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Women's hockey is too good to lose: Now tell the IIHF

Fourth-Place Medal

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To get people to take women's hockey seriously, certain countries have to start funding it seriously.

Perhaps more people will come around on this after seeing Canada run up a 41-2 goal differential in the Olympic round-robin. The IOC and International Ice Hockey Federation, along with some national federations, should be getting scrutiny for why the women's game took a step backward Wednesday night. Canada should not be beating Sweden 13-1.

Yet it's Canadian coach Melody Davidson who always has to keep her team from getting thrown under the bus. As if they're supposed to stop skating when they're trying to peak by the gold-medal game.

“I worry about [losing women’s hockey from the Olympics] it, but my job is to prepare my team to be their best," she said.

"The men’s game [Canada-Norway] was 8-0 yesterday and I didn’t see that much in the papers [about it being a blowout]. We don’t have a steroid scandal in women’s hockey. I went to the world juniors and there were only three teams that could compete."

The time is now for North America's Big Two, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, to push for Asia/Europe's Everyone Else to develop better competition.

There's no one big solution, but there might be 100 small but effective ones. There will be a chance to get into when the IIHF takes part in an Open Ice Summit in Toronto on Aug. 23-27. Granted, the press release on IIHF.com says "it's all on the table" with regard to hockey, but doesn't say a word about the women's game. That's troubling.

One place to start is working collaboratively with some of the European countries to show them how it's done, perhaps by providing coachng. One small suggestion, 16 paragraphs into a Toronto Sun story headlined, "Women's hockey getting worse," is to work with Canadian Interuniversity Sport and the NCAA to furnish playing opportunities for European women.

Like captain Hayley Wickenheiser said after another trivial five-point night:

“I’ve lived in those [Scandinavian] countries. It starts with an attitude and funding dollars from their federations. They have some players in NCAA hockey. That’s where you start."

Meantime, North American journalists are clued in that the game is better, even if it's impossible to convince audiences. Alas, any such acknowledgement is buried beneath a screaming headline such as, "She shoots, she scores! And scores again! (National Post) or "Another Canadian blow out" (Toronto Sun). Yeah, most copy editors are dudes.

Swedish coach Peter Elander said as much in the Sun.

"We’re a better team than we were in Turin. But Canada is the powerhouse of women’s hockey. Unfortunately, they didn’t stop their development.”

“I remember watching in the men’s game, the Soviet Union in 1981 beat Sweden the same 13-1 at the world hockey championships. ... They were a centralized team playing together and everyone complained it wasn’t fair."

Compare Canada and Sweden's roster turnover from 2006 to 2010. Sweden lost nine players off its '06 roster, some of whom are still in their 20s (was it too expensive to carry on?).

Canada replaced seven players from 2006. Instead of having a drop-off, that created room for young talents such as Marie-Philip Poulin, the 18-year-old whiz kid who went roof daddy for a gorgeous goal tonight. It also upgraded its defence corps with youngsters Tessa Bonhomme, Meaghan Mikkelson and Catherine Ward.

The Post noted as much beneath that sassy headline, quoting both Elander and a Swedish IIHF official named Szymon Szemberg, who corroborated Wickenheiser's claim about fusty old Europe.

"Other problems await female players at home. In some European countries they face a stigma against women taking to the ice, and in those countries the women's hockey programs suffer.
" 'Within USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, the women's hockey is treated as seriously as the men's program. If we go to the Europeans - the Finns, Swedes, Russians, Swiss - that's not the case,' said Mr. Szemberg. 'In those countries I just mentioned, I would say 75% to 80% of the resources go toward the men. The leftovers go toward the women. Unless this attitude is changed, we will not have a dramatic change in results in major tournaments."

It would be tough for the IOC to delist one half of a team sport, which wasn't a factor when it dumped softball.

What is known is that it would be a shame after all the strides women have made in hockey since the 1970s. A women's sport juggernaut can go by the wayside. No one would want to see Team Canada became a 21st-century version of the Edmonton Grads, the basketball juggernaut of the 1920s and '30s.

The Grads played to huge crowds and went unbeaten in Olympic play in an era when women's basketball was a demonstration sport. They sometimes won by scores such as 61-1 and 100-2 (sound familiar?). With no one left to play, and fan interest waning, they eventually disbanded and today, no one remembers they existed.

Given hockey's place in Canada, it's a little far-fetched that would repeat itself. Without a smart course of action, though, time is running out.

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