Hilary Knight, Other Olympians leave CWHL for NWHL

We’re hearing that Hilary Knight, Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, and Gigi Marvin are going to the NWHL’s Boston Pride, and that Meghan Duggan will be going to the Buffalo Beauts.

Knight, Bellamy, Decker, Duggan and Marvin are all formerly of the CWHL’s Boston Blades. All of them played on the 2014 US Olympic team that won silver, and Duggan captained the team.

Hilary Knight finished out the 2014/2015 season for the Blades with 22 points, 6th in the overall league, in 13 games. She had 8 goals, 14 assists, and finished out the year a +23. She had 7 points in the 2015 Clarkson Cup tournament, where she won her second Clarkson Cup. A former Wisconsin Badger, Knight has won two Olympic silver medals playing for the US in 2014 and 2010.

Kacey Bellamy also has won two Olympic silver medals, playing with Knight in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. She put up 11 points in 18 games last season for the Blades as a defense, also winning two Clarkson Cups with the Blades in 2013 and 2015.

Brianna Decker won the 2015 Rookie of the Year award in her season with the Boston Blades, putting up 32 points in 12 games. She first put on a Blades jersey in mid-January, and went to town, becoming the second overall points leader in the league. She won the 2014 Olympic silver medal with the US, and the 2012 Patty Kazmaier while playing for the University of Wisconsin.

Gigi Marvin also played for the Blades, putting up 5 points in 15 games as a defense in the 2012/2013 season. She has one Clarkson Cup with the Blades.   She also has two Olympic silver medals, having played in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics for the US. A former Minnesota Golden Gopher, she’s a big, mobile defender, with an emphasis on puck possession.

Meghan Duggan finished the 2014/2015 season for the Blades with 6 points in 7 games. Another former Badger, she won the 2011 Patty Kazmaier Award. She has two Olympic silver medals, playing for the US in 2010 and 2014.  She also started coaching for Clarkson University in 2014.

 

 

Amanda Kessel’s College Career is Over

Per the Grand Forks Herald, Amanda Kessel’s college career is over. She has been sidelined since the Olympics with concussion issues. We here at Watch This are, of course, saddened to hear she won’t be playing, but glad she’s taking care of herself.

Kessel’s health is the most important thing and I don’t want to detract from that, but I’d feel like a bit of a liar if I didn’t admit this news makes me angry. She is a phenomenal player who will never get the chance to show the world what she can do her senior NCAA season. Female athletes are too often sidelined by the combination of a drastically shortened career – which makes playing in the Olympics, even while unhealthy, all the more important – and a lack of funding/support. They have to train virtually constantly without a hope of the eight-figure payoff the best men in the world get regularly. Pardon my French, but it’s bullshit.

Anyway, screw this, let’s all watch Amanda Kessel highlights:

The Boston Blades & the Future of US Women’s Hockey

From their inception in 2010 until this spring, the Boston Blades were the only American team in the CWHL. Since the collapse of the Western Women’s Hockey League (WWHL) in 2013, they’ve been the only opportunity for most women who are US citizens to play at the highest level, aside from Team USA. The CWHL does not offer visa sponsorship to players, but because players need to be able to live (and work to support themselves) near their teams, with few exceptions, players for the teams north of the border are Canadian. Exceptions are generally either in school or working for an employer who could sponsor them for a visa. In 2014, a full third of the 21 players Team USA sent to Sochi were from the Boston Blades; this year at Worlds, 5 of 22 players on Team USA were from the Blades. Even with the relationship between the CWHL and the Blades obviously strained, there was no competition for star players like Hilary Knight. Until this spring.

With the advent of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), there will be five professional women’s hockey teams in the United States. This includes the Boston Pride (NWHL) and the Boston Blades (CWHL), making Boston indisputably women’s hockey’s current hometown. While the NWHL and CWHL won’t be in direct battle on the ice, there’s going to be fierce competition for roster spots, and not just from US players. The NWHL has announced their intent to sponsor players for visas, which would allow them to bring in international players and pay them. Sponsoring players for P-1 (Internationally Recognized Athlete) or O-1 (Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement) visas isn’t cheap, so we may not see a bunch of them, but it’s likely that the CWHL will see some roster shakeups across the border as well.

What’s certain is that change is going to happen in the US, starting with the Boston Blades roster. Genevieve Lacasse has already expressed interest; Hilary Knight and Jess Koizumi were spotted at the NWHL launch party in April. The Blades are also losing both their head coach, Digit Murphy, and their general manager Aronda Kirby, who were let go by the CWHL following a legal dispute over the Blades’ logo trademark. While that’s going to make for an interesting 2015-2016 CWHL season, given that the Boston Blades are the 2015 Clarkson Cup champions, that doesn’t spell doom for the Blades by any means. They’re established in the CWHL, they have a short but strong history of competitive success, and women’s hockey is teeming with incredible players at the collegiate level. The Blades may be the main professional team represented on Team USA, the majority of players are actually from NCAA teams: 11 of 21 at the 2014 Olympics and 12 of 22 at 2015 Worlds.

There are so many incredibly talented women in the US right now who use up their NCAA eligibility and have nowhere to play afterward. Even for those who can get a roster spot on a CWHL team, the financial burden is huge. The advent of the NWHL is not only going to provide more women an opportunity to play at the professional level, but the ability to do so sustainably. While we’re definitely going to see an influx of younger players at first, in the long term, if the NWHL is successful, I hope it will also allow women in the US and abroad to have longer playing careers in hockey. Right now, most of the older women who headline the CWHL have spent their careers juggling undergraduate and graduate education as well as coaching and other employment on top of training, play, and family life. My hope for the NWHL is that it will allow players to be super athletes without having to be superwomen as well…

…and also that more support for women’s hockey at the professional level will net Team USA some gold at the Olympics.

The IIHF, Concussions, and No-Check Hockey

IIHF promotes the history of women’s hockey, makes sweeping proclamations about the impact of the ban on body checking

The IIHF did a series on the top 25 stories related to women’s hockey as a lead-in to the Women’s Worlds – the final story, on Canada winning gold in Sochi, was released on the day of the championship game. This is fantastic – the international federation is promoting women’s hockey and sharing the history of the women’s game with the world. I hope this keeps happening, and more organizations follow suit and publish interesting series that chronicle the history of women in their respective sports and locales.

However, some of what the IIHF wrote comes off as nothing more than propaganda defending their own decisions while making sweeping, unsupported claims. The 14th story details the removal of body checking from women’s hockey and the continuation of that rule change. As noted in the article, body checking used to be allowed in women’s hockey – it was banned internationally for the 1992 Women’s World Championship (after being allowed in 1990). It had been banned in some places (mainly North America) prior to this tournament, under the auspices of increasing participation and making the game safer. ((Etue & Williams, 1996: On the Edge: Women Making Hockey History))

The rationale was that by taking checking out of the game, players of different skill level could play against each other more easily without as much of a fear of injury. As the sport has grown and evolved, both in terms of participation numbers and level of play, the rule has held constant. As noted in the article, the game is known as one of more skill and finesse than the men’s game, but body contact is still part of the game, and the difference between body checking and body contact is a fine and very gray line. And here is where my issues with the article begin.

The article makes sweeping statements about the current state of the game, and how checking impacts it, that are not supported by or are seemingly contradictory to the data that does exist. In their discussion about the skill and finesse of the women’s game without checking, they state that “Players must use positioning and speed to gain puck possession. The use of the boards for body-checking is almost non-existent.” Yes, the women’s game is about speed, positioning and puck possession – Jack Han showed the increased puck possession of the McGill Martlets in the CIS, though unfortunately, there’s very little other women’s hockey analytics of this detail. However, their statement about body checking is unsupported in their article and possibly contradictory to the data. I cataloged all of the penalties from the Sochi Olympics and ran some basic frequencies. Body checking accounted for 26 of the 180 (14%) of the penalties, and if cross-checking (8) is included, checking accounted for 19% of the penalties. That’s almost one in five penalties that were for checking.

[A]lmost 1 in 5 penalties were for checking [at the Sochi Olympics].

While this is down from the 1998 Nagano Olympics, where body checking was 21% of the penalties and checking (including cross-checking and checking from behind) was 28% of the total penalties, it is still a significant amount of checking penalties. In this year’s IIHF tournament, body checking (19) and cross-checking (5) accounted for 24 out of 187 penalties (13%). These numbers represent only what is called, and not the above-the-angling and other physical play that occurs without being formally called.

[At this year’s Women’s World Championship,] body checking (19) and cross-checking (5) accounted for 24 out of 187 penalties (13%).

The commentators, including former players, during the last Olympics mentioned that there is a higher level of physical contact allowed now within the women’s game than previously, which is something that I have anecdotally noticed as well. Compared to these numbers and comments, the IIHF statement is seemingly trying to hide the fact that checking does occur not infrequently in women’s hockey games (unless they’re being overly specific and only talking about checks into the boards and not counting open ice hits in that statement, information the game summaries don’t tell me).

The IIHF statement is seemingly trying to hide the fact that checking does occur not infrequently in women’s hockey games.

I will also note that in the IIHF game summaries for this tournament, body checking penalties are being listed as “illegal hits.” The past Olympics (organized by IIHF) have listed them as “body checking.” While I do not know what prompted this linguistic decision, it could be perceived as another way of hiding the reality that checking does occur in women’s hockey. By calling it an illegal hit, unless you are aware that means body checking, it is not clear that this is what this call means. Without denoting it as checking, how are we to know the difference between an illegal hit and roughing (which is defined as an illegal hit, generally after the play or overly aggressive, in the IIHF rule book). Renaming the penalty seems to serve as another way of advancing the IIHF’s apparent agenda of blindly maintaining the rule, as it hides the fact that it is actually a penalty for an action allowed – and expected – within the men’s game.

The IIHF piece continues on to discuss the argument regarding correlation between checking and injuries. They state, “Critics of the women’s game argue that hitting is an inherent part of the game, and recent studies which show that women are more prone to concussions in sports also perhaps suggest that a cause for this is the lack of practice with physical contact (if one expects a hit, one is prepared for it; if one isn’t expecting a hit, the results can be more damaging). However, in ice hockey the injury rate is lower for women than for men also due to the no-hitting rule.” There is a debate about whether banning checking decreases injury by taking some of the physicality out of the game or increases it as players do not expect the hits when they do happen. Both sides make sense in theory.

However, the final statement regarding injury rate does not makes sense, and I do not know where they are getting that statistic from. If they are talking general injuries and using something like the Olympics, they are comparing men that are in the middle of an NHL season to women who are solely preparing for the Olympics and two totally different games. Unfortunately there is no way to get good data on this because there are no full check women’s leagues to compare statistics with. I would also argue that due to size, strength, and general difference in playing style it is inappropriate to unquestioningly use male statistics, particularly when men in non-check leagues were still likely to have training in full check hockey and thus better prepared to receive unexpected hits.

Even if the general injury rate is lower, as they claim, they have no evidence of the causation between the rule and the injuries, and are thus exaggerating their claim to defend their decision to maintain the rule. However, if the sentence is referencing the concussions mentioned in the first line of that quote, it is a straight up lie. The most recent data coming out of the NCAA shows that the varsity sport with the highest rate of concussions is women’s hockey. Women’s hockey experiences more concussions than any other sport, more than men’s hockey, more than football, etc. at the college level.

Women’s hockey experiences more concussions than any other sport, more than men’s hockey, more than football, etc. at the college level … Nobody is quite sure yet why.

Nobody is quite sure yet why women experience more concussions; there are only some theories and ongoing research. But as of right now, in ice hockey, the concussion rate is higher for women than for men, even with the no-hitting rule. In the next article of the series, the IIHF tells the story of Kessel’s concussion, which was the result of an uncalled hit. While they talked about the seriousness of concussions, they again seemed to ignore the frequency of concussions in women’s hockey, despite the no-hitting rule, with statements like “Kessel’s has brought home a worrying fact in women’s hockey – that concussions can also happen in the women’s game.”

I applaud the IIHF for trying to raise awareness of women’s hockey and teach people about some of the history of the game. However, I wish they would not use this as a place to make sweeping statements that they cannot, or choose not to, back up with facts. This is a disservice to the women’s hockey community, who deserve to know the reality of their game. The IIHF is obviously invested in maintaining the rule, and thus looking at the impact of it through rose-colored glasses is beneficial to that cause.

This is a disservice to the women’s hockey community

However, doing so may be misleading to the public, including their players, prospective players, and their supporters, and does a disservice to their cause and to the continued growth of the game. While it could be argued that talking about concussions could make people wary of playing hockey, I argue that if the IIHF stuck to the facts and eschewed these sweeping statements, there would be more awareness of the issues, and the IIHF could help to support the ongoing research and discussions on prevention and treatment of concussions.

[T]he more organizations that actively engage in the research and discussion [of concussions], the more able we will be to grow all sports in a safe manner.

Sports currently need more information on all aspects of concussion, and the more organizations that actively engage in the research and discussion, the more able we will be to grow all sports in a safe manner. By moving beyond the sweeping statements, the IIHF could also consider conducting research on the actual impacts of the ban on checking on the current game and the growth of the game moving forward.

Weekly Link Roundup: Worlds, NWHL, & more!

NWHL

  • According to Kate Cimini of the Hockey Writers, the NWHL will be providing visas for international players! There’s already some questions about this, like will the players be able to hold down other jobs as well, as the league is only promising a part-time salary at best. But it’s still a new precedent in North American women’s hockey leagues, as the CWHL does not provide any sort of visa help. We’re doing some research on how this sort of thing could work out, and will hopefully be able to provide more information in the future.
  • Dani Rylan will be on 102.5 The Game this evening at 9 PM CDT to talk about the NWHL. The radio station does have online streaming, so you should be able to listen in! Rylan’s segment will apparently be on ~9:15.
  • The Globe and Mail has an article about the NWHL with some very interesting details! Apparently, home arenas have been secured for each team, and ice time was donated, as well as a partnership with US Coachways for bus transportation. Even more interestingly, Rylan told the Globe and Mail that multi-year deals with sponsors have been signed! No deets yet on who those were with, but hopefully soon!

Women’s Worlds

  • Quarterfinals are set! Russia will be playing Sweden for a chance to face the US in the Semifinals, and Finland will be playing Switzerland for a chance to play Canada. Sadly, this means Japan will face Germany in the regulation round– we were really pulling for Team Japan, who appears to have started pulling together their offense that was severely lacking at Sochi. They’ve won two games this tournament, tying their previous international record.
  • Blowout games are on the decline in international women’s hockey! Constantly cited as an indication of lack of parity, the huge margins of victory hung on teams by Canada and the US appear to be narrowing– non-Canadian or US teams are getting better.
  • Florence Schelling and Karoliina Rantamaki have both set some new records for international games! Rantamaki has set a new record for participating in the most Women’s World Championship at 13. Previously, she’d been tied with Canada’s Jayna Hefford and Hayley Wickenheiser.
  • POORMOLLYSCHAUS. But seriously, why so out of position there?

    Molly Schaus wipes out on a Russian breakaway. US won 9-2, shots were 49-5.

NCAA

  • This is slightly late, but better than never! In an update on the University of Minnesota-Duluth coaching situation, they’ve narrowed the search to three candidates, including UMD assistant coach Laura Schuler, Mercyhurst head coach Mike Sisti, and Harvard associate head coach Maura Crowell.

Lesser Known Players to Watch in the 2015 Women’s World Championship

We know you’ll have your eyes on what Hilary Knight and Marie Philip Poulin do in the Women’s World Championships – you don’t need us to tell you they’re the players to watch.  But who should you be looking for when Japan and Switzerland close out the first round of games on Tuesday?

Like the B side of an album, there’s lesser-known talent aplenty to be found on these rosters. As well as tons of players that are spending their college careers in the US, meaning you might find a new favorite player that you can watch on the regular.

Let’s start with

Team USA:

Annie Pankowski was the Rookie of the Year in NCAA women’s hockey. She led the Wisconsin Badgers in goals and points as a freshman, scoring 42 points in 38 games (20g, 22a). The Badgers made it to the national semi-final this season. Pankowski looked to be finding a new level as the season wound down – she scored two goals in her team’s NCAA quarterfinal win over Poulin’s Boston University Terriers, including a breakaway two minutes into the game that included this nasty stickwork.

Alex Carpenter absolutely owned the NCAA this season, scoring 37 goals and adding 44 assists on the season and averaging 2.19 points per game. She won the Patty Kazmaier Award for her efforts.

The next highest scorer, seven points behind Carpenter was Hannah Brandt. Brandt will be a great addition to the already potent US offense. She has a knack for finding the loose pucks and making big plays when her team needs them most. Brandt was a Patty Kaz top ten finalist her freshman year and a top three finalist the next two years. She’s only a junior. She’s joined by Minnesota teammate Dani Cameranesi. The linemates combined for 139 points this season. They know each other well and if they’re paired together in Malmö, other teams should be very, very concerned.

One more thing to watch – how Monique Lamoureux does on defense. She transitioned before Sochi and it didn’t go particularly well there for her. She has a tendency to float forward yet. The coaching strategy didn’t compensate for her and she was caught out of position and with no teammates covering for her more than a few times. She did seem more comfortable and less lost with the Boston Blades this season, so it’ll be important to see if the system will now accommodate for her or if she’s tamed her wandering tendencies.

Team Canada:

The goalie situation will be of interest for Team Canada. Only Genvieve Lacasse was on their roster for Sochi, so they’re bringing two young but very talented goalies to Sweden.

Emerance Maschmeyer from Havard had a great showing in this year’s Frozen Four. She’s grown considerably from the prior year, when she was a Patty Kaz top ten finalist. The confidence she gained from taking her team to the national championship was clear and she’ll be riding that swagger into Malmö.

Ann-Renée Desbiens is Canada’s third goalie but WCHA fans know she’s a force in the net. She tied for 1st in the country with a 94.1 save percentage and was second with her 1.15 GAA. She won the WCHA goaltending title as a rookie last year. Desbiens allowed just five power plays goals all season and tied Jessie Vetter for a Wisconsin school record 14 shutouts on the year. With Desbiens, you get a little more reckless play – she’s not afraid to leave the net – which is both a blessing and a curse. She’ll raise your blood pressure but make many more amazing saves then allow small mistakes with her style of play. Wisconsin has a strong goaltending legacy at this point (three Badger goalies are on WWC rosters in 2015) and Desbiens is living up to the pressure and expectations.

Team Finland:

With Noora Räty out with an injury, Finland has a lot to make up for in net. Eveliina Suonpää is listed as the number two goalie for Finland. She was a surprise pick for their third spot in Sochi. She was a late enrollee at the University of Minnesota-Duluth this season, joining the Bulldogs after the new year. She played in just part of one game this season. While Michele Karvinen is the more recognizable Fin that played her college years at North Dakota, Susanna Tapani was also in Grand Forks for a season. She did not return to the ice for NoDak this season, but she’s a great compliment to Karvinen and those two will need to step up their team’s offense in order to take some pressure off their defense. Räty has been the glue that’s kept this team together and relevant for a while and every one on Team Finland has to step up to make up for her missing presence.

Team Germany:

Apparently world-class talent runs in the Eisenschmid family. Tanja is a junior at North Dakota and now sister Nicola joins her on Team Germany. Their brother Markus recently played for German’s U-18 men’s team.

Marie Delarbre is third year player at Merrimack University, where she transferred from Minnesota-Duluth. Anna-Marie Fiegert is a sophomore at Minnesota State-Mankato. The defenseman has four assists for the Mavericks each of the last two seasons.

Team Switzerland:

It seems impossible to me, because my love for her is far-reaching, but it came to my attention recently that there are women’s hockey fans unfamiliar with Florence Schelling. If that is the case, please fix that – now. I both want to be best friends with her and kind of have a crush on her.

[Thuner Tagblatt]
[Thuner Tagblatt]
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[Calgary Herald]
 

Schelling and her Swiss teammates were the surprise of Sochi, winning the bronze medal. She was also the goalie you likely saw getting pushed around on a cart. Schelling plays in a men’s league at home in Switzerland, though she did spend a year in Brampton in the CWHL. She played her college puck at Northeastern University. Based on the amount of press stuff she posts on her FB (which she posts in three languages because she’s fabulous), she’s quite well-known and recognized.

Switzerland was down 2-0 to Sweden in the third period in the Bronze Medal game in Sochi. Phoebe scored Switzerland’s second goal. This is her fourth IIHF WWC for Switzerland. She was second on the Yale Bulldogs in scoring and assists and halfway through her career has 50 points.

Lara Stalder has had two prolific years at Minnesota-Duluth. As a freshman, she was fourth among all rookies with 22 points. This season she finished with 29 points (10g, 19a). Stalder is a physical player that spends some time in the penalty box, so she will need to be careful, especially with the new referee system, to keep herself clean and on the ice for her team. She also had an assist on Switzerland’s bronze-medal winning goal. Check out the highlights on YouTube— sorry, we can’t embed this video.

Team Sweden

Erica Uden Johansson is older than your standard college player, but the 25-year old brought extensive international experience to Quinnipiac University. A veteran of both Vancouver and Sochi, this will be her third IIHF WWC.

In her career at Quinnipiac, Uden Johansson had 96 points (42g, 54 a). She is one of two Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey players to record at least 40 goals and 40 assists in her career (Kelly Babstock). She ranks third in Bobcat program history in both goals and assists.

If you didn’t watch the full Bronze Medal highlights, here’s a snipe from Uden Johansson:

While Switzerland came from behind to win the bronze medal, making them darlings for a bit, the hands-down fan favorite team in Sochi was Team Japan. Playing in their first Olympics since they got an auto-entry when they hosted in Nagano in 1998, the Japanese team were spectacular at embodying the “happy to be here” spirit of the Olympics. They spent their open practice time taking pics of each other and posting them online.

They scored just a single goal, but it was a beauty and also came complete with a spectacular celly.

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Japan is playing in its first WWC in the top tier. The IIHF has many different divisions for the various levels of women’s hockey and they use a promotion/relegation system similar to European soccer. Japan won the 1A division and find themselves among familiar talent a year after Sochi.

The Japanese played Russia to a very close 2-1 game and gave Sweden a tough time. The key to their game is the stellar play of goalie Nana Fujimoto. She was saving 95% of shots she faced through their first two games at the Olympics and many of those were during odd-man rushes.

Of note, former Wisconsin Badger Carla McLeod is an assistant coach with Japan. She was responsible for bringing her team to the US prior to Sochi for some training games. Japan was severly out-scored by teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota, but the trip and chance to play top talent is crucial for international teams and it’s a good precedent to set. Team Japan had won themselves some cult status in their homeland when they were the first of any other of their countrymen to qualify for Sochi.

Can you tell I have a soft spot for these ladies?

WOMEN’S WORLDS START TOMORROW! LEARN STUFF ABOUT IT!

Hi guys! We’ve got a preview of our own coming soon, but due to some things (cough starting a new job cough cough) it’s going to be a little delayed. So, while you’re waiting for the games to start and trying desperately to find a hook up to somehow watch the games (HELLO FELLOW AMERICANS AND OTHER NON-CANADIANS), or settling in to watch them with some friends (SSSSS CANADIANS), here’s some articles to take a gander at!

“The “four-men system” with games officiated with two referees and two linesmen has been extended to the 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Malmo, Sweden, which will be the first IIHF women’s tournament with four officials calling each game following successful tests in July at the 2014 IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp.”

IIHF Press Release

  • GUYS THIS REFEREE THING IS SUPER EXCITING! One of the issues that’s always been present in international tournaments but is especially important for the women is that different leagues and levels have different “standards” (even if the standard is implicit and not explicit) for what is acceptable body contact, etc. The sheer speed of the women’s game, too, has provided some issues with getting games called correctly. Hopefully going to a two referee system will provide some more standardization for the Worlds this year, and hopefuly going forward to the Olympics.
  • Zoe has a post up over at NHL Numbers previewing Women’s Worlds with an emphasis on players to watch.
  • Angelica has a post up at Hockey Wilderness that looks at Team USA a bit more closely.
  • There’s an article up by Donna Spencer over at the Globe and Mail about Iya Gavrilov, the first non-Canadian to earn the Brodrick Trophy as the top female hockey player in the CIS, who hopes to help lead the Russian team to more prominence post-Sochi.
  • There’s a quick piece from Boston University about Marie-Philip Poulin being named as Canada’s captain at Women’s Worlds.
  • Notably for Calgary Inferno fans, it looks like Aina Takeuchi is not on the Team Japan roster. The defense, who played this last season as a fourth liner for the Calgary Inferno, was on the 2014 Sochi Olympics roster for Japan. She had 4 points in 8 games with Calgary, and had one assist for Team Japan in 5 games at Sochi. This is the first time since 2009 that Team Japan will be at Worlds in the top division for Worlds.

 

Dear USA Hockey: What’s The Deal With Women’s Worlds?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but USA Hockey is run by a barrel of baby monkeys, right? Ha ha, jokes! It’s clearly a barrel of confused human babies.

No, but seriously. Why isn’t Women’s Worlds being televised? The IIHF’s everything with women’s hockey has been baffling for a long time, I’ll grant you that. Their website design is subpar and finding any info on syndication of women’s games and so on is incredibly difficult. But that’s a gripe that’s pretty common with most women’s sports; there’s not nearly the incentive to sink money and time into making information readily accessible. Women’s sports are undervalued, blah blah. That’s not new. USA Hockey waffling so thoroughly on women’s games might also not be exactly new, but the Women’s U-18 games were streamed by USA Hockey, and Canada is televising games – and has been advertising that they’re televising them, even! So again: what’s the deal?

I understand that sports in general and hockey in particular loves being closed-mouthed like nobody’s business, but boy would some communication be good on this. In no small part because right now I’m left with some questions, such as:

  • Is USA Hockey aware that Women’s World’s is one of the only plus-18 international competitions that Americans can be remotely relied upon to win? Sure, referring to a national team as being reliable in that context is kind of messed up, but let’s be honest: USA Hockey wants to be Hockey Canada, with all the almost-monopoly over gold medals that that implies. Lack of competition sucks for the losers, but it only hurts the winners in the very long run. So, with that being established, why wouldn’t you at least stream – if not televise – games? At the very least, you’re not then sending talented girls who might get into hockey the unequivocal message of “no one cares and you should probably play a sport more people care about, like soccer or basketball”.
  • Is investment in women’s hockey at all a priority for USA Hockey? I know we talk about the CWHL a lot, but that’s really only part of the development puzzle. Women’s Worlds has been streamed in the past; is this new lack of streaming an indication that USA Hockey is going to step away from supporting their fastest-growing segment of players? I’ve met basically no one who had any hand in the public side of a business who thought that decisions about when and how to publicize their product didn’t affect the business, so again, I have to ask: is this the first step in removing investment from the women’s game? I’d be honestly surprised if it were – I personally think someone just dropped the ball – but by not saying a word about why they’re not streaming the games, USA Hockey is almost guaranteeing people are going to be wondering if they’re moving in a different direction.
  • Who is pancaking on this, USA Hockey? Why did a blogger (thanks, @gabfun) announce that the games wouldn’t be streamed instead of, I don’t know, an intern posting to an official twitter? This is a gripe I have at my inglorious office job as well as in the blogging world, so I get that this isn’t a USA Hockey-specific problem, but it’s just not that hard to put a line of text on the internet, almost anywhere on the internet, saying whether or not games will be accessible and if so, where to stream them. Women’s sports fans are decent at Google, okay? We kind of have to be. So throw us a bone.

The only thing I can think of is that there’s some kind of dispute that has led to USA Hockey publicizing NCAA women’s hockey on their Twitter, but not a tournament they’re directly involved in. But if that’s the case, then again, where are the professionals communicating access to fans in a way that doesn’t signal that something’s up?

My impression of hockey culture in general is that the overall culture is very do-it-yourself, rah-rah-pond-hockey. That culture, when applied to women’s hockey – a subset of the sport that very much does need support without the guarantee of profit the considerably older NHL carries – can be difficult to navigate. I might disagree with the CWHL not openly calling for volunteers and organizing and utilizing the talent of their fans, but I at least understand some of the rationale behind it. But I do not understand, at all, USA Hockey being so totally close-mouthed about Women’s Worlds. I have a FastHockey account specifically because I wanted to watch the tournament two years ago. Not saying anything and acting like no one’s paying attention to the tournament, when players are talking about it on Twitter and people like me want to watch them play, comes across as flat-out disrespectful.

All of us are aware that women’s hockey is not the most profitable business venture in the world. But either USA Hockey should commit to their players, and their product, and give what fans there are info – or they should own up to their comprehensive lack of interest in female players. It’s ten kinds of annoying to be presented with such a fundamental lack of information about one of the biggest tournaments for women’s hockey in the world. To be blunt and slightly NSFW: quit dicking us around, USA Hockey.

How and When to Watch the 2015 Women’s Worlds

Boston’s won the Clarkson Cup, the Minnesota Golden Gophers won their third NCAA Championship in four years, and we’ve barely got a moment to pause for breath before the 2015 Women’s World Championship starts! Players have reported to their pre-tournament camps already, as the first game of the championship starts on March 28th, this SATURDAY, in Malmö, Sweden.

The official video for the 2015 Women’s World Championship

You can check out the complete schedule at the IIHF’s website. USA Hockey has the U.S. schedule and results on their website, while Hockey Canada has the complete schedule in a slightly more readable format up on theirs. (As a sad American, I find the GMT times on the IIHF website deeply confusing.)

[table id=15 /]

The preliminary round starts on Saturday, and goes until Tuesday, March 31st. The regulation round is played along side the playoff round, April 1st-4th, culminating in the gold medal game on Saturday, April 4th. Remember, as an IIHF tournament, the outcome of this tournament plays into the seeding for the 2016 Olympics.

As for how to watch these games, that’s a bit more complicated. Hockey Canada has a live game update page for every game, not just Canada games, available off their schedule page. In the past, select games were streamed and available on FastHockey and we’re trying to hunt down if that will still be true this year. Canadians, you’re a bit more in luck, as it appears that TSN will be showing on television all of Canada’s games, as well as the medal games.

We’ll update this post as we know more, and we’ll always post it on Twitter, too.

Shannon Szabados: Never Just Another Player

I had my notes from sitting down with two-time Olympic gold medalist and Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados up on my laptop for more than a week. Every day I’d open them up and stare without any story materializing and I started to despair that this story would ever see the light of day.

I’m used to taking interviews and turning them into straight profiles the way I was taught in school. But when the story I thought I was going to write just wasn’t coming together, I realized it’s ok to break the rules a little. After all, this started off as a profile of a woman who’s done nothing but challenge standards and rules her whole career.

So instead, I want to use my conversation with Shannon to open a larger dialogue about breaking ground, role models, scrutiny and attention.

Continue reading Shannon Szabados: Never Just Another Player