September 07, 2009
Women's Hockey A Hit?
I really enjoyed watching my first hockey game of the 2009-10 season on Sunday night. USA and Canada met in the gold medal game of the Hockey Canada Cup women's tournament in Vancouver. The Americans pulled out a 2-1 win in the Olympic tune-up, with these two most likely to meet once again in the same building playing for another gold medal come February.
One thing is for sure - the Americans are for real, and may even be the gold medal favorite at this stage. They are 4-0 in their last 4 gold medal games against Canada.
While we're on the topic of women's hockey, Matthew Sekeres of the Globe & Mail has an interesting article asking whether it is time to allow body checking in women's hockey.
There is a growing movement by some short-sighted and impatient big-wigs to allow the ladies to hit in order to sell the game. Banning hitting in women's hockey is restricting growth of the fan base and even is accused of being sexist, they say.
Bodychecking has always been banned, although body contact is not penalized. It's somewhat vague, just ask the referees, but basically there are plenty of battles along the boards, just no open ice hits. Referees tend to be very strict on intentional hitting, although they will be a little more lenient in games between Canada and the USA, women's hockey's top two nations.
Bodychecking was banned to better attract girls to the game. North American studies suggest registration by girls would drastically fall if bodychecking were allowed to enter the game. Girls associate the heavy hitting of the NHL with other forms of professional violence that scares away many potential kids, girls and boys, to the game.
We are no where near having women's hockey as a strong, healthy sport. The only way we will truly achieve that is to keep an environment where young girls want to play and can develop their skills. The girls have a great opportunity to develop skating and puck handling skills without having to worry about getting plastered into the boards.
The game would be even harder hit in Europe. Finland and Sweden are emerging, but just. With generally smaller players, introducing bodychecking now would devastate these countries. Women's hockey at the top level badly needs a couple of more nations to seriously challenge Canada and the USA.
There will come a day when women's hockey is truly healthy at a grass roots level in Canada, USA, and Europe. Until that day comes, we need to keep hitting out of the game.