Women’s Hockey: Here To Stay

I’m a hockey fan because of my little sister, Sarah. I went to all of her games, played goalie while she practiced her slap shot and had her hockey card taped to my locker in high school. Mom and dad aside, I was her number one fan.

You can imagine, then, how excited my sister and I were in 1998 when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan. When Sarah first started out she played on a boys’ team, because in our town there was no house league for girls. Playing with girls meant joining a travel team, or in other words, a greater investment of both time and money. For us, having a female team at the Olympics was a big deal.

You can also imagine our response to those who regularly predict an end to women’s hockey at the Olympics. There’s not enough competition, they say. The sport is dominated by Canada and the US, they argue. It’s boring to watch, they whine.

My response? Get some perspective. Olympic men’s hockey was first played in 1920. Canada won gold that year, and repeated the performance for the next three Olympics. When women’s hockey debuted almost 80 years later, the Canadian team’s showing wasn’t all that different: in four Olympic Games, Canada’s women’s team has won gold three times and silver once.

Sure, scoring in Olympic women’s hockey is lopsided in a way most of the men’s matches are not, but in 1920 the games weren’t exactly close; the United States defeated Switzerland 29-0, and Canada defeated Czechoslovakia 15-0. Like on the men’s side, improvements in the women’s game are noticeable. This year, Canada nearly lost to the Finnish team in round robin play. It would have been their first loss to a team other than the US at the Olympics. After being held off by the Finns for two periods, Canada eventually won 3-0.

But perhaps the most important improvement since 1998 is that young girls now have female players to idolize. When athletes such as Cassie Campbell and Hayley Wickenheiser become household names, girls have someone to look up to. This in turn grows the sport and the level of international competition.

Sarah playing hockey

Sarah's love of hockey hasn't diminished. Photo: Heather Pollock.

My sister eventually switched to the all-girls travel team. The boys weren’t passing to her, she said, and she was tired of having to change in the electrical room. Not ideal conditions, despite Sarah playing the nation’s game in a hockey-crazed town.

Taking women’s hockey out of the games would mean perpetuating these types of conditions. With time, patience and commitment on the part of the sport’s ambassadors, women’s hockey will grow in the same way men’s did. So when I sit down to watch the women’s gold medal game on Thursday, it will be with the hope that I will continue to do so for many Olympics to come. 

Top: Marie-Philip Poulin waves during a game against Sweden at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, 17 February 2010. VanCityAllie.