She shoots, she scores!

In praise of women's hockey, where what was once a dream proves to be possible after all.

It was interesting to hear, on the radio, the build-up to a sporting match that was held in Kamloops on March 28. “One of the greatest rivalries in sports!” the announcer declaimed, making the casual listener wonder who could be involved. Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, or Manchester United vs. Liverpool F.C. (in football, aka soccer)? England vs. Australia in cricket? Perhaps les Canadiens vs. the Maple Leafs?

If you guessed the latter, you were close. It was indeed a hockey game; but it was between the Canadian and United States women’s teams, who are in Kamloops to take part in the Women’s World Hockey Championship.

Hyperbole? Probably. But I have to admit that it gladdened my heart to hear women’s sports—particularly hockey—being spoken of in terms usually only accorded to men’s teams. I’ve loved hockey since I was a girl, and would have loved nothing more than to play; but the only skates for girls were figure skates, which I could never get the hang of.

I fed my hockey passion by accompanying my father—who was a junior hockey referee for many years—to games. I don’t know how many hours I spent in suburban rinks, but by the time I was 10 I knew all the signals for penalties. I devoured books about the history of hockey and the greats of the game; my hero was the Canucks’ André Boudrias, followed by the Black Hawks’ Stan Mikita.

But the idea of girls—never mind women—playing hockey, when I was growing up, was about as improbable as a woman running for President of the United States. How things have changed, and not just the fact that women can now play hockey at the highest level. It’s a world where NHL player Tony Granato is referred to as “Cammi Granato’s brother” (Cammi was one of the first female players to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame), and where The Globe and Mail refers to Hayley Wickenheiser as one of the greatest hockey players this country has ever produced, full stop.

Viewers of hockey on the CBC can watch Cassie Campbell-Pascall do rinkside commentary and interviews during NHL games, while the colour commentator for Monday’s game on TSN was Cheryl Pounder, with Tessa Bonhomme and Carla MacLeod providing between-periods analysis. Surely the day is coming when a woman does play-by-play or colour commentary on a regular basis; and maybe one day we’ll see a woman behind the bench of an NHL team, coaching the guys.

A dream? Perhaps. But so was the idea, when I was growing up, that one day Canadians would be able to cheer on, and take pride in, a national women’s hockey team which would produce players who girls—and boys—across the country could look up to, and women and men could cheer about. The times they are a-changing, indeed; for the better.

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