even arguably, the best. Yet no one is paying her, despite the fact shes done more in her career than Tuukka (never played a second in the playoffs in the 2011 Cup year) who still has no major accomplishments in his career outside of a bronze at the World Juniors. Noora is also 2 years younger than him. Peter Budaj, the 3rd string goalie for Slovakia this tourney is making $1.4M as a back up for the Montreal Canadiens, the same team that employs Carey Price at $6.5M.
Surely, there can be a league, that values Noora Raty enough that she can make at least 10% of what the 3rd string Slovakian goalie in the Olympic mens tournament currently makes. But, I also thought there should be a professional women's hockey league as well. Maybe there will be. Maybe the NHL, with all the hair brained schemes its put together to try & create new revenue streams will finally go "hey, how about a women's hockey league?". They put a team in Phoenix Arizona, and in a swamp in Sunrise, Florida. Surely women's hockey is less of a risk than those zany ideas. Figure it out quick National Hockey League, before 1 of the sports greatest retires, at just 24 years old.
A little side note I found as I was looking to see if there was any last details I missed. Noora finished 63rd on The Hockey News 2013 list of 100 most influential people in hockey..... ahead of 37 mostly NHL based people. Are you listening NHL? There are women players of influence, you just need to open your eyes before its too late.
Heres a few photos of this hockey phenom from the two times I got to see her in Vancouver. During the 2009 Hockey Canada Cup & the 2010 Olympic Bronze Medal game.
Here is my picks for the top 10 hockey stories of 2010. Starting from 10th. This is part 1.
10TH NHL'ERS TAKING TO TWITTER EN MASS
Ever wanted to know what Bobby Ryan was doing right now? Have you really been wanting to tell Erik Johnson what you think of his play? Well, now you can do that thru twitter.
The fastest growing media/social networking tool on the internet is twitter. Its that place where you can post something, long as it fits into a 140 character frame. While not every NHL'er is on twitter, many of the games rising stars are.
If twitter were a team, they would have some pretty good talent to draw from. Alex Ovechkin, Martin Havlat, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Kesler, Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri, TJ Oshie, Wojtek Wolski, James Van Riemsdyk, Logan Couture, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Joffrey Lupul, Evander Kane, Maxim Talbot, Scottie Upshall, Steve Sullivan & Matt Duchene on offense. Dan Boyle, Mike Green, Mike Del Zotto, Mike Komisarek, Karl Alzner, Mike Commodore and Brent Sopel on defense. The only thing they are lacking is some goalies. Not 1 notable goaltender seems to be on twitter.....since Dan Ellis closed his up.
While some accounts are now very inactive (Ovechkin hasnt tweeted in over a year), others, such as Phoenix Coyotes enforcer Paul Bissonnette are very active, and very entertaining, like his post from Christmas day "Going to adrian aucoin's house for dinner tonight. Ganna be tough to top D morris's party last night. Unless aucoin rented a circus midget?". In a business where ANY media is better than none, the raw, uncensored & usually entertaining posts of a fringe player like Bissonnette can make him a more attractive option for a team come free agency than another player of similar talents. With over 30,000 followers, a team could look at him as a free marketing tool & a source of a few more sold jerseys than if they signed the tough guy who doesnt have a twitter account.
Some players use it to just tweet about life, like Michael Rupp, while others use it more to promote business ventures they are a part of like Ryan Kesler, the reality is with close to a 100 NHLers on twitter, and dozens more former NHLers, it has become a place for the regular fans, media & other players, to interact & get an inside look at the lives of the NHLers.
The NHL, perhaps more than any of the other major sports has the most to gain from this free promotional tool. While the NBA, NFL & MLB also have tweeters in large numbers, its the NHL who can gain the most from it. Its free promotion for a sport that still in many sections of society hasnt recovered from the lockout, or had notable exposure at all. Everytime the NHL can squeeze their product into a tweet, especially one that makes the trending topics list, its getting its product out to a massive potential new clientel that they would never reac the conventional way or marketing. Even the AHL, CWHL, WWHL, WHL, OHL & various smaller leagues are using it to promote their leagues as well. Again, while other sports are doing the same, the sport of hockey might have more to gain per tweet than the other sports.
9TH CWHL HAS 1ST EVER DRAFT
The most notable women's hockey league in the world had their first ever draft this past summer.
On August 12th this year, the sport of women's hockey took a big step, they had the first official draft in a major women's league. While the previous NWHL & the current WWHL from out west have never had such an event, the fairly new CWHL did have one.
The league didnt have a full draft open to all teams though, as the league acknowledges some of the hardships a player in the league could face if they were selected by a team far from their home & family. So the draft was only to divide up the talent available to the 3 Greater Toronto region teams, Toronto Aeros, Burlington Barracudas & the Brampton Canadettes-Thunder. The other two teams in the league, Montreal Stars & the Boston Blades, both took to free agent signing to fill their rosters.
Toronto, Burlington & Brampton took part in the draft, that allowed the three teams to select any players from GTA region, or overseas. 22 players between the 5 teams were deemed "protected" & the 3 teams selected a total of 101 names were selected.
Tessa Bonhomme, a member of the 2010 Canadian Gold Medal winning Olympic team was the 1st selection in the draft for Toronto.
Burlington would pick 2nd, taking Ashley Riggs, a highly decorated Canadian College hockey player.
Brampton would pick 5th, taking former Canadian National team star, Delaney Collins.
A handful of Europeans were also selected. Most notably was Daniela Rundqvist from Sweden 13th overall by Burlington. Yekaterina Smolentseva selected 89th by Brampton was the only Russian selected in the draft. Finland had 3 picks, Anna Vanhatalo (Brampton) Marjo Voutilainen (Burlington) & Terhi Mertanen (Toronto). A German born player, Manuela Hebel also was selected, however she has played in North America for a bit. Gizela Blom, the final pick of the draft is another Swedish born pick.
Having a draft, even one that only included 3 teams was a large building block in developing the league into a full fledged league. With more than 20 current & past Olympians scattered around the 5 teams, this league has the best hope for women's hockey right now. If they can ever work out an agreement to merge with the WWHL (another 5 team league located in Western Canada & Minnesota), the start for a large league, with 2 U.S. situated teams can develop.
If the league prospers, having an annual draft will certainly be seen a notable building block down the road. People may look back at that first draft in 2010 as the start of a great ride. It gives women's players a goal now, a place to aim for. no longer is College & a possible Olympic spot the only hopes. Being drafted into a league, and winning a league championship against the best players in your sport is now a real option.
8TH DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN- FUTURE NORRIS TROPHY WINNER?
No, this is not a joke. Dustin Byfuglien, the super pest power forward for the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhaws might win a Norris Trophy for leagues best...defenseman??
Originally a defenseman when drafted, Byfuglien has played Right Wing for the past few seasons with the Blackhawks. A role he did so well, he was considered 1 of the most instrumental pieces on the Hawks 2010 Stanley Cup Championship winning team. However, the era of the salary cap would actually take his career in a different direction, one he was formerly familiar with.
The Hawks, strapped for salary cap room, traded Byfuglien to the Atlanta Thrashers this past off season. With limited offense at the teams disposal, it was expected Buffy would slip in to the teams top 2 forward lines with ease. However, the Thrashers head coach, Craig Ramsay saw a different plan for the 6'5 265 lb Minnesotan. Ramsay, a former Selke winner for best defensive forward thought the defenseman turned elite power forward would be best as a defenseman for his offensively challenged team.
The experiment has been a raging success. Not only do the Thrashers have themselves a top end defenseman now, but even in the more limiting offensive position, Buffy has flourished perhaps even more than if he was a forward. Currently Dustin finds himself tied for 11th in league scoring & tied for 2nd in game winning goals, which is good enough for 1st in defenseman goals, Game winning goals & scoring.
The often dismissed Thrashers, a team who has missed the playoffs every year but once in their short history, find themselves 6th in the conference, only 2 pts out of the division lead, and 9 pts clear of the top non-playoff team. All this, despite not having a single player with more than 24 goals last season on the roster, and only 2 with a 30 goal seasons in their career (neither of which had 20 last season).
Although all of the success cant be given to Byfuglien, his pressence on the point has certainly elevated the play of the team around him & because of this, many are taking him seriously as a Norris Trophy winner, let alone contender. With more than 1/2 a season to go, the jury is still out some on whether Byfuglien will take a Norris, but the early indications, he has as good a chance as anyone else right now.
7TH WINDSOR SPITFIRES- BACK 2 BACK MEMORIAL CUP CHAMPIONS
The Windsor Spitfires became back to back Memorial Cup Champions, after beating the Brandon Wheat Kings 9-1 in the final.
It was only 3 seasons ago that the Windsor Spitfires club faces some of its most trying days. The team lost their captain Mickey Renaud to an undetected heart issue late in the OHL season. At the time, the team seemed lost without their leader, and although future NHLers like Michael Neuvirth, Josh Bailey & Taylor Hall gave the team hope, they would fall in the first round without their leader.
In the 2008-09 season, the Spitfires came back & had a mission, to win for Mickey. This team was a much stronger team than the year prior. It had 4 current or future 1st round picks (Hall, Ryan Ellis, Greg Nemisz, Austin Watson) & 12 other NHL draftees on the roster. They went on to win the Memorial Cup that year on an OT goal by Adam Henrique.
In 2009-10, expectations were high for the club, as many of the pieces that got them the teams 1st ever Memorial Cup, were back.
With the loss of 1 1st rounder (Watson) the Spitfires loaded up even more, by adding the likes of 1st rounder Cam Fowler & Zack Kassian to the mix, along with 2 more NHL draft pick to fill in the hole of a couple of the departees.
The club did not disappoint. Finishing 1st in their conference. When the playoffs started, the Spitfires seemed sure of themselves. After a sweep in the first round of the Erie Otters & a 2nd round sweep of the Plymouth Whalers, their confidence seemed warranted. In round 3 however, the Spitfires would open up to a 3-0 series deficit to the Kitchener Rangers. However, they would come back, becoming only the 3rd team in OHL history to win a series after being down 3-0. With that temprary scare firmly implanted in them, they made no more mistakes the rest of the way. Dispensing of the OHL regular season champion, Barrie Colts in 4 straight games, the Spitfires were headed back to the Memorial Cup tournament.
At the Memorial Cup tournament, the lesson of the Rangers series must still have been there, because they didnt take anyone for granted. In game 1 they drubbed the tournament host Brandon WheatKings 9-3. The next game, against the WHL champions from Calgary, they ran over the Hitment 6-2. With 2 wins already under their belt, they knew they would be guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup Finals. They didnt need a win against the Quebec league champion Moncton Wildcats, but they did anyways, with a 4-3 overtime win. Giving them the chance to win the Memorial Cup in a little different fashion than the year prior, where they became the first team to win the Cup after losing their first two games, this time, they had the chance to go indefeated.
In the final, the got the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team they pummeled 9-3 earlier in the tourney. The Spitfires didnt want to leave anything to chance. They jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. It was 3-0 before the Wheaties got their only goal from Columbus Blue Jackets draftee Matt Calvert. That was the end of the fight for the WheatKings though, as Windosr would pile on SIX more goals, for a dominating 9-1 Memorial Cup Finals win. It gave the Spitfires the most goals in a finals game & most lopsided victory distinctions since the 1973 Toronto Marlboros won by the same 9-1 score. Future Edmonton Oilers 1st overall pick Taylor Hall would win the tournament MVP for his 2nd time, making him the first ever player to do so.
The 2011 season will see the Spitfires start to rebuild. Besides losing Hall to the Oilers, their head coach Bob Boughner left for an NHL assistant coaching job, Cam Fowler has landed in Anaheim, and several other notable pieces have moved up to the minor pro leagues. But with the likes of Kassian & Ellis still on the team, they are not completely void of talent. Add in talented future star Russian rookie Alexander Khokhlachev, German NHL draft pick Tom Kuehnhackl, and Maple Leafs 2nd round pick Kenny Ryan getting a larger role, and their rebuilding stage is still pretty good. Add in NHL 1st round pick Jack Campbell, who opted to play in the OHL this year to the mix, and things look quite decent for the defending 2 time Memorial Cup Champions.
6TH ILYA KOVALCHUK SOAP OPERA
Looking back on how things ended, Los Angeles Kings fans are rejoicing & New Jersey Devils fans are on a constant suicide watch.
This past summer, arguably the largest fish to catch in unrestricted free agency was Ilya Kovalchuk. The Rocket Richard trophy winner in 2004, who in his 8 NHL seasons has passed 40 goals in a season 6 times.
While several teams showed interest, only 2 teams seemed to rise to the top as the serious contenders in the end. The Los Angeles Kings, desperate to get a marquee name to put on their team, and the New Jersey Devils, the team Kovalchuk played for last season.
Anyone following it on sports talk shows, the news or twitter, almost daily was hearing something different, and most of those things as it turned out...were wrong. Kovie seemed destined for the Kings in early rumours, and even on more than 1 occasion tweets & comments in the media suggested he was going to be signed imminently by the Kings. As it turned out, for the Kings sake, this was not true in the end.
The New Jersey Devils would sign the sniper....twice. Their first deal, an insane 102 Million dollar deal over 17 years (YES, 17 years) was denied by the league on the grounds that it was a clear attempt to circumvent the NHL Salary Cap, which is based on the average salary of the contract, NOT the individual season amount. The Devils had front loaded the deal, and added in 7 years at the end of the deal where they would pay Ilya the league minimum, which would bring down the average price down substantially. The league denied the outrageous deal, and in doing so, said they would investigate several other recent long term deals including the likes of Hawks star Marian Hossa and the Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo.
The Devils would re-work the deal and get the leagues approval on a 15 year, 100 million dollar deal (YES, 15 years). The Devils had finally got the man they coveted to keep. The saga was over, and the Devils, a team constantly in the mix as Cup contenders, could focus on that task.
As it turns out, so far, this deal has been a near nightmare for the Devils. Because of the Salary Cap, the Devils have had to adjust constantly their team to balance the cap issues that Kovalchuk's mosterous deal brings. On more than 1 occasion, the team has even iced an incomplete roster because they financially had to. Kovalchuk himself has been a near disaster, with only 8 goals, and 18 points in 33 games, and a team worst -25... make that a LEAGUE worst -25.
The Devils are the worst team in the league currently, with a 9-23-2 record. They are so brutal offensively, that they could win their next game with 11 goals, and still have the least goals in the league. Kovalchuk doesnt even lead his team in goals or points & is tied for 142 in league scoring, a spot that would barely keep him in the top 10 in rookie scoring.
2010 Hockey Hall Of Fame inductee Cammi Granato gives her next pick for a female player to get into the HHOF
I ran into brand new Hockey Hall Of Fame inductee Cammi Granato last night upon her return from a whirlwind week of travelling that had stops in Toronto, to get inducted into the HHOF, the east coast to be honoured at the 4 Nations Cup, and then Chicago, for a chance to catch up with family, before heading back to her home here in Vancouver.
I was pleased that, even with kids in tow, she took a moment to discuss her opinion on who she thinks might be the next inductees into the HHOF from the women's player.
I was a bit shocked on her pick...but then after looking at the facts once I got home, her pick makes more sense.
Instead of picking current IIHF HOFers Geraldine Heaney of Canada or Riikka Nieminen from Finland, she went with someone not yet in the IIHF HOF.
The World Hockey Summit started in Toronto Monday. With it came a meeting of many of the greatest minds in the sport, all at one event, talking about ways to innovate & improve the game.
Of course, men's hockey will dominate much of the talk as expected. However, the great minds of the sport will also talk seriously about the women's game. In fact its such a notable topic of discussion at these meetings, that on the summits official website http://www.worldhockeysummit.com/ it was women's hockey & their need for a pro league that is the 1st story shown before the event opened Monday.
Attention to the women's game is high right now. With comments from IOC dinosaur Jacques Rogge back during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics suggesting the women's hockey tournament could be dropped from the games... despite it growing internationally, advocates & critics alike jumped on the words of the IOC boss.
Of course critics were quick to point out how its "always the U.S. & Canada" in the championship games. Sadly, this is the ONLY argument this side of poorly informed, and frankly, outdated neanderthals can really make about the women's game, so they cling onto it desperately like the last lifeboat leaving a sinking ship.
Its true, the women's game has been dominated by the Canadian & American girls. They have won every World Championship, Olympic Championship & major tournament that has had both nations in it since the inaugural World Womens Hockey Championships back in 1990.
Its also true that at this past Olympics, the other countries, most notable Sweden & Finland, the "next two" in women's hockey seemed to take a step backwards in their development. At the 2006 Olympics there was hope on the horizon of the next tier of teams closing the gap after a shocking silver medal performance by Sweden. However since then, the Nordic countries seem to have taken a step backwards again. Sweden even managed to be bumped out of any medal game at the 2008 Worlds when Switzerland upset them and went on to a 4th place finish.
Going into the 2010 games, Finland seemed to be making waves & showed signs of maybe being the contender to put a scare in the mega-powers this time around. they had earned a win over the U.S. in a tournament last summer. Sweden had a win over Canada the year prior. They might seem like baby steps, but this was the largest chinks in the impressive North American armour yet. It looked like the Nordic countries were going to be some type of threat at the Olympic games.
Instead of a closing of the gap, the gap seemed to be widened to levels not seen in a few years. With a 13-1 win over Sweden & a 5-0 win over Finland, Canada had run the European contenders right out of the buildings by a combined 18-1 total. USA had a similar romp of them, beating Sweden 9-1 and Finland 6-0 for a total of 15-1. The North Americans had beat the top 2 Euro teams 33-2 All the anti-women's hockey crowd agreed, women's hockey should go.
On the other side of the coin, the advocates of the game. The level headed group that realizes great strides had been made...and whom had some pretty strong defense of the women's game, when compared to the feeble beginnings of the mens game. You see, the men were themselves, a little lopsided in those early years...infact, they were even worse.
In the 1st Olympics in 1920. Canada won gold by a combined score of 29-1 in 3 games. USA was second with a combined score of 52-2 (including a 16-0 win over Czechoslovakia in the silver medal game). Canada won games of 15-0 over Czechoslovakia & 12-1 over Sweden in that tournament. USA had similar domination with a 7-0 win over the Swedes, and 16-0 over the Czechs. Not to mention a 29-0 win over Switzerland. A country that would win 2 bronze medals in the first 6 Olympics. Two countries that now, are considered medal contenders every games, Sweden & Czech Republic, have won the last three Olympic gold medals that werent put around the necks of Canadian players. Imagine if Jacques Rogge was IOC bigwig in 1920. Hockey might have been scrapped. The development of the game in the now Czech Republic, Sweden, as well as Slovakia, Finland, Russia, Switzerland and many other countries might never have taken off...at the very least, it would have been stunted considerably.
By 1924 it wasnt even a challenge anymore. Canada would go to Gold again, this time with an insane goals for-against total of 85-0 in the group A round. Wins of 22-0 over Sweden, 30-0 over Czechoslovakia and 33-0 over Switzerland would surely have made Mr. Rogges blood boil if he were in charge. The U.S. only managed a 52-0 group b score. In there was a saddening 11-0 win over Great Britain, the team who would go on to win the bronze. The 4th place team in the tourney, Sweden, lost by scores of 20-0 and 22-0 in the medal round to Canada & the U.S. The gold medal Canadians had a goal for-against tally of 132-3 in the entire event. I mean really, why even have the games? Its clear these other countries will never level the playing field. USA is so strong, and Canada is even stronger. Clearly no one will stop them for many years.
That being said, in the 3rd Olympics. Canada ONLY won by a total of 38-0 in 3 games to take the gold. Sweden managed to keep the route to only 11-0 this time.
The 4th tournament, with only 4 teams, including 2 that had never medaled in a games prior, had fairly competitive games. Only Poland, who finished 4th lost a game by double digits, and only once did it happen, to Canada 10-0.
By the time the 5th Olympics rolled around. Teams were finally starting to catch up. Canada won their group a round easily, but with only a 24-3 score it was clear the lesser teams were now defending them better & had improved their scoring some. USA had it even tougher, finishing 2nd in their group to Germany, with only a 5-2 Goal for against total. It was in this tournament that Canada would lose its first ever game...and it wasnt to the Americans as you might have thought. Great Britain would beat Canada, not once, but TWICE. Sending Canada to a silver medal for its first time ever, the Americans went home with the bronze.
Not once was the idea of killing mens hockey at the Olympics considered back then. They were given time to develop the game & let competition between elite & poorer countries continue as one of the ways to improve & promote the game to the struggling nations that were still just learning the sport. There are now ranked countries by the IIHF in Mexico (32), Australia (34), South Africa (42), Mongolia (46) & United Arab Emirates (47) in mens hockey. Would ANY of these countries be playing, and recognized by the IIHF without the game being on the Olympic stage for all these years?? I doubt it.
This year, the women's game should have been celebrating all its accomplished. They had an Olympic year. The CWHL, 1 of 2 major women's hockey leagues based in Canada (along with the WWHL out west) had the first ever draft in a womens major league, and to top it off Angela James & Cammi Granato will be inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame this fall. Marking the first time women have been inducted to the HHOF as players.
Yet all the narrow-minded, sexist, money grubbing & greed based IOC can think of is, getting rid of an event because of a current competition disparity. In beach volleyball, the U.S. and Brazil have 7 golds, 5 silvers and 3 bronze between them in the 8 total events that have ever been played in that sport at the Olympics. No crying for it to be pulled. Yet it seems pretty clear, they are more than dominant in the sport. I guess its more acceptable to allow a sport to stay when 1 of the countries benefiting is a country that is somewhat of a 3rd world country. I guess it also helps when the girls in that sport take to the court in bikinis. Suddenly, competitive imbalance can be overlooked.
Hey IOC, if you want a more competitive women's tournament, I have a novel idea you will not be fans of...but it will likely work. Invest some of that obscene wealth that WE, the paying public helped line your organization with into the sport. Go to the next tier of countries & put money into their programs, make it a viable option for coaches & trainers to work in outside of Canada & the U.S.A. Stop putting all the onus on the athletes & teams to figure the problem out. Take some of the responsibility on yourselves. If you want Finland or Sweden to have a legitimate shot at standing ontop of the podium in 4 or 8 years, make their programs more stable. Give Switzerland, Slovakia, Russia and other countries a boost.
The blame doesnt go solely on the IOC's shoulders though. They get the brunt, because they made the idiotic statement. But they arent alone in this.
The IIHF does little to boost the other countries programs either. Sure, they help some, and legitimately, they probably are the largest contributors. But at the end of the day Canada & the U.S. are still probably getting more financial & resource help than the other countries. right? Right. Its also unbelievable how much the IIHF puts into mens hockey, a sport that runs off the efforts of multi-millionaire athletes compared to women's hockey, a sport run off the efforts of people who work non-hockey related jobs to pay the bills. I realize the men make you more money at the end of the day...but, they are also going to miss it the least. So take some of their earning power & invest it where its needed....in the women's game. I doubt at the end of the day Martin Brodeur, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin or Ryan Kesler will be crying if they learned you took 25-50% of the income made off the mens tourneys and invested it into the women's game. The IIHF isnt going to go broke by taking some of its resources and putting it into an entire gender inside the sport. What are you afraid of IIHF? People might like the sport & it will start to chip into the mens popularity?? Dont worry, mens hockey will certainly always be king...at least for my lifetime. But instead, you could have TWO marketable, highly profitable products, instead of 1. All it takes, is some time, some effort, and some of that mountain of money you are sitting on.
Team Canada & Team USA. You both are funded by very well to do organizations. NEITHER OF YOU is going broke anytime soon. How about giving your competition a boost to get going?? Or are you afraid of competition? I get it, winning is better, its all that matters blah blah blah. I get that. I was a competitive athlete at one time, and I certainly didnt like losing. But at the end of the day, whats the sense of being the best at something if no one else cares??? Do you really want to be proud of being the best? Well, make better competitors. Give yourself legitimate, steady competition. If you give other countries help, sure, the pocketbook is thinner on your end...but lets be honest, what really are you in danger of losing financially?? So you might not be able to hire a 4th media relations consultant. Oh boo hoo. You already have too many suits roaming around the team with no necessary purpose already.
The NHL. All we hear of is how business is on the up & up since you royally raped your entire fanbase 6 years ago. There is the legitimate chance another lockout will happen soon. Its possible there may be another year without hockey because your egos cant be put aside. Heres an idea, that works on 2 levels. Invest in the women's league(s). The NBA has deep fingers into the WNBA, why cant the NHL act the same way? It is another way to market your game too. Dont be shocked to hear there NHL PR department, but some people are still mad at you and arent going to your games, despite still going to hockey games in other leagues. You want to win some over... start being notable contributors to those leagues...and the women's league is a good place to start. Get some NHL owners on board as owners in the league, and cross-promote. Who knows, when the big boys have a temper tantrum next lock out because you wont allow 45 year long contracts and are willing to sit for an entire season again, the ladies might be able to fill that gap for the fans... and you, the NHL, could get some financial kickback from the upswing in the attendance.
Other countries hockey federations, you are disappointing. Sure, you are not as rich as Canada and the U.S. We get it, funds are limited. But that doesnt mean you cant make stronger women's teams still.... hell, in some of the cases where your mens team is soft & the womens team isnt, maybe its time to put your efforts heavier into the women's program. Countries like Finland, Sweden, Russia, Switzerland and China had the same or better rankings at the Olympics with their women's teams than their mens...why not reward them for doing better by raising the level of support?? In fact, only Slovakia in the women's tourney had a lower rank than on the mens side...and considering Slovakia came into the Olympics ranked 15th in the IIHF women's rankings, I would say they performed quite well. Kazhakstan and Japan are both ranked in the top 10 in women's hockey, and are far away after thoughts in mens hockey...why not build those programs over your mens teams?? Great Britain 18th in women's, 23rd in mens. Your mens program IS NOT making an Olympics anytime soon...but the women's team..maybe with more focus on them, they could make it 2 Olympics from now. I have seen websites for teams in Britain in women's leagues...theres obviously an interest in the sport there, GROW IT!.
NHL players. Yes, that group of millionaire hockey players who so often talk in interviews of the love they have of the game still and how great they thought it all was growing up playing for free. Guess what, the women still do play for practically free. If even 2 players from each countries team invested even 2% of their contract annually to their opposite sexes teams programs, that would help considerably. I suspect at the end of the day the Finnish Women's team could find a good use for a few bucks from the likes of Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen or Sami Salo, each of whom hasnt made less than a million bucks in a season since the lockout. Do the NHL Swedes really think their female counterparts would object if Daniel Alfredsson, Nicklas Lidstrom or Henrik Lundqvist put some of the ridiculous fortunes they are sitting on, into their program to help strengthen it? I know its absurd to expect Jaromir Jagr to do anything that doesnt immediately benefit him, but maybe Tomas Kaberle or Dominik Hasek could help boost the Czech women's program, as well Mark Streit could give the Swiss women's team a boost, while maybe Marian gaborik or Marian Hossa could use some of their obscene wealth to help the Slovakian girls improve on their monumental 8th place showing last Olympics. Hockey players are supposedly the nice guys, the charitable types... yet at the end of the day, how much help do they give to the women's game? Dozens of current & former NHLers have sisters, daughters and wives who did or are playing the sport competitively. How hard is it to stand up & be proud of your family & put your money behind them??
The media also has a role in this. I so often see a story on women's hockey make a publication, and they never follow it up. Its a 1 off. Only time it makes the scoresheet in the paper or on TV is at the Olympics, or here in Canada, a World championship/4 Nations Cup maybe. We arent expecting you to know every women's player, from superstar to 4th liners over night. We are just asking, you pay attention and give it as much attention as other leagues you talk about in far more depth. The AHL and CHL teams get considerable attention by their local media outlets and even national broadcasters. The women's leagues however... rarely see the light of day in the papers, and even less often on the national broadcasters. Why? Some will say its because those mens leagues are more popular...and perhaps thats so..but thats also years of experience & marketing that give them that boost in that area. When Roller Hockey first got its own major league, it got play in all the local papers, it was always in the scoresheets, and it was covered well in The Hockey News. Where is/was that same respect for the NWHL, WWHL or CWHL over the years?? Time to stop acting like an old boys club & start expanding your wheelhouse of leagues you cover to include the women's game.
This last Olympics, Canada won Gold in both mens & women's hockey. USA was silver in both. Finland was bronze in both. I dare anyone to go up to the likes of Hayley Wickenheiser, Angela Ruggeiro or Noora Raty and tell them the medals they earned werent that impressive because the competition isnt there. I talked to some of the girls after the tourney, and there was a common statement on why the girls, on both the winning, and losing sides, thought the skill level between USA & Canada seemed to suddenly surge ahead again after the Nordic countries being so close just several months earlier... TIME. The Swedes & Finns didnt have the same amount of time together, as the Canadians and Americans did. They certainly didnt have the funding to hold the in depth camps those two countries did...and it showed at the end. Its entirely possible that Canada and the U.S. won the Gold & Silver medals solely because of money & having the time to gel as 1 group. Why cant Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and other countries get that same oppourtunity?? Because groups like the IOC, IIHF, NHL, NHL Players & their countries organizations arent willing to help even a playing field that is clearly tilted.
I am trying to wrap my head around when the IOC turned from an organization who was there to help promote & grow sports, to an organization who only cares about whether something is popular or if several countries already have well developed teams? Its absurd to think that they would drop women's hockey from the Winter Olympics, considering how thin those games are on events... but, this is the same committee who axed softball & baseball recently from the summer games.... so suddenly, the lunacy of dropping a marquee winter event doesnt seem so crazy with them.
I doubt my logical rant will make too many waves and be the catalyst for making the women's game grow quickly overnight. I dont think its going to be read aloud at the summit obviously.. I mean for one, I take too many shots at too many people. Odds are everyone there falls into 1 of the groups I just criticized. I will probably find myself here a year or more from now angrily stating the same things again. Afterall, I have said them before without anyone listening. I am hopeful someone will be at the summit, who has a thought maybe something close to mine, that will get to voice that thought to the panel. Maybe that thought will even snowball into an idea that will eventually start helping make changes to the women's game. I am hopeful, but I wont hold my breath. Because everytime I think the game is about to take large steps forward, it doesnt. Its so often just on the cusp, but it doesnt get that big push over that it needs. Maybe things will be different this time though. It is after all a big step to at least be a topic at the summit this time.
Canadagraphs Hockey Blogs
From time to time I have something to say on hockey. Whether its the Vancouver Canucks, NHL in general, Womens Hockey or International Hockey...if I have something to post, it will be in here.