Get ready for Girl Power
Get ready for Girl Power
Hockey has ripple effect beyond arenas
On one level, that’s simply a fun catchphrase the Spice Girls popularized 20 years ago. On another level, this tournament is a genuine manifestation of Girl Power.
Back in 1956, a nine-year-old Abby Hoffman had to pretend to be a boy in order to play hockey in Toronto – the world’s most hockey-crazed city. Let that sink in for a moment.
Today, strong, confident women from eight nations and three continents have come to Kamloops to show their talent in front of thousands of cheering spectators and TV viewers from 28 March to 4 April.
All told, those eight nations currently combine for more than 174,000 registered female players. And there’s ample room for growth.
Since the inaugural Women’s Worlds in Ottawa in 1990, the visibility and viability of women’s hockey has come light years. In Canada that year, there were 8,146 registered players. Now, there are 86,612. Talk about Girl Power.
The sport’s international reach is increasing. Want a little snapshot of how that can play out? “It’s hard not to root for Japan because it always seems like they’re having so much fun,” a smiling American fan in a Boston Pride baseball cap and USA Hockey jacket told a Japanese supporter as they boarded their flight from Vancouver to Kamloops.
For fans, media, and players alike, whether you value thrills, surprises, or societal impact most, you’ll find what you seek in the “Tournament Capital of Canada.”
When it comes to thrills, international women’s hockey delivers. Now, many people feel the World Juniors consistently provide the most thrilling finals in IIHF competition, like Finland’s 3-2 overtime win over Russia this year. But look at the 2014 Olympics. It’s hard to argue that Canada’s come-from-behind, sudden-death 3-2 victory over the Americans wasn’t the single wildest game played in Sochi – by either the men or the women.
Last year’s Women’s Worlds final was the highest-scoring in history, as the U.S. outlasted Canada 7-5. And the three previous gold medal games between the North American archrivals were all decided by one goal. Elevated heart rates are the norm.
How about surprises? Because this is still a young sport, the surprises are huge when they happen.
Granted, every pundit has U.S. coach Ken Klee and Canadian coach Laura Schuler going head-to-head on the final night at the Sandman Centre. However, don’t forget how Sweden shocked the Americans with a 3-2 shootout win 10 years ago in the Olympic semi-finals in Turin. Great goaltending, like Kim Martin provided that day, and a virtuoso offensive performance, like Maria Rooth’s hat trick, could yet lead to a Finnish or Russian upset against the Canadians or Americans here.
Year after year, we’re seeing more stunning results, from Switzerland’s historic comeback 4-3 Olympic bronze medal win over the Swedes in Sochi to underrated Japan’s 4-3 shootout win against the host Damkronorna last year in Malmo. The confidence that these emerging nations get from such successes will make this tournament more and more competitive over time.
Yet Girl Power also represents something bigger than what happens on the rink for 60 minutes.
Sport is a part of culture. It reflects the growing enfranchisement of women to participate in society on a full and equal basis. Looking around the world, that’s not something that can be taken for granted.
Historically, women from the eight nations featured in Kamloops have already made great contributions to all forms of world culture.
The first woman in space was Russia’s Valentina Tereshkova. Japan’s Yoko Ono and the U.S.’s Rosa Parks are icons of the peace movement and civil rights respectively. Lovers of children’s literature with strong female characters revere Canada’s L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables), Sweden’s Astrid Lindgren (Pippi Longstocking), Switzerland’s Johanna Spyri (Heidi), and Finland’s Tove Jansson (the Moomin books). And any serious conversation about the greatest female athlete of the 20th century has to involve Czech tennis player Martina Navratilova.
You could go on and on. As far as this tournament goes, at a time when fictional heroines in movies like Frozen and The Hunger Games are tearing it up at the box office, it’s heartening that young women also have real-life heroines like Hayley Wickenheiser and Hilary Knight to idolize.
Mottos like “strong is the new skinny” are taking hold. Girls are learning they don’t have to apologize for training to be as fast, agile, and powerful as possible in their sport. Case in point: Knight’s 2014 photo shoot for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, which documented the power forward’s rigorous regimen of kettlebell swings and goblet squats.
Somehow, it seems fitting that the 2016 tournament is taking place in a country whose newly elected prime minister has publicly branded himself a feminist. Justin Trudeau once studied and taught in Vancouver, just a four-hour drive from Kamloops.
The ambience here is going to be incredible.
“As a player, I always loved it when we had tournaments in Canada, because the crowds were so electric and it was so packed,” said American legend Cammi Granato, who played in every Women’s Worlds from 1990 to 2005.
Some of the girls watching will play in the next World Girls’ Hockey Weekend (8-9 October). Some will claim roster spots in the CWHL or NWHL. Some will even go on to star for future national teams.
All of them can take inspiration for their lives and careers from what they witness at the Women’s World Championship. Because in this case, Girl Power is way more than a slick slogan.
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