Captain Clutch and Canada’s female hockey players deserve our year-round support

This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinions for CBC Sports. For more information on CBC Opinion Sectionplease consult the FAQs.

I will never forget the third period of the 2018 Olympic gold medal game in Sochi. I sat nervously on the edge of my couch in the first period, anxious in the second, and by the time the United States beat Canada 2-1 at the end of the third, my hopes had slowly faded.

But a now famous piece involving a goal post and hockey gods sprang into action, preventing a likely third goal in Canada’s open net after goaltender Shannon Szabados was pulled out to bolster Canada’s offensive attack. After that particular piece, there was a feeling of invigoration. Marie-Philip Poulin, now affectionately known as “Captain Clutch”, scored with seconds left and then again in overtime to clinch the win. I believe I screamed so loudly that I lost my voice – a completely normal occurrence for me during the Olympics, World Cups or league games.

WATCH | How a goal post changed everything:

How a goal post changed everything for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics

Members of the Canadian women’s hockey team tell how two inches of steel changed the momentum and helped the team win an Olympic gold medal in Sochi. 2:40

Canada faced its fiercest competitor, its most worthy adversary, its neighbor to the south and, in many cases, its teammate in the professional leagues: the United States. I’m a huge fan of sports rivalries and Canada vs USA in women’s hockey is one of the most amazing and exciting rivalries in the game.

It’s safe to say that competition in this particular sport has remained fairly limited, with the majority of top players coming from North America, with a few from the Nordic countries of Europe and China.

Despite the booming growth of women’s hockey around the world, the undisputed queens come from the United States and Canada. Canada is the defending world champion after winning the IIHF tournament last August.

As much as we praise our players, clap when we remember their names, shout from our couches when they score, we also have to acknowledge that Canada has failed its female hockey players. There is no sustainable national league in Canada for soccer, basketball or ice hockey.

The CWHL closed in 2019 due to a “economically unsustainable” business model. I still haven’t recovered from this grief.

There is of course the PWHPA. They hold a series of Dream Gap Tournaments which are showcases for fans and give these elite players (on both sides of the border) the chance to compete and shine in various cities across Canada and the United States. The commissioner of the PWHPA is none other than Canadian hockey legend Jayna Hefford.

The Professional Hockey Federation (formerly NWHL) expanded to Toronto in 2020. All PHF teams are based in the United States. Toronto Six are at the top of the league standings. The Six have three black women in prominent roles on the team: Mikyla Grant-Mentis was named the league’s first black MVP, Krysti Clarke was named general manager in June 2021, and the Canadian hockey legend and Hall of Famer Angela James (yes, LA Angela James) is an assistant coach.

There is no doubt that Canadian women’s hockey players have inspired young players across the country. I attended a Rivalry Series game in Kingston, Ontario in November and had a chat with a brand new hockey player named Carlyn, who came to Kingston with her mother. She is part of a recreational league called the Small Fries Hockey Program in west Toronto. Carlyn loves hockey. I was touched by his enthusiasm. She describes herself as a good skater and says the best part of playing hockey is “having fun”. But she also told me that her favorite player is Poulin. I feel the same, Carlyn.

I’m not saying that women’s hockey is without own set of problems. Players are in spaces where whiteness is normalized in hockey culture. Handyman Saroya, also of the Toronto Six, uses his place on the ice to create spaces for more racialized players and have candid conversations about race and hockey. Racism doesn’t just affect men’s hockey, and players like Tinker work hard to dismantle those systems of oppression within the sport.

Additionally, national team player Sarah Nurse, making her second appearance on the Olympic team, simultaneously deals with musicians and racialized hockey players.

Players often work full time while training in the evenings and then competing on the weekends. Can you imagine what the Montreal Canadiens or Ottawa Senators would look like in the standings if they had nine to five positions, trained in the evenings and then played on the weekends? Or arrange childcare like primary caregivers?

Canadian women’s hockey players are in a different stratosphere, but we don’t support them enough to help them get off the ground.

But before I continue to tear apart the lack of support for female athletes, I need to take a step back and question my own priorities. Am I supporting the women’s game or what my dear Burn it all co-host Jessica Luther called my “unfettered nationalism?” I look at the words of Dr. Courtney Sztoone of the nation’s brightest hockey college students.

In a 2019 article published on Hockey and Society Dr. Szto explained that only supporting the Canadian women’s hockey team is an extension of masculinity when done in the name of the country and not the sport.

“Wearing a Team Canada jersey and cheering on Canadian women on the Olympic stage is not so much a show of feminism as an exercise in masculinity. [although it can certainly be a show of feminism for some men.] It’s a way to support the domination of the nation [something for which boys/men have arguably been groomed] and women happen to live within those boundaries – an incidental inclusion, if you will.”

But what about those of us who want to see women’s hockey thrive beyond the top step of the podium? What should happen? According to Dr. Szto, men need to be involved beyond the closing ceremony and there needs to be a cultural shift.

PWHPA players had to play a series of exhibition games instead of a real hockey season. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

It is important to see women as whole beings

“Perhaps one of the lesser recognized benefits of creating sustainable women’s hockey at the professional level is that, as vital as it is for little girls to dream big, it’s just as important for boys and girls. men to see women as whole beings who deserve When men grew up watching only men’s hockey, they see women’s hockey as Women’s hockey. When little kids grow up watching women’s hockey, they know it as hockey. »

the Canadian formation of 23 women led by Poulin in Beijing has many of the best players in the world. We should support them by also supporting the hockey community as a whole, not only because we love Canada, but also because we love the sport. And no one is above the game.

We want hockey to succeed, don’t we? By buying merchandise, buying tickets, and supporting women’s and girls’ teams, leagues, and organizations, we’re giving women a chance. A shot we know will be electrifying and end in victory, especially if Poulin is involved.

That’s not to say I won’t be tweeting my American friends when Canada takes on the United States on February 8. But the vision is to support hockey, dismantle oppressive systems and make room for women’s hockey all year round. Maple syrup shot not included.

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