Women’s Hockey – The Last of the Amateurs

By Jeff Bromley
I’ll admit I approached it with cautious optimism. Women’s hockey, the Canadian national team against Team Sweden. Being a servant of the great Canadian game, men’s hockey is what I follow. It’s what I write about, criticize, celebrate and lament. Women’s hockey was, up until this point, still a novelty to me. The best comparison to the men’s level would be about Midget AAA I was told. That would be my first mistake over the past few days as I prepared to take in the Cranbrook Regional Hospital Foundation – sponsored Canada vs. Sweden Women’s Hockey game this past week.

The first thing I learned outright is that is it completely unfair to categorize women’s hockey in relation to its gender sibling. The difference’s between the men’s game and the women’s are many. Not the least of which are the obvious – size and physicality of the game. But that’s not the glaring difference that it’s made out to be. Once you start to watch these girls play you notice how they play the actual game with the puck. By not having the physicality of the Men’s game, the Women’s game contain’s the subtle nuances of the game in its purest form. Razor-sharp stick-handling, tape to tape passes and more dipsy-doodles in one game than I’ve seen in a few years. To clarify, I still advocate the men’s style of hockey. Give me a bone-crushing hit or a bout of fisticuffs anytime. But the women’s style of play probably exudes the actual skills of hockey on a more frequent basis and in all honesty, it was a treat to watch.

For the record, the game finished in an 8-0 drubbing of Team Sweden. Hardly surprising considering the Canadian Women’s record over the past ten years is a cumulative 18-0-1, outscoring the Swedes 122 – 18, including Wednesday night’s game in Cranbrook. In all honesty the result was never in doubt and even the Swedes notching a marker against the Canadian squad would’ve been major news. No, the story on this night wasn’t the lopsided score of the game. The story itself was about the girls and them playing the game they love. Save for the millions of Canadians like myself that pick a stick maybe once a week or go to the odd tournament to lace up the skates and play a little shinny, these girls are the last bastion of amateur hockey in this country.

First off. This is a program where you check any or all egos at the entrance. The money they make is a pittance. Senior carded players with the national program, those who have made the club for the World Championships or the Olympics earn a paltry $1100 per month. Players who are trying to achieve that goal manage by on less than half that figure. Most of them have jobs on the side to subsidize their hockey dreams. Some are lucky enough to have received scholarship to American Universities so that they can ply their trade and get an education. Most of the players play on club teams besides playing for the national squad. Names such as the Beatrice Aeros (Toronto) or the Oval Extreme (Calgary) top the list as the best club programs in the country. Semi-pro is the classification used to describe the league these ladies play in. But it’s about as ‘semi’ as one can get as they don’t receive a salary for their efforts. Equipment is supplied by the teams and some gas and meal money. That’s it. No agents. No incentive bonus’ in their contracts. No contract disputes or hold-outs. Just the pure love of the sport they play. Yes there is some of the higher profile athletes on the club such as Hayley Wickenheiser or Cassie Campbell who do receive some monies from endorsements but they are the exception to the rule.

Yes, there is a dream that, down to the women, they are all chasing. That is a gold medal at the Women’s World Championships in Minneapolis, Minn. later this year. On a larger scale the ultimate goal is a gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, to avenge a one goal loss to the U.S. in Nagano in ‘98. But if you can look past the possibility of Olympic gold I think that you can see that is the pure love of the game that drives them. And in a world of million dollar contracts the almighty dollar as the goal, it is, refreshing.

Here endth the lesson.