$2M is a nice start

Thanks to the International Ice Hockey Federation, women’s hockey in European countries will receive a financial boost to help grow the sport at the grass-roots and elite levels.

Women’s hockey — and growing the game globally — was the hot topic this morning at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

And in response, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced it’s prepared to commit $2 million to help federations grow the sport at the grass-roots level.

n276855599228_1407“(IIHF president) Rene Fasel is here (along with others) and they listened to you attentively,” said IIHF vice-president Murray Costello. “We’re parepared to make a commitment of $2 million to women’s hockey but the federations have to have a plan to move forward.”

Money is great and desperately needed, given that the Swedish national women’s team has an Olympic-year budget of about $400,000 … half that of the annual operating budget of the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux.

But the IIHF has no response to the women’s request for representation at the board level. Check out a picture of the IIHF council. It’s a bunch of old guys in suits.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page and you’ll see pictures of Beate Grupp, team doctor of Germany’s national women’s team, and Monique Scheier-Schneider, who has held high positions in Luxembourg hockey.

Are they voting positions?

No.

Are they representative of women’s hockey specifically?

No.

“We need leadership in all the federations, leadership in the IIHF,” says Melody Davidson, head coach of Canada’s women’s national team. “We need people at the board tables that want to fight the battle for women’s hockey, that don’t have to pick between development programs or men’s hockey. They can just fight for women.”

It’s the point Wickenheiser has been driving home since Day 1 of the Summit.

“The IIHF has nobody in place that reports to the executive and represnets women’s hockey,” she says.

It’s been 19 years since women first started playing for a women’s world hockey championship.

Isn’t high time they started having a voice at the table?

The IIHF told women hockey players they’ve heard the concern about the lack of financial funding.

But is that just a pat on the head with a ‘there, there, go shopping for a purse or a pair of shoes’?

Give the women a voice.

Let them sit on the council as full voting executive and help the federation take women’s hockey to new heights.

If she wasn’t still playing, I’d vote for Wick.

From the Twittersphere

I threw a couple questions out to my @that_angela followers and to the @WldHockeySummit followers. Women’s hockey has been the hot topic today.

Here’s what you think:

Do you care about women’s hockey any time other than the Olympics?

No, I don’t – Two teams dominate. Think of it like the “Dream Team” though in BBall. The world caught up to them and now chall. ~ @hockeycardshow

yes, if there were a pro league and prime time TV coverage. ~ @Primlar

not really, but partly due to lack of coverage any other time ~ @doug_springer

I do care, but I need to follow it more. I’d love to see a WNHL. ~ @mhaberecht

yes there are lots of us that care! ~ @helke22

I do and I don’t. I’m supportive of my g/f playing the sport Outside North America I don’t see it developing enough to grow ~ @NaughtyDog95

Given that the talent level outside the US and Canada is pretty low, no. It’s not even competitive anymore. @azvibesports

I think it’s great to offer girlswomen chance to play & have teams but I don’t think it should be a pro or Olympic thing. @icesjb

Would you support a professional women’s ice hockey league?

With CHL, NHL, AHL flooding the air ways in Canada, no I don’t see myself watching. What about a summer league? ~ @hockeycardshow

Don’t know about everyone else, but I definitely would. ~ @SubtleLikeSeabs

Answer: Yes. If there was a women’s pro team in Ottawa I guarantee @amy_boughner and I would get season tickets. ~ @joeboughner

yes, honestly I would. Something similar to the NHL. International competition is awful for women, so, if its home grown yes 🙂 ~ @dantric

Yes, I’d support one wholeheartedly & I went to my fair share of X-Treme games when they were in #yyc. ~ @ToriePeterson

I would love to see women get into the NHL and have development leagues all the way to highest level. ~ @ladyneat

Conceptually, absolutely! In practice, I don’t know…never went to an Xtreme game. ~ @Rhiannon

support my 13 year old who plays, but not sure I would pay to see a women’s game..then again don’t pay to see NHL either ~ @jriddall

No, sorry. Love the Olympics and the Worlds but wouldn’t follow a league. ~ @mlse

Would love to see them try it. ~ @BackyardHockey

Absolutely, yes. ~ @JuggernautSport

NO. ~ @SJYS

I did when it was in Vancouver (WWHL/NWHL) ~ @canadagraphs

No straight answers

Gary Bettman is not anti-Olympics.

Gary Bettman says so.

The hot topic at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit this week has been whether the NHL will continue its involvement at the Olympics. It’s all up in the air … will we be watching the best of the best at Sochi, Russia, come 2014?

Who knows.

Let’s get one thing straight: Gary Bettman is smart. Damn smart.

That doesn’t mean you have to like the guy, right? The NHL commissioner knows doublespeak. He knows spin. And he knows how to leave us thinking he answered a question when he really didn’t say much of anything at all.

So are there going to be NHL players in Sochi or not, Gary?

Yes. No. I don’t know.

“The Olympics are a mixed bag,” Bettman told the WHS delegates this afternoon, during a question-and-answer session with fellow loathsome creature, TSN Pierre (Monster Mash) Maguire.

“Vancouver was very, very, very good but there are still some issues and problems. We want to keep it in balance. In Vancouver, everything was spectacular. It was good. But when the Olympics are held outside of North America, it tips to the other side of the spectrum.”

We know the issues. We went over them this morning, right? Break in the schedule, tired players … blah blah blah.

Check out these issues the NHL had in Vancouver, though:

  • Access to players by NHL team general managers and owners
  • Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch couldn’t get into whatever building he wanted to get into

What? Pardon me but boo fucking hoo. Why does Ilitch need access into whichever building he wants? Just to say hi to Henrik or Pavel?

Like he can’t go two weeks without passing them in the hallway and nodding in their general manager? Yes, I know, Ilitch is one of the most involved, engaged and interested owners in the league and one of the most powerful men in Michigan but when it comes to the Olympics, he ends up as a little fish in a big pond.

Bettman’s response?

“They may sound like little things and they are, but there’s a long list of them and we’ll have to go through each one with the IOC.”

Bettman can put those little things on the grocery list of things that need to be resolved for NHL involvement but if I was sitting at that table, I’d be rolling my eyes just a tiny little bit.

It would be easier to accept NHL disengagement with the Olympics if they kept the issues to those of a serious nature.

The good news is the NHL doesn’t yet have a deadline to make a decision. There appears to be lots of time in order to come to a hard yes or no.

Part of it, says Bettman, is waiting for the IOC to determine the broadcasting rights for the Sochi Olympics.

“We have to consider how we’re going to be carried, how we’re going to be promoted, if we’re going to disappear for two weeks,” says Bettman. “Should we participate if there’s an eight-hour difference in time zones and games are played at 4 a.m. instead of two in the afternoon …

“The games that matter for our viewing audiences have to be played at times that make sense.”

OK, that’s more logical.

Because, as Bettman says, the NHL is accountable to its fans.

“It’s a mixed bag on whether they want us to participate,” he says. “Some say the Olympics hurt their teams and some say the Olympics are for amateurs and we’re possibly depriving those individuals of the opportunity.

“We started something we thought was right (in Nagano). We haven’t no. I’m not anti-Olympics. We have to re-evaluate, evaluate and then decide at the appropriate time.”

So there you have it.

Will the NHL be involved in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in 2014?

Yes. No. I don’t know.

Is Alfie retiring?

He’ll be 42 when the Sochi Winter Olympics roll around.

And he won’t be there.

Daniel Alfredsson says we probably won’t see him on the Swedish hockey roster at the next Olympic games.

“You never say never but, first of all, I have to still be playing,” says the Ottawa Senators team captain. “Second of all, I have to be playing at a high level to make the team.

“That’s very, very far-fetched.”

Does that mean retirement from pro hockey is around the corner?

“I hope I have a few more years,” he says. “Obviously, health is a big, big issue. The one thing I have going for me is that I still love the game. I still love going to the rink.”

“Hopefully, that will carry me through a few more years.”

That said, Alfredsson says the NHL needs to be at the Olympics to help grow the game of hockey.

“It’s something our fans deserve to see,” he says. “There are hurdles we need to get by but the Olympics are bigger than that. We have to find a way to get everybody on the same page.”

Private jets, gold medals and roses

Like the best of the best hockey players don’t get paid enough by their NHL clubs, Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland also wants a private jet to get them home to North America.

What if, Holland posits, a player is in the gold-medal game on Sunday and has to be back in North America for a game on Tuesday night?

n276855599228_1407“We need a private plane that takes players back from Europe,” he said.

Normally, you wouldn’t find an untoward word about Holland out of these fingers but c’mon, this has to be an issue with respect to NHL involvement in the Olympics?

If that’s an important issue, why not have the teams pony up?

And another point from Holland?

“We had guys have to wait in line with 3,000 people for their credentials.”

Oh dear.

The International Ice Hockey Federation wants NHL players there. The NHL players want to be there … who the hell wouldn’t want to wear his national-team jersey and play for Olympic gold?

The typical issues of contention were bandied about this morning at the Vancouver 2010 Evaluation session at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit (WHS) … Two-week break in the Olympic schedule? Bad. Injuries to players? Bad. Tired players leading into playoffs? Bad.

While we all waited with baited breath for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to descend upon us in the afternoon, Igor Kuperman, hockey historian and instrumental in the launch of the KHL, says tough shit.

No … he didn’t really say ‘tough shit.’ That’s just me paraphrasing.

He did, however, say the issues aren’t as serious as the NHL is making them out to be.

“A break in the schedule is no big deal,” Kuperman said. “Your fans have already bought tickets. They are going to come back after the Olympics. You get breaks to refresh your players who aren’t going to the Olympics and their injuries can heal.”

He reminded the WHS delegates that three of those ‘dead-tired’ players returning from the Olympics returned to do all right for their respective NHL teams … Jonathan Toews, Stanley Cup winner and Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP; Patrick Kane, Stanley Cup winner and scored Cup-winning goal in overtime; and Henrik Sedin, winner of the Hart Trophy as league MVP.

But Holland reminded us of Steve Yzerman missing the remainder of the Red Wings season after playing through a knee injury at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. While he returned and won the Stanley Cup, other teams might not have been so fortunate with such a devastating injury to a key player and team captain.

He also, however, remembered Tomas Holmstrom missing this year’s Olympics but was able to rest and did not miss a regular-season game.

Rene Fasel, president of the IIHF, doesn’t see the injuries as an issue either.

“Losing Yzerman to your team, this is life and it’s how it is,” Fasel said. “Injuries happen.”

Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and New Jersey Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner agreed the players want to be in Sochi for 2014, despite any inferences from the league that they won’t be there.

Fasel, in a post-panel scrum, tossed it up to a breakdown in communication between him and Gary Bettman.

“I was never invited to speak with the Board of Governors so I can understand the issues,” Fasel said. “The logistics are easy to solve. We organize 32 tournaments every year …

“It’s not a control thing. It’s a partnership.”

Sounds like the NHL and the IIHF are in need of a marriage counsellor more than anything.

“It is like a marriage,” Fasel agreed. “We have been married for 16 years. Like in a marriage, we both have to bring something to the table that works.”

Fasel said he and Bettman will get together for dinner at the end of September. The wives will be there. It will be a happy time, we’re sure.

Maybe somebody should bring somebody roses?

Stop letting kids hit

It feels like we’ll never get away from The Great Bodychecking Debate.

We may finally see The Great Pumpkin before there’s an answer that will make everybody happy.

When an expert like Dr. Mark Aubry stands up and says wait until the latest age possible to introduce it to hockey games, we should be listening.

n276855599228_1407

Aubry has impeccable credentials. He’s the Chief Medical Officer for the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada, a member of the IOC Medical Commission and co-director of the Ottawa Sports Medicine … and on and on and on.

Essentially, the guy knows his shit.

And no matter how many times he says ‘body checking causes injuries,’ you’ll still get some yahoo stand up in the Q&A session and say he intends to teach his eight- and nine-year-old players how to go into a corner and how to knock a guy off the puck.

Seriously, it happened today at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

Aubry researched the recent literature published and found 22 ‘good’ studies linking bodychecking and injuries. One was conducted in Calgary and compared peewees in Alberta – checking allowed – against peewees in Quebec – checking not allowed.

“There was a threefold increase in the number of injuries in Alberta who had checking, compared to the kids in Quebec,” said Aubry. “Twice the number of concussions in Alberta.”

Concussions … head shots in 11- and 12-year-old hockey. You know me? You know I’ve taken my share of shots to the head, whether from hockey, soccer or walking the dog. Yes, walking the dog … shut up, it happened.

Back to the point … bodychecking causes injuries.

They’re linked.

Suck it up. Deal with it.

“The studies have looked at different age groups, even atom, and the rate of injury is always higher for checking teams,” Aubry asserted.

Is the women’s game different because it has incidental contact but no body checking?

Yes. It is. Data has been collected at world championships for the last 12 years.

“There are less injuries in the women’s game,” Aubry assured the Summit delegates.

Safety

It’s time, he said, for hockey to get proactive and start looking at preventing head – and spinal – injuries, instead of wondering how to stop them.

We’ve all heard the ‘he was skating across the blueline with his head down’ justification for getting a bell rung. Hell, I’m guilty.

“It’s changing the culture of hockey,” said Aubry. “You see a shoulder check to the head, the kid goes down and you can see the kids on the bench saying ‘what a great check.’

“Skill development is an important prevention tool. We need to get kids to keep their heads up, to know where the players are on the ice and, if we see a guy with his down, we hold up, knowing there’s a risk.”

Bob McKenzie, TSN host, suggested we’ve created a game that is so fast we can’t protect our children.

To which Jeff Marek of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada replied on Twitter: I agree w/that. I think we’ve traded speed for safety.

“Don’t do it,” Brendan Shanahan, newly appointed … for the NHL and legendary NHL player, said to the earlier-mentioned yahoo who’s hell-bent on teaching pre-pubescent kids to hit.

If you won’t listen to Dr. Aubry, why don’t you listen to Shanny?

He remembers a big uproar when bodychecking was taken out of peewee when he was playing at that division. The parents were upset their kids weren’t learning the ‘art’ of the bodycheck.

“One of my teammates at the time was Bryan Marchment and I think he figured it out pretty well,” Shanahan said, drawing a chuckle from the crowd.

There’s no rush, he said, because the benefits don’t outweigh the risks.

“All this debate about hitting and non-hitting,” said Shanahan, “parents say we don’t want to take hitting out because we’ll breed a generation of non-aggressive players. I say if it’s in you, it’s in you. With youngsters, there’s no fighting but when you get to a professional level, it’s in you. Nobody has to teach you the aggressiveness and the desire, but we do have to teach you the skills.

“When I see my son on the ice – and I love that he loves it –what I really want is a safe environment for him to love the game.”

Cue up the Queen song

There’s a certain energy that flows around a good team.

The players … they have swagger, charisma.

Eleven years ago, I got to know a team like that. Very well, in fact. And 11 years ago tonight, I watched as they cried, their young hearts broken because they failed in their only quest.

It was a strange moment indeed when I stood at the Saddledome tonight, watching the Calgary Hitmen skate to a 4-1 victory over the Tri-City Americans. It was Game 5 of the WHL Championship.

And it dawned on me: I’ve watched, in person, the Hitmen win two WHL championships.

Once 11 years ago.

I followed the Kamloops Blazers on every step during that magical season in 1998-99. They went on a 26-game undefeated streak. They had a kid named Gainey, a captain of Indian descent, a goalie nobody had heard of before and, by the end of the season, seven first-round NHL draft picks on one roster.

They laughed together, they won together, they lost together … after the trade-deadline deals, there were rumours of a couple supposed newcomers creating chinks in the armour.

The gossip was never confirmed.

And they ran into a wall … a big brick one called the Calgary Hitmen. They had a kid named Moran, some stud named Pavel Brendl, a goalie from Russia named Fomitchev and swagger.

The Blazers stole one in Calgary and headed home with a split. It was May. I remember driving through blinding snow over the Pass to get home.

The Hitmen took the first one in Kamloops. Game 4 went to triple overtime and the Hitmen took a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series. Shoulders were sagging but no one had given up just yet.

Then another drive back to Calgary, riding shotgun for my buddy from the other newspaper in town.

These teams were as evenly matched as one could imagine … lots of firepower, mighty defence, solid enough goaltending.

But the power play was weak. It scored once in 27 attempts … and that one goal may have been on the last man advantage but memory escapes me.

And the Hitmen had just a tiny bit more confidence in this Game 5, wanting to win their first WHL championship on home ice.

So they did. And as they were collecting their hardware, I was in the bowels of the Saddledome with my Blazers. The 20-year-olds wept openly, their dreams of playing in a Memorial Cup came to a crashing halt.

Especially Ajay Baines, a five-year Blazer, a Kamloops boy and a leader among leaders.

He shook. His eyes were as bright as the orange on his away jersey. He sagged into my arms when I couldn’t help but hug him.

It had been a long four years of getting to know this kid-turned-man, sharing his victories and his losses, laughing with him and now tears streaming down my face alongside him.

In that time, he’s become a man. So have others on the team … Robyn Regehr, lauded around the NHL as one of the league’s steadiest blueliners … they’ve gone on to minor pros, Euro leagues, graduated from university, become fathers, husbands and more.

And so I looked skyward tonight towards the press box where I sat those 11 years ago, watching the Hitmen win again, crushing the dreams of young men on the Tri-City Americans roster.

Wondering what dreams will come from Calgary’s next trip to the Memorial Cup, wondering if some young journalist upstairs has plans to cover the NHL, wondering … just wondering.

It’s different now. I’m surrounded by the fans … I am a fan.

So I shook myself out of my reverie and clapped for the Hitmen, cheering them to the Memorial Cup as the seconds ticked off the Jumbotron and the strains of We Are the Champions wafted through the blasts of fireworks.

Sorry, Kamloops. I still love you, though.