Posted by: Ethan Johnson | August 27, 2010

YES, We Need a Women’s Pro Hockey League

Before I speechify, pontificate, and generally blather about the buzz surrounding this week’s World Hockey Summit, let’s make something perfectly clear: YES to a women’s pro hockey league in the USA. I didn’t slip that in to my prior women’s hockey article and wanted to make amends quickly.

Onward to the punditry and link-pasting.

I’m still waiting for the next issue of Ice Magazine (hem hem), but in the meantime they are in my good graces for passing on lots of links on their Facebook page about the World Hockey Summit and the discussions about the future of women’s hockey. First on the docket: Wickenheiser Takes Her Message to World Summit

“We had a summit before and women’s hockey wasn’t talked about, right? Now we’re an agenda item, so I think that’s huge,” Canadian Olympic team head coach Melody Davidson said.

“It’s about people in positions of power attending those sessions. Coming and hearing it and listening to it and then the biggest thing is follow-up.”

And…

Wickenheiser says senior people in the Russian federation have told her women in that country don’t want to play hockey, which must be news to the women who play on six teams there.

“You’re dealing with a societal, cultural barrier,” Wickenheiser said. “The other factor that’s in a lot of these countries is they don’t feel women can be pushed as hard as their male counterparts or you can demand as much out of a female athlete, which I think is completely untrue.”

Before I pass along the next link, I have a few comments. One, I was thinking recently about how I am going to miss going to Allen Americans games back in Texas, and was wondering what the Illinois/Wisconsin equivalents might be. I will also miss popping in to watch Richardson Women’s Hockey League games and again, wonder what the “up north” version of that league might be. I’m sure they exist, but I need to do some homework.

What does not exist is a US national (or even North American) pro league for women, such as the National Hockey League. Maybe there will be a WNHL or some new league akin to Women’s Professional Soccer will sprout up. In either case, I believe the benefits are many and I would be very interested in supporting such a league. I think the dividends from WPS will be realized in Germany in 2011, when a big chunk of national team players from around the world competed in the same league rather than only face each other during international “friendlies” or major tournaments such as the Summer Olympics or the FIFA Women’s World Cup™. A similar “melting pot” league here in the USA/North America could be huge in terms of international advancement of the sport.

On to the next link: NHL in talks about strengthening women’s hockey

The National Hockey League is exploring the possibility of getting into the women’s hockey business. Its goal: keep the sport in the Olympics.

Preliminary talks are under way to form a “women’s league or women’s competition,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters. The move follows comments from International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge earlier this year that women’s hockey “cannot continue without improvement.”

League! League! Not a competition! League!

Not to knock competitions, but a league has more “staying power” and fans/the community have more opportunities to form relationships with the teams. Before WPS, there were assorted competitions that come few and far between, outside of “friendly” matches with other national teams. In women’s hockey terms, I got turned on to the USA Women’s National Team by tuning in to the Four Nations Cup (streamed live from Finland) and started to learn player names and got “invested” in their road to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. I want to see more Julie Chu, more Lamoureaux Twins, more Jessie Vetter, more more more. And just as girls and young women in the USA now have the opportunity to see players like Abby Wambach, Kelly Smith, and Marta on a regular basis and in turn are developing a love for soccer or reinforcing their commitment to the game, so too might people young and old be inspired by heroes foreign and domestic on professional hockey ice.

Next: Panel: Pro league will raise women’s game

TORONTO — On Wednesday night, a friend of Peter Elander’s joked that he could sleep in because there was nothing important on the World Hockey Summit agenda Thursday morning.

“He said it in a joking way to get me agonized,” the head coach of Sweden’s national women’s hockey team said. “It’s just the attitude to joke about it, that women’s hockey isn’t important.”

His friend did show up, and heard Elander and others on a panel discussing the future of women’s hockey.

But the exchange reinforces the issues that confront women’s hockey.

I am tempted to lash out at ESPN’s own (real or perceived) attitude toward women’s athletics, but I’ll be nice and say “kudos to them” for devoting virtual ink to the topic of women’s hockey. But yeah, I’d like some self-examination over there at ESPN, soon. For example: How much time and effort was put in to covering this issue this week on Sportscenter?

One more link, this one was found by me as I typed this article: Women’s hockey plots future course

“Women’s hockey is like a new company,” said Sieppi. “Everyone in this room, and everyone in hockey, are all investors in women’s hockey. I think you should invest in women’s hockey.”

That won’t happen without support of the global hockey community, but most in the audience said improvement starts at home with the individual federations.

While USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have been lauded for their efforts to support women’s hockey from the grassroots level up through their elite programs, other federations have received less than high marks when it came to supporting their female athletes.

One country that was singled out during the session was Russia, which has a proud tradition of excellence on the men’s side but does little to support its women’s program. That “lack of support,” as some on the panel called it, shows on the ice. In Vancouver, the Russians finished a disappointing fifth in the final standings.

With the next Olympic tournament slated to be played on Russian ice, many of the stakeholders in the women’s game want to know what the 2014 host country plans to do to field a more competitive team in Sochi.

I think the first quoted paragraph nails it. You have to invest in women’s athletics, and if that investment will not or can not be made, why not? If there is truly no interest (“we don’t play hockey in Somalia”) then I would agree with the lack of investment. But what of countries that were not only represented in the 2010 Olympics, but the ones that failed to qualify? Only 32 teams make the cut for the FIFA World Cup™, but that doesn’t mean that only 32 countries play or care about soccer. So too with hockey: Not everyone could make the cut for the Olympics (men’s and women’s teams) but that does not mean that there is a lack of interest. Again, I will cite my concern that the 2010 World Cup of Softball featured TWO teams from the USA out of FOUR in the tournament. That’s unacceptable. What’s at issue here with women’s hockey is that the USA and Canada far and away outclassed the field. My hope in the wake of the 2010 Olympics and my hope today is that the “field” opts to make the investment in improving and expanding the sport in their respective countries. And I still say keep a close eye on China.

In the meantime, if you’re listening, National Hockey League, I would be thrilled to be an inaugural season ticket holder for the WNHL Lady Blackhawks. Who’s with me?

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