Sunday, March 31, 2019

Seeing is believing for CWHL fans

League’s visibility will have multi-career impact for decades to come
There was a picture book back in the mid 1990’s called “NHL’s Top Rookies.” Each page featured bios and stats on NHL players who had either won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league’s Rookie of the Year or who had come pretty close. The book featured the likes of Mario Lemieux, Martin Brodeur, Pavel Bure, and Teemu Selanne, just to name a few.
While their rookie year statistics were amazing, it was the book’s first page that was the most impactful. The book started with a fictional, yet likely fairly accurate depiction of a rookie’s first NHL game. The years of hard work to get to this moment, the pre-game jitters, the sitting on the bench waiting for the first shift, the tap on the back from the coach, the leaping over the boards and onto the ice. It was quintessentially the journey to making the NHL, summed up in a paragraph.
Boys and girls enjoyed pouring over this book and reading the stories of how their favourite NHL stars came to be. For the boys, they read the first page and dreamed about the moment when it would be their turn to experience the thrills of their first NHL game. But for the girls, dreaming about being an NHL rookie stopped there – at the dream phase – because, as everyone knew, females didn’t play in the NHL and there was no equivalent league for women to play in.
Girls barely played minor hockey back then and there was no women’s hockey component to the Olympics. Girls played hockey, if they were able, on boys teams and maybe they got the unfortunate task of being put in net when their brothers played street hockey.
Fast forward to today and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League is providing a home and a stage for the world’s best female hockey players to strut their skills. All of a sudden, young girls can aspire to have their own “rookie shift” in the CWHL, and the league continues to provide a platform on which to showcase the sport around the globe.
Women’s hockey, right now, is at a critical phase of growth. A beneficiary of society at large where women are demanding equality and letting their performance help drive this change. The CWHL, women’s hockey, and women’s sports in general are on the uptake.
Not many people are old enough to remember the early days of the NHL, but reading about the foundational years, the one thing that stands out is the humble beginnings. Back then, it wasn’t about eight-figure salaries, multi-million dollar endorsement deals, and thousands of fans in the seats every game. The goal of the NHL back then was to find a sustainable model and connecting with the fans was at the core of its existence.
That’s where the CWHL is now. It’s baby steps each day to get the word out there that outside of the Olympics, where every 4 years, all eyes are on the sport for the games, there is a league where all of those great players are playing. It’s about connecting with the fans, especially the young girls, and letting them know that the players they are seeing on the ice today, are the players they can become tomorrow.
And it’s not just about providing an attainable dream for players.
At the Esso Cup Awards banquet in 2013, Olympic Gold Medalist Cheryl Pounder told a story about how minutes before Team Canada entered the stadium for the Opening Ceremonies at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, she caught sight of a member of the women’s hockey team’s therapy staff standing in a corner crying.
Upon asking what was wrong, the staff member told Pounder that as a child, she had tried to “make it” in virtually every sport she could find, but that she got cut from every team and eventually had to concede that she was never going to make it to the Olympics. And yet, here she was, just moments away from walking into the Opening Ceremonies of an Olympic Games as a member of Team Canada.
“There’s always a way. It may not be the route you expected to take, it may be different, but there’s always a way,” Pounder concluded her speech with.
The CWHL is providing a platform for females in several landscapes to hone and showcase their knowledge and their talents. The coaches, referees, trainers, broadcasters, commissioners, board members, managers, marketing and communications staff, and even the volunteers are being given their own platforms – their own “rookie shifts” – to live out a dream that perhaps they had given up on when playing in the league was not feasible for them.
The platform the league continues to provide is, in turn, producing people who will help the league attain its goals, but also people who will make the world around them better.
Former CWHL Commissioner Brenda Andress has gone on to establish SheIS – a network to ensure careers as professional athletes become viable and sustainable for women. Former Board member Cassie Campbell-Pascall has gone on to become a mainstay on Hockey Night in Canada’s broadcasting team. Sami Jo Small has gone from  Clarkson Cup winning goalie to now General Manager of the Toronto Furies. Jayna Hefford, the league’s Interim Commissioner, is a recent Hockey Hall of Fame inductee and a former CWHL player herself. The league’s Board boasts everyone from former Olympians to lawyers to high-powered executives. The league has already partnered with 3 NHL teams and has negotiated TV visibility of their regular season games, All-Star Game and Clarkson Cup finals with Sportsnet.
And there is still so much more to achieve. A unified league stands amongst the top on any women’s hockey fan’s wish list. Fair salaries for players and staff, expansion into more markets (Vancouver says hi!), and overall greater visibility for the league and its superstars is still on the growing list of goals.
Looking back on the NHL’s early days, we hear about the builders – the men with a vision and dedication who drove the league towards what it is today. That’s what we get to do with the CWHL. This is our league to craft and mold today into what we dream for it to be tomorrow so that young girls and women of all backgrounds will feel the thrill of a “tap on the back” when opportunity comes calling for them. 
 Written for the CWHL Globe and Mail Fan Article of the Month Contest 

Friday, January 13, 2017

An open letter to Hayley Wickenheiser

"The big girl."

"The brown kid."

"No talent."

No one should ever have to hear these things said about them at any point in their lives, but certainly not when they're 9, 10, 11 years old, and most certainly not from the mouths of adults who are supposed to be better and wiser. But when you're a figure skater - one that doesn't fit the stereotype of the sport - you had better have a thick skin, because these slurs are exactly what you're going to hear.

This was my life as a kid. Actually no, that's not true. Hockey was my life as a kid. From the earliest days I can remember, I wanted to be a hockey player. Not just skate around and score goals. Nope, what I wanted most was to lose my teeth like Gino Odjick, to leap over the boards like Pavel Bure, and to celebrate goals by leaping into my teammates' arms like Trevor Linden. It never occurred to me that all the players I watched on Hockey Night in Canada with my dad every Saturday were all male. In the naive mind of a 4 year old girl, I felt that someday I could be out there too.

But girls didn't play hockey at the time. At least that was the popular opinion. So figure skating it was. Trying to wrangle a rambunctious hockey-loving girl into a pink dress was no easy feat. My mother can vouch for that. Trying to get her to perform intricate jumps and spins was even harder. I hated it, I was terrible at it, and my heart wanted hockey. Only hockey. But girls didn't play hockey.

"The Americans had our flag on the floor in their dressing room, and now I want to know if they want us to sign it."

Yeah, those words changed my life. To come across this sweaty, teary, triumphant hockey player on TV who had just brought home Canada's first ever gold medal in women's hockey was a moment I'll never forget. Could this really be happening? A woman? Playing hockey? The figure skates were sold and the hockey gear bought. 15 years later, hockey has given me some of my greatest memories and learning opportunities. I am a female hockey player and this is my sport.

You can't be what you can't see. I saw Hayley Wickenheiser and, while I couldn't replicate her mastery as a player (I don't think her greatness will ever be replicated), her courage and her example propelled me to pursue a career in sports. And for so many young girls and women, Hayley is the living proof of what they want to be. They see her, they work hard every day to be her.

On the occasion of Hayley's retirement from hockey, I would like to convey to her, some sentiments.


You set out first to establish yourself on a team where you were a youngster, then to bring home a gold medal for Canada, then to pave new roads for the sport, then to inspire young girls to follow that road. You did all those things, and so much more Hayley. You did it all. 

But what you also did was change the life of a person who will never play for Canada but for whom hockey runs through her veins. Hockey has given me friends, it has kept me out of trouble (and sometimes gotten me into trouble!), it has taught me to be tough both physically and mentally, it has taught me to focus and to be calm, it has given me confidence and maturity, and it has molded me into who I am today. And there are so many others out there for whom you've had the same impact.

None of this would have happened without you Hayley. You made it cool to be a female hockey player. You gave us a reason to have "swagger." But you did all this without ever having an ounce of arrogance or ego. You had beer spilled on you and slurs uttered at you that were so much worse than the ones I had to endure. 

But today you stand above it all, and in rising above the critics, you have given an entire generation of female athletes a platform to do the same. The young girls playing sports today know they belong. They don't justify their presence and they don't apologize for it. It's because they are standing on your shoulders. We all are. Every day that I walk in to the office and work to better the lives of people through sport, I stand on your shoulders.

You have set the sport of women's hockey on a trajectory towards great success. I will be there for it and I know you will be too. I wish you all the best in your life after hockey. You deserve all the great things that will no doubt come to you. 

Thank you, Hayley, thank you so much.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

[Interviews] Shannon Miller, Perry Pearn, Blake Nill, & Tyler Kuntz

Shannon Miller ( formerly with Hockey Canada & NCAA Women's Hockey), Perry Pearn (Vancouver Canucks), Blake Nill (UBC Football) and Tyler Kuntz (Vancouver Giants) were all presenters during The Coaches Site's Vancouver Conference during the summer of 2016.

I had the pleasure of interviewing each of these highly respected and accomplished coaches. Have a watch as we talk about coaching tactics, the importance of mentorship, and the growth of their respective sports.

Shannon Miller:

Blake Nill: 

Perry Pearn:

Tyler Kuntz:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

[Interview] Marie-Philip Poulin talks all things Women's Hockey

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Women's Hockey superstar Marie-Philip Poulin. We chatted about her heroics at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and how it has led to her being mentioned with some of the greatest names in hockey history. We also talked about leadership and the growth of the sport.

Have a watch at the interviews and feel free to leave your comments!

Part One:

Part Two:

A Special Message from Marie-Philip Poulin:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Gratitude: A goalie's journey back from the brink

They say hockey is a team sport and that your team is your family. They tell you to fight every moment for your team. "Play for each other," they say. Because that's what hockey players do. That's fair, but what happens when you lose?

I remember going into a shootout in a championship game of a big tournament 2 years ago. I looked over at the bench from my perch in the net and all I could see was the eager, hopeful faces of my team mates. "Play for them," I told myself. "Win it for them." I tried, but one of the shooters went bar down on me, and before I knew it, I was in the locker room with 19 sobbing team mates. "You had one job," I told myself. The devastation of not doing that one job put me in to a deep dark hole. I had been a goalie for 10 years to that point, but in my brain, I couldn't remember the last time I made a save. I went into a shame spiral. Seeing my team mates, even away from hockey, was a chore. I had failed them. To look them in the eye was just too difficult. For the record, it wasn't any of them that said that I'd failed them. If anything, they apologized for not scoring more goals and not defending better. But the brain is a tricky organ. It can't be lied to and it's stubborn. Once it believes something...good luck trying to convince it of anything else.

The loss of the hockey game was secondary to what else I lost that day. Confidence, passion, gratitude - they all disappeared from my game. Quitting was not an option. No one quits just because they lose a game. And I had lost plenty of games before. Why this one hit me so hard, I still have no idea. So for the next 2 years I continued to put on the gear, take my place in the net, and attempted to make saves. Sometimes I made them and sometimes I didn't. All I knew was, I didn't really care. I was just there, going through the motions, and getting angry and emotional whenever I played poorly, because I saw each game I played as an attempt at redemption, so every loss felt like it was setting me back in my quest of being able to look my team mates in the eye again.

A quote that always makes me laugh: "there is an I in TEAM. It's in the "A" hole." I certainly don't want to be an "A hole" but maybe a certain amount of selfishness is needed to be a good athlete. 2 years after that disastrous tournament, I find myself back in the same setting. Same tournament, same team mates, same opponents. It was a chore for my coach to even get me to play in this tournament again. After what happened 2 years ago, I don't have much lower to sink. One more bad experience and there will be no passion left to draw me back to the game I've been in love with my whole life. But here I am, putting myself through mental agony once again. Only this time, I have a different approach. I'm playing for myself and only myself. Me vs. Me. And I have only one goal at this tournament: bring back the love. "How you handle yourself and how you play. This moment is part of the journey. You were meant to make that save. You were meant to give up that goal. You are meant to be a little scared. This moment is part of the journey that is your life." That narrative was constant in my head during the tournament. Like I said earlier: the brain is a tricky organ. It can't be lied to and it's stubborn. Once it believes something...good luck trying to convince it of anything else.

So I tested that theory. I visualized myself making every save and pictured myself being calm and controlled in my emotions. Game after game, moment after moment, play after play, I just kept trying to stay in the moment and do the very best that I knew I was capable of doing. We make it to the playoff round and find ourselves in a shootout against the same opponent as 2 years ago. Cue the dramatic music and get ready for the Hollywood ending...except for...we lost...again. Time to walk away from the game right? Not at all. I played as well as I could have and my team played as well as they could have. We tried and we came up short. It sucks. But we tried. I stayed true to my mantra - I played well and I handled myself well. And just like that, the love came back, the passion came back, the confidence came back, and the gratitude came back. I didn't realize what a huge void it had left in my life when it was gone, but to stand here today and to be thankful for being a goalie and for being able to play this beautiful game and for being part of a team is something that I haven't done in 2 years.

The same disappointing result 2 years apart. So why the difference in attitude? Maybe because of the difference in mindset going in. When you belong to a larger team, there has to be a recognition that you can only control so much. Unlike a singles sport where you control your own destiny, a team sport isn't always like that. You can have the game of your life but still come up short. Or you can have an off game and your team mates can pull you through it for a victory. You just never know. What you can control is your mindset and your actions. "How you handle yourself, how you play."

What this experience has taught me is that losing a hockey game is not the only thing that can be lost every time I step into the net. There is so much more on the line. And though I focused solely on myself and my game in this tournament, it was not because I was trying to be an "A hole." If anything it was because I was trying to be the team mate that my team needed me to be. And even though we still lost, I'd like to think that my attitude allowed me to be more of the player...and the person...that I expect myself to be. We know ourselves best and we can't be lied to. And we have only ourselves to look to when we need to pull out of the "deep dark hole." It's a process and it takes time, but when you stand at the other end, stronger and more humble, you'll know why you were made to go through the process. Because it's part of the journey.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Like a Girl" and Proud of It

Ohhh Morgan Rielly. Most of the country already hates the Leafs. Why are you making it even easier to hate them?

On February 20th, 2015, Reilly of the Toronto Maple Leafs was asked by a reporter to describe what it was like going through yet another Leafs' seasonal debacle. His response, as captured above, sparked a lively debate on social media due his use of the word "girl" with a negative connotation attached to it.

The popularity of the phrase "like a girl" is so common in society, that many of us don't even think twice when we use it in conversation. Even as girls and as women, it has taken time for us to realize that behind that phrase is an insult; one that is as offensive as any racial or gender-based slur that society has worked to eliminate from our vocabularies. Only now is there a push for public awareness and change around using this phrase. As the Always - #LikeAGirl campaign asks: "when did doing something 'like a girl' become an insult?"

Dumping on the Leafs is a national pastime in Canada. The cliche is true - we ride our sleds to Tim Horton's, buy a Double Double and a donut, and we sit there and bash the Leafs all day long. And let's be honest, the Leafs have given us a lot of material to cover in recent years. So maybe Morgan Rielly's comments garnered an unfair amount of attention. Tons of people still say things like "you hit like a girl" or "stop being such a girl." They do not incite a national debate on social media and on the airwaves of national TV and radio about it. Rielly did. Because Reilly is a role model. By virtue of the fact that Morgan Reilly is a hockey player on one of the league's most storied franchises, when Reilly or his team mates talk, people listen. Kids listen. And kids imitate. 

We grew up on the phrase "like a girl" being an insult. But for the next generation of young women to grow up with that phrase carrying the same connotation would be a shame, because it would mean that we haven't made any progress. And that is not true, because we all know how much progress has been made. We are all athletes. We see examples of physical and mental toughness all around us in our team mates, opponents, coaches, and in ourselves. We see it in our bosses and in women in positions of leadership and power everyday. People say it all the time: "women are more emotional than men." And again, they say it like that's a bad thing. In reality, emotion, passion, commitment, loyalty, care, compassion, and love are all qualities that go a long way in the world. They create a less clinical and more cohesive environment to work in. And women don't take anything for granted. We work hard every day to represent ourselves and our fellow women, because we know that one wrong step can set everything back by a decade. 

This article isn't mean to rag on Morgan Reilly. That's been done...a lot. It is meant to make all of us think twice when we use negative phrases in everyday conversation. It is about changing our mindset to being proud of who we are and about honing our skills as women. All of these traits that have been seen as negatives and as drawbacks in the past are actually great traits to have. And if there was any doubt about what women are capable of achieving, just remember that Morgan Reilly's comments came on the one-year anniversary of this: 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Beer League (Injury) Blues

I have been injured for 8 weeks and have not played hockey in 6 weeks. I'm like a bear who has not been fed. Approach with caution.

Hockey players have a reputation across all sports as being the amongst the toughest athletes out there. They play with broken bones and torn ligaments, and only when an injury is severe do they agree to being stretchered off the ice. It's a point of pride with hockey players to leave the ice on their own two feet.

As someone who plays at the recreational level, I feel this same point of pride. The fighting spirit that pushed Hayley Wickenheiser to play through the 2014 Olympics with a broken foot and Meaghan Mikkelson to play with a broken hand exists in recreational players too. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have played through pain and discomfort too, but nothing like what I've been through with this latest injury. The whole process of being injured and missing hockey for the first time in 12 years has opened my eyes to what the process is like and it has definitely given me more respect for any athlete at any level who comes back from injury.

From a psychological standpoint, there are several stages of dealing with an injury. Once we get over our denial and admit that we actually are injured, we have to go through the process of determining what medical services we require, where to get them from, and how much they're going to cost. As rec leaguers, this stage varies vastly from the elite sports realm. In the world of Olympic, professional, and college sports, each team carries their own trainers who are available to examine and treat players as soon as an injury occurs. In the case of leagues like the NHL, players don't even have to wait for appointments with specialists or to get advanced scans like CT's or MRI's. Such is not the case when you're just an "Average Jane." No one cares that you're missing games and are desperate to get back to being with your team. No one cares that you're in pain severe enough that it's affecting your job and the rest of your life. You are about to join a long list of fellow Average Joes and Janes in waiting for the treatment you need. As someone who has recently been through this experience, here is some advice I would give to my fellow injured rec leaguers:

1) Get the treatment you need right away. Don't delay. I delayed because I was concerned about costs and was hesitant to go through so many time consuming appointments. Delaying treatment only made my injuries worse, and it actually made my healing time and the cost of my overall treatment much higher.

2) Google is not a doctor. Plugging your symptoms into WebMD and waiting for a computer-generated diagnosis doesn't make it an accurate diagnosis. I would suggest getting a proper diagnosis from a medical professional. Once your injury has a name you can always Google treatment ideas or suggestions for stretches/workouts you can do.

3) Find the right practitioner. You want someone who listens to you and treats you like a person not like a case. You also want someone who recognizes that you're an athlete. One of my chiropractors told me that she was going to put me on the same treatment plan as the 80-year old woman who she saw before me that day. Needless to say, I was offended.

4) Take accurate notes about all of your symptoms. Every sensation you feel that is not "normal", make note of it so that you can relay it to your practitioner(s). The more clues you give them, the easier it will be for them to nail down the source of your discomfort. It might even save you the need to get certain scans.

5) Be careful with self-treatment. Again, let a professional tell you what exercises to do. Don't formulate stretches and exercises yourself that you think might be helpful. They might actually be making things worse.

6) Be patient. The pro's have a team of people who have to sign off on the player before they return to game action. Us Average Janes don't have that. Several times during my 6 weeks without hockey, I considered going back and playing. At one point I found out that one of my teams lost their last game pretty badly and it made me want to forget my "plan of patience" and just get back out there. But then I thought how helpful I would be if I was playing at 50% health, and how much damage I might potentially do if I forced my body to do something it clearly wasn't ready to do? Think of the bigger picture and the long term goal. Don't rush your body.

I wish a safe and healthy hockey season to all, but sometimes injuries are inevitable. For those times, I wish my fellow Average Janes a speedy and more importantly, a successful recovery. In the meantime, feel free to come join me in cage of unfed bears!