Montreal Stars take on the Toronto Furies twice, & the U18 Women’s Worlds!

WEEKEND PREVIEW: THE MONTREAL STARS GO TO TAKE ON THE TORONTO FURIES TWICE!

CWHL WEEKEND ACTION: MONTREAL STARS @ TORONTO FURIES:

  • Saturday, January 10th, 6:30 PM CDT This game will be streamed!
  • Sunday, January 11th, 11:45 AM CDT

The Montreal Stars are currently second in the league, just one point behind the league-leading Calgary Inferno (although the Inferno does have a game in hand on the Stars). Toronto is currently second from last, but have the least games of anyone in the league with only 10 games played.

Montreal’s Caroline Ouellette and Toronto’s Natalie Spooner are currently tied for 5th in the league’s scoring leaders, with nine points each in ten games, but it might be goaltending rather than scoring that’s the decider in this weekend’s series. Montreal’s Charline Labonte is currently second in the league with a save percentage of .925% in 7 games. Sami Jo Small has a .917 SV% for Toronto this season, but she’s only played 3 game so far– it’s more likely that we’ll see Christina Kessler, who has a .909 SV% in 7 starts.

Also, for everyone who can get to Saturday’s game, the first 50 fans in the door will get free CWHL clackers!

Continue reading Montreal Stars take on the Toronto Furies twice, & the U18 Women’s Worlds!

Fighting in Women’s Hockey

Any avid hockey fan knows that fighting is part of the game. It serves as a natural outlet to blow off steam or stand up for a teammate, and the vast majority of spectators love it. Hockey is a swift, gritty, physical sport, so occasional fisticuffs are expected. Or at least in men’s hockey it is.

Female players are not permitted to drop the gloves — one of several questionable regulations of women’s hockey. However, fists do fly in the women’s game. Take late 2013 for instance: arch rivals and women’s hockey superpowers Canada and the United States dropped the gloves during two separate pre-Sochi meetings. In Burlington, Vermont on October 12, USA’s Monique Lamoureux bulldozed Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados on a rush to the net, sparking a fierce line brawl. On December 20 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, 10 fighting majors were distributed after a series of illegal plays (Jocelyne Lamoureux nailed Brianne Jenner into the boards after Jenner laid a late hit on Josephine Pucci, and Hilary Knight rammed into Melodie Daoust for invading American goalie Molly Schaus’ territory), which resulted in a bench-clearing brawl so crazy that it went viral and was featured by sports outlets like Yahoo Sports and CBS Sports.

Such incidents raise the question of whether female hockey players should be allowed to fight, or if they should continue to risk game misconducts and even suspension for doing so. So, let’s evaluate whether fighting would be more beneficial or detrimental to the women’s game.

By allowing women to drop the mitts, false stereotypes of female hockey players characterized by words such as “fragile” and “weak” would be easier to refute using the standards that are used for men. Fans and skeptics alike would be able to observe the commonly overlooked physical element of women’s hockey in a new exciting way. By granting players the privilege to fight, public coverage, such as local television footage or newspaper recaps, may increase. This could subsequently provide a means to expand the audience of the sport, and open another door to gain people’s interest.

On the contrary, extensive focus on the fighting facet would probably overshadow the finesse and talent of the players. If women’s hockey is to be taken more seriously by a broader audience, then skills that need to be put at the forefront shouldn’t include knock-out uppercuts and rapid blows to the face, but filthy dangles, bar down game-winners, and windmill glove saves in order to prove that the women’s game is just as exciting and fast-paced as the men’s.

Moreover, fighting tends to highlight lack of discipline, drive away a significant portion of potential viewers, and promote aggressive behavior in young admirers. In other words, by allowing fighting in professional women’s hockey, current supporters who are already accustomed to the no fighting regulation may dissociate themselves from women’s hockey in fear that it would detract from the game itself. Additionally, potential fans with hockey-oriented families may avoid the sport entirely in an effort to shield their children from the extra violence.

Fan loyalty and feedback are important factors in determining the popularity, value, and success of sports organizations. So, how should the world of pro women’s hockey establish a connection between fighting and spectatorship that would yield maximum support? One argument is to target men’s hockey fans, specifically pertaining to the NHL. The NHL fanbase is exponentially larger than that of the CWHL. By attempting to market the women’s game with a focus on men’s hockey fans, fan recruitment could have a substantial turnout, allowing for quicker audience expansion through an established fanbase. However, NHL fans would probably be a lot more compelled to extend their interest to women’s professional hockey if fighting were permitted. On another note, an additional audience to go for would be the considerable number of people who aren’t invested in hockey whatsoever. Odds are that this huge potential following would be more dismayed than intrigued by a fighting component if anything. They may not be interested in a game that accepts brawling as conventional, but perhaps a unique sport free of violent diversions would be more engaging. Therefore, for the sake of the latter prospective audience, scraps should stay out of the game.

Overall, my stance on the zero tolerance treatment of fighting in women’s hockey is that it should remain as it is. Although allowing female players to engage in brawls would make the rules more parallel to that of men’s hockey and could bring about increased exposure, it would do more harm than good. Permitting fighting would distract spectators from the undervalued skills these ladies possess and divert people’s attention from players’ uncanny ability to move the puck efficiently and control the flow and tempo of gameplay. Plus, no fighting would be more suitable to attract potential fans who are not yet invested in the game; large-stage tournaments such as the Olympics and the Women’s World Championship already play important roles in leading men’s hockey fans to the women’s game. As such violent entertainment and aggressive theatrics are becoming discouraged in the NHL anyway, they’re not necessary for a game that’s already as beautiful as it is.

How Do International Tourneys Affect the CWHL?

The CWHL resumed regular play last weekend after spending the first half of November on hiatus, as 22 of its best players travelled to Kamloops, B.C. for the 4 Nations Cup — but don’t be fooled. The league was far from idle as it spent the tournament spreading the word about professional women’s hockey, both to its existing fans state-side and potential fans worldwide.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase our players,” said CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress of the tournament. “Any player [in the 4 Nations Cup] who isn’t playing in the CIS or NCAA is in our league. It’s a phenomenal opportunity to expose the game across the world.”

Some of the names on the rosters and scoresheets, like Boston’s Hilary Knight (USA; three goals in the tournament) and Calgary’s Rebecca Johnston (Canada; four points), were familiar from February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. Others, like Brampton rookie Jamie Lee Rattray (Canada; three points), might be more familiar to those who watched her play in college. Regardless, the presence of these players help build a brand and strengthen what Andress refers to as a “grassroots” movement to make pro women’s hockey a successful venture for young girls growing up with the game.

Part of that effort includes working with hockey’s national bodies in North America — USA Hockey and Hockey Canada — to find out when camps and events are being held, in order to ensure the league’s players can participate. Another part of it is using the powers of social media, posting news and information about the tournament on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to reach the broadest audience possible. Lastly, the games were broadcast on TSN in Canada, giving the tournament and its players nationwide exposure and perhaps spurring new viewers to research the CWHL.

The combined approach has worked; through the first two weeks of November, the @cwhl_insider account saw a 5 percent growth in followers, and marketing and communications specialist Jennifer Smith said via email that the league expects that growth to eclipse 10 percent by the end of the month. That’s partly thanks to the announcement just after the 4 Nations Cup of the CWHL All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto on Dec. 13. Boston Blades GM Aronda Kirby also said she noticed the @BostonCWHL handle gain a couple of hundred followers during the tournament.

“The media is covering it more, there’s more attention being paid to women’s hockey,” she said. “They write more articles about it, and we post them to our websites. It feeds the marketing machine.”

All of this contributes to turning the CWHL into a viable league for young women and girls to aspire to play in, and eventually work (much like in the NHL) toward international tournaments, something Andress is excited about.

“We want our players to grow up through this grassroots movement,” she said. “We want them to say, ‘Hey, I want to become a professional women’s hockey player, and in doing so I will get the chance to represent my country.’”

Of course, with the positive exposure comes a set of challenges. These tournaments feature compressed schedules — the 4 Nations Cup in particular has teams playing four games in four days — and with that comes a risk of injury and fatigue. There is also the prospect of taking time away from work — it’s a known fact that CWHL players aren’t paid for their play, and thus have full-time jobs in order to eat and pay the bills. The fact that they sacrifice some things to participate, Andress said, is a testament to how much they are willing to do just to play the game.

On a team level, Kirby mentioned the timing of the tournament, just a couple of weeks after the start of the season, which doesn’t allow for a lot of time to build up steam. It hasn’t seemed to slow down the Blades much — they are currently in the midst of six straight weekends playing without a break, and started off with a convincing sweep of Toronto. However, the constant play could contribute to some fatigue later on.

Another disadvantage that comes with being in the States and trying to follow your players from Boston? Limited access to broadcasts. While FASTHockey provided free live streams of some of the games on Hockey Canada’s 4 Nations Cup page, others (mainly the games Canada was playing in) were unavailable for viewing in the U.S. without resorting to illegal streaming or a paid website — and not everyone has the money for those.

“The only option seemed to be to buy a live stream of the game,” Kirby said. “We were texting everyone, asking, ‘Where’d you get the game?’ It was a little inconvenient.”

With that said, the tournament did generate some good conversation about women’s hockey. So does that mean more of them could be a boost for the female game?

Yes and no. Andress mentioned that there are two different goals inherent in tournaments versus leagues like the CWHL or NHL. While a broader fanbase is created in international tournaments, which pit country against country, the fact that these leagues feature players from all over the world creates more of an individual following.

“If you’re watching a Team USA game, you’re more likely to root for a player from your favorite team,” she said. “If you’re, say, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, you’re going to be a Maple Leafs fan regardless of what player is wearing that jersey — Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, whoever.”

There’s also the idea of parity, something the CWHL can boast for the most part. There are plenty of talented players in the league who didn’t make the 4 Nations rosters, but could at any given time.

From a revenue standpoint, Kirby thinks tournaments featuring CWHL players stateside could have benefits, with some conditions.

“If the revenue could go somehow to the players or the clubs, that would be beneficial,” she said.

Overall, events like the 4 Nations Cup do their part to increase exposure of women’s hockey and the seven-year-old league that aims to become the premier place for female players to take their talents. Andress stressed the idea of retaining the fans that come to see these tournaments.

“It’s like, ‘Hey, you don’t have to wait once a year, or once every four years, for these games,’” she said. “They happen in your backyard every weekend.”

What We’re Reading This Week: November 6th, 2014

Mid-Week Links Round Up: The Canadian Women Continue to Break My Heart

  • Over at espnW, Kate Fagan wrote about the recent firing of a female coach, Tracey Griesbaum, at the University of Iowa. It’s an interesting story that touches on the really problematic double standard applied to female coaches, but one that also extends to female athletes as well, across sports. From Griesbaum’s lawyer’s statement, the following really struck me as a good summary of this:
  • We expect our female coaches to be strong leaders, but not too strong. This means we expect our female coaches not to forget they are women first and leaders second. It means we expect them not to forget they should be ‘mothering’ or ‘nurturing’ our daughters while coaching them. We do not expect any of this from male coaches regardless of whether they coach males or females.

  • Kat Hasenauer Cornetta of Women’s Hockey Today recently caught up with current Harvard head coach and previous USA Olympic head coach, Katie Stone. Check out the interview, it’s quite interesting.
  • If you’ve been following women’s hockey, or honestly, women’s sports in general, you’ve probably heard about the issues of growing the women’s game, especially in hockey where the NHL is set up as the pinnacle of hockey achievement. However, the Pink Puck recently had a very interesting interview with Hilary Knight on these issues. Of particular interest to me was Knight’s comments about her plans after the Olympics–

    I was thinking about retiring. I wasn’t sure where I was. [I knew] traveling across the pond would be very difficult, [because] I could score however many goals, but it really wouldn’t matter because it wouldn’t impact or motivate or inspire anyone else if I wasn’t in North America. It was heartbreaking.

  • We didn’t stay up to watch the US v Canada Four Nations game, and I’m kind of glad of it. But if you’d like your heart-broken some more (or to gloat), check out TSN’s coverage of the game. (Spoiler: The US lost 4-1).
  • I’m just gonna keep rewatching these Montreal at Calgary highlights from their October 26th game, to sooth my heart-break.CWHL October 26th Montreal at Calgary Inferno Highlights from Bengt Neathery on Vimeo.

 

Weekend Preview: Four Nations Cup!

Weekend Preview: Oct. 31st, 2014

As you might have noticed if you’ve checked your calendar lately, there are no CWHL games this weekend. This is not a mistake! The Four Nations cup is coming up, and players have already left their teams for national camps.

So, we thought we’d do a quick and dirty primer on the Four Nations Cup Tournament, instead of previewing the CWHL games.

Continue reading Weekend Preview: Four Nations Cup!

Growth of Women’s Hockey in the US

Recently, USA Hockey released their enrollment numbers for 2013. There was significant growth of women’s hockey, with registrations by female players up 2.33% from last year. (Overall growth fell in some states, such as the economically troubled Michigan.)

Increase from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014
Increase by gender from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014

Enrollment numbers are always interesting to look at, because they often reflect a growing interest in the sport, usually because of increased international visibility or because of increased team-specific visibility. For women’s hockey, the increase in visibility usually happens the year leading up to the Olympics, and the year after. As Chris Peters says, it’s not unreasonable to expect to see another bump in girls’ and women’s hockey enrollment next year, as people inspired by the Olympics join up. On the flip side, it’s unlikely that the CWHL’s slowly increasing visibility will have much of an effect on US Hockey enrollment, except possibly in the Boston area. A major stumbling block for US Hockey as it relates to the CWHL is simply limited exposure: there’s only the one American team right now.

Women’s hockey enrollment is only once piece of the women’s sports puzzle, but for the purpose of the CWHL growing as a league, it’s a pretty big one. A deepening talent pool for USA Hockey’s women’s program means that the national teams will become more competitive. There will be more competition at the collegiate level. And of course, enrollment (apart from economic problems, etc) often builds on itself. More girls playing means more awareness of the fact that girls can play hockey, and – hopefully – more butts in CWHL seats.

This also could potentially mean more CWHL attendance. I’ve said before that the CWHL’s target market probably isn’t the NHL’s, and I haven’t really changed my stance on that. But I think what a lot of people miss is that the market in question isn’t remotely a small one. Young and middle-aged men are a very large market, but so are young women and girls. I assume the CWHL will be looking at these numbers when deciding where, if anywhere, to put another American team. They might also be bringing these numbers to potential US sponsors. Hockey enrollment is a pretty good barometer for general awareness of hockey in the area; just look at the recent enrollment in Illinois, a state that’s seen virtually unprecedented success in NHL hockey recently. If you’re looking for a place where women’s hockey will have an audience, looking at places where women and girls are enrolling in hockey is definitely a good starting point.

USA Hockey 2013-2014 Total Female Players by State

 

Of course, there’s no guarantee these numbers will hold steady. I mentioned economic problems, and the rapidly declining participation in Michigan is a good example of that. There are a lot of factors that influence whether or not people, especially children, continue to play a team sport: equipment cost, time, potential injuries, and so on. It will be interesting to see if these numbers do indeed increase again next year, and if they hold steady after that.

Additionally, the lack of opportunities for hockey as a career almost certainly affect enrollment negatively. 17-18 participation in women’s hockey dropped 3.83% compared to the men’s 18-18 age group which dropped 1.77%.

Roster Named For Hockey Canada’s Women’s Strength And Conditioning Camp

Hello, people. Kate and I are not dead, just resting for the NHL playoffs, so that we can fill your lives with women’s hockey when you’re no longer rooting for the Blackhawks to repeat. Which of course you are. Who else would you be rooting for, the Wild? We’ve got plenty of interesting analysis in the pipeline, though. We even EMAILED people for it!

In one of the few recent tidbits of women’s hockey news, Team Canada named 104 women to their strength & training camp this year, as per their press release here. Forwards Cayley Mercer and Shannon MacAulay, from NCAA Championship winning Clarkson, were invited for the National Women’s Development Team; Mercer had 22 points with Clarkson and MacAulay had 24 points. Other notable selections (from teams we care about) are Erin Ambrose (a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kaz), Sarah Lefort (ditto), and Emerance Maschmeyer (also a finalist, damn it Canada).

One of the reasons Team Canada is so formidable is that they have a much more regular pattern of training. The US does intensive training the year of/before the Olympics, and has consistent youth programs, competitions, etc., but Team Canada has a wider pool of participants to draw from and tends to hold more camps with more people– which further widens their development pool. Of course, both USA Hockey and Hockey Canada invest more in training women’s teams than other countries, which tends to be why they’re so much more dominant. Ah, a day when Team Finland holds massive, 100+-person camps for their women’s players.

2014 IIHF Women’s Worlds Preview

Team Denmark will be among the Division I groups playing.
Team Denmark will be among the Division I groups playing.

So, it’s that wonderful time of year again – time for the IIHF Women’s Worlds! This year will be different, since it’s an Olympic year. Rather than the top teams playing, teams that did not participate in the Olympics will be competing. “Ugh that’s so lame,” you may be saying. “Why?” Well, because – according to the IIHF – having Women’s Worlds in Olympic years, between non-Olympic participants, strengthens the competitiveness of the women’s game. Since there use to be no WW during Olympic years at all, you’ve got to assume there’s also a funding aspect contributing to why Hockey Canada, USA Hockey, et al aren’t participating. But cynicism aside, it’s always fun to watch developing teams who could go on to be contenders eventually.

The Division I games will be held in Pferov, Czech Republic, and Ventspils, Latvia. Information on Group A, including the teams and schedule, is here. Information on Group B is here. Information on Division II Group A is here and Group B is here. They’ll be played in Asiago, Italy, and Reykjavik, Iceland, respectively.

Hockey Wilderness has some info about this year’s tournament here. The biggest thing to take away from this year’s Women’s Worlds is that the winner will play a best of three series in the 2015 Women’s Worlds with the last-placed team from this year’s Olympics (also known as everyone’s favorite smiley team, Team Japan).

It looks like there won’t be anywhere to watch this year’s championships, but we’ll be reporting on results as they happen. The tournament begins April 6th, and runs through April 12th.

U18 Women’s Worlds, and a Link Round-Up!

U18 Women’s Worlds:

So the 2014 U18 Women’s Worlds wrapped up yesterday, with Canada taking gold for the third year in a row. There’s a write up of the game (a rough, 1-5 loss for the US) over at the IIHF website if you’re interested in checking that out. (My off the cuff summary is that the US started out strong and then defensively collapsed in the late second, and never got it back. A sadly depressing trend for the US there.)

A couple other notable take-aways from the U18 Women’s Worlds:

The Czech Republic and Russia played for bronze, with the Czech Republic eventually winning 1-0 in a tightly fought game. I was very impressed by Russia’s defense in this game– especially when my main memory of the Russian Olympic team’s defense was the lack of structure and a lack of control in their own zone. If this is the future wave of Russian players, I’m looking forward to see that progression. (This is also the first time Russia’s made it into a medal game at the U18 WW, hopefully speaking to an increase in investment in developing their players.)

Notably, the Czech Republic’s goal tender, Klara Peslarova, was selected by the Directorate as the best goaltender of the tournament. Other selections by the Directorate include the US’ Jincy Dunne as the best defender, and Taylar Cianfarano, also of the US, as the best forward.

  • You’ll be hearing more from us about the NCAA Championship shortly, but Gabriella Fundaro of The Hockey Writers wrote an interesting article about Clarkson, and how we look at success in hockey.
  • Rebecca Ruiz talks about her experience with concussions in women’s sport. This is a soccer player, talking about her experience in soccer culture, but it raises some real concerns about how we treat concussions, not just in sport, but in women’s sport particularly, where athletes do not have the support structures that the men do. (Warning, I have some concussion history, and Ruiz’s description of her concussion was very unpleasant for me. Well worth reading, but I had to take a moment.)
  • Ian Kennedy of the Chatham-Kent Sports Network wrote about Where Women’s Hockey Can Go Next. Kennedy spoke with several Chatham-Kent women players about what they would like to see in the development of the women’s game. One of the more interesting things to me was the idea of a developmental league like the OHL or CHL, or the possibility of expanding the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (the PWHL is a league for juniors-aged women players) beyond Ontario. I think there would have to be something for them to want to get to, however, beyond college or international play that’s only paid attention to every four years– a league that could sustain a career. (And then we get into chicken or the egg argument, sigh.)
  • Women’s Hockey Stats has the stats behind this year’s CWHL Awards winners. I’d second Ott as a better choice than Brian for Goaltender of the Year, stats-wise. I’ve GOT to track down a copy of the Awards Ceremony, maybe they explain there a bit more. Are we missing something in terms of community involvement? I just don’t know.
  • Speaking of goalies, Inside Halton did an article on how Kessler backed the Toronto Furies to their first Clarkson Cup.

Shannon Szabados Practices With Edmonton Oilers; Everyone’s Got An Opinion

Two days ago, the Edmonton Oilers traded for Fasth, and people immediately began speculating about whether he’d be able to make it from Anaheim to Edmonton in time. This isn’t the first time the Oilers have been in a situation like this, and last time, fans clamored for hometown player Shannon Szabados to get the call. That didn’t happen, and at the time, she voiced disappointment. Two nights ago, Oilers fans got #SzabadosForBackup trending – and yesterday, she practiced with the Oilers. Awesome? Probably! A stunt? Almost definitely. So we’re gonna break it down a bit.

Continue reading Shannon Szabados Practices With Edmonton Oilers; Everyone’s Got An Opinion