Growing the women’s game

There’s an evil cycle at play when it comes to women’s hockey.

It doesn’t get enough fan interest, so it doesn’t generate media attention, so it doesn’t attract big sponsors, so it doesn’t get enough fan interest, so it doesn’t … you get the picture.

Every four years, we get intensely passionate about women’s hockey … we cannot wait to see Hayley Wickenheiser hold that Canadian flag over her head, the sweat pouring off her forehead and the tears streaming down her face.

Hayley is the face of women’s hockey. We’ve followed her career, from bitter disappointment in Nagano to attempts at professional career in men’s hockey and to Olympic and world championship triumphs.

She’s championing the women’s side of the game this week at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

But let’s face it. Who doesn’t get bored out of her mind watching Team Canada lay a 14-0 beatdown on Kerplackastan every four years?

Here we go … just eliminate the round-robin and go straight to the Canada-United States final, right? I mean, Sweden and Finland have made valiant efforts in the past but this really comes down to a two-horse race.

And the sport’s Olympic status is at risk for that very reason. We’ve already seen women’s softball go the way of the do-do bird at Summer Olympics, because softball  – presumably – isn’t a ‘global game.’ Really, it’s more likely because we all got tired of watching the U.S. and Australia treat the rest of the world like the red-headed stepchild.

Bruce Fiskie, a blogger at AOL Sports’ Fanhouse, gives us a terrific breakdown of the numbers involved in women’s hockey.

“In Canada,” he writes, “there were over 77,000 players registered to play girls’/women’s hockey. Over 60,000 play it in the United States. Meanwhile, Olympic entrants Slovakia and China combined to have a bit more than 400 players total. It’s impossible to expect these countries to ever compete at a high level in this sport with those kinds of numbers.

“While Sweden and Finland have shown flashes of competitiveness, neither has topped 3,000 registered players in their home countries. They’re still fighting quite the uphill battle and, even if they can compete with Canada and the U.S. more often, it might not be enough to convince the IOC.”

OK, here’s what I started wondering last winter as we watched the quadrennial demolition of the warmup teams.

If there are more than 77,000 Canadian women and girls registered to play hockey, that’s a lot of players who don’t make Team Canada, or even its development squads.

A lot.

Lot.

Don’t any of them have dual citizenship? Surely they could jump across the puddle and go help Finland or Germany or … whomever.

We see it all the time on the men’s side. Born and raised in Edmonton, Hnat Domenichelli played for Italy … list a few more here.

There’s no reason our women can’t do the same, earning a very rare opportunity to play at the Olympics.

After all, we are the very best in the world at women’s hockey – teaching the game, learning it and playing it. The numbers above prove we’re a little top heavy on players, in comparison to the other countries.

And we only send the very best of the very best to elite international competitions.

So let’s lend a hand, eh?

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