Women’s Hockey: My Heroes

7 11 2009

Team USA

(Click here to view full-size image on the official Team USA site.)

At times I fret that my interest in women’s athletics amounts to little more than a fetish of sorts; indeed, a method to distinguish myself artificially no different than wearing pink socks or shaving half of my head. But then I found myself tuning in to the video webcast faithfully each morning to watch the 4 Nations Cup (including trying to get the damned link to work on a day when the tournament apparently had the day off) and like the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup, I knew it was was love.

In 2006, something “clicked” for me and I understood soccer. Maybe not “understood” in the truest sense, more like, “paid close attention to”. I worked out what the game plan was, and gained an appreciation for the sport. It has since become very difficult to watch college or pro football with the frequent time-outs and stoppages of play. Now that I am gaining an appreciation of hockey (disclosure: The Dallas Stars/Minnesota Wild game is on as I type this), soccer is becoming difficult to watch as it essentially amounts to being “slow hockey”. Yes, I still like soccer, but as with any new thing it’s difficult to adjust to what came before.

As with any sport where men and women play it separately (and hopefully under equal conditions), often the women are dismissed as not being willing or able to play “like dudes“. Granted, the streaming video quality will never be mistaken for High Definition, but as Team USA played Finland earlier this week, if the announcer hadn’t been telling us about what “she” did, and how “she” stopped the puck, I saw no critical distinction between men and women on the ice. Well, against Finland I didn’t see any checking into the boards, which mistakenly led me to assume that women either don’t hip-check or else it is banned under Olympic-style rules. False. Team USA vs Canada was eerily similar to an NHL game, including near fighting. (Fighting results in outright ejection in Olympic-style play, which isn’t a plus strategically.) Apparently, and I am told a YouTube video exists to prove it, Team USA and Canada did finish a game with an on-ice fistfight. Like dudes, indeed.

After beating Canada 3-2 in the “dry run” matchup prior to the Final, Team USA got absolutely shellacked by Canada 5-1 for the title. Both teams will not meet again in tournament play prior to the 2010 Olympics.

I have to note before continuing that the announcer for the 4 Nations Cup was exemplary and provided invaluable assistance to me in getting to know the game, the players, and most importantly, feeling the excitement when Team USA scored a goal. I don’t know his name (help?) but he did an excellent job of calling the game neutrally, giving Canada the same “she SCORES!” treatment as the US. Bravo, bravo.

As high as I am about Team USA women’s hockey, and as anxious as I am to see more excitement in the 2010 Olympics (network willing), as I watched the heroes of Team USA slog it out this past week in preparation for the Olympics I couldn’t help but think of the Bristol Bandits.

I don’t know them personally, have never been to a game, and only discovered them not more than a week ago. But their story resonated with me and I have been keeping their “history” page open in my browser ever since finding it.

The Bristol Bandits hockey team is based out of Grundy Rink in Bristol Pennsylvania, and plays in the red division of the UWHL.

The team first had hopes of becoming a team in April of 2008 when Grundy hosted a free womens/girls hockey clinic. Despite the fact that most of the girls had never put on a pair of skates before, everyone was in for deciding to put a team together for the upcoming fall. The team worked hard through out the summer to learn the basics of hockey and skating skills. The team played 13 independent, non-league games against several teams in the area. The team went 7-5-1 after only 5 months of learning hockey.

Now, I would be fetishizing these women if I were to toss off some well-intentioned but obnoxious line like “sisters are doin’ it for themselves.” I mean, they are, but that’s not the whole story, in my estimation.

Simply put, pennies add up to dollars, molehills become mountains, small steps become giant leaps. To my knowledge, no national pro hockey league exists for women in the US. Regional amateur leagues exist, and the NCAA does sanction a yearly college tournament, and as noted extensively above, it is an Olympic sport. I’m not pushing for a national pro league as I believe that this may happen as female involvement in hockey gains national momentum. Teams like the Bristol Bandits are part of that evolutionary process.

And what resonates with me is that these women made the decision to lace up the skates and say “let’s learn how.”

And someone taught them.

Team USA is in residency in Blaine Minnesota in preparation for the 2010 Olympics, but arguably, the future of Team USA lies with women like the Bristol Bandits that showed an interest, stuck to it, and gelled into an amateur league team.

Fact-checking my ass, which automatically disqualifies me as a blogger, I found another important factor in what may one day lead to the creation of a pro league. The UWHL is meant to serve as a developmental league, as told by their 2005/2006 annual report:

This League was started four years ago to give developing women hockey players a place to play hockey in an environment that promoted fun, fairness, and sportsmanship, while at the same time being competitive, without the pressure and frustration that is seen in other leagues. The success and growth of this league stems from our efforts to be fair and honest in upholding those things set forth in our Bylaws.

We NEVER want to have to ask any player to leave this league. However, we reserve the right to do this if the skill level of a player is deemed to be too high for the level of play in this league.

Later in the document, the UWHL holds the door open for future expansion by noting that they could add a higher tier to their existing structure to accommodate higher-caliber teams/players, and perhaps (I’m assuming) usher in the possibility of promotion/relegation — although that could be that “pressure and frustration” eschewed by the UWHL.

The Bristol Bandits might be feeling a bit frustrated as they’re working to overcome an 0-2 start to the season. Win, lose, or draw, they’re still heroes to me.

And more importantly, I hope another generation of young women will be inspired by their example and say “teach us how”.

Maybe one day, they’ll get to ask that question in Blaine, Minnesota.

Bristol Bandits team photo from official site




One response

9 11 2009
all sport highlights

my heroes to.

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