Who’s teaching whom?

Hayley Wickenheiser is the best female hockey player in the world.

Yup, I know. I have a knack for stating the obvious.

Everywhere she goes in the women’s game, she dominates.

She made headlines by becoming the first woman to play a skating position on a professional men’s hockey club (goaltender Manon Rheaume was, of course, the first woman to ever play pro men’s hockey).

She lives and speaks with the same kind of fire with which she plays.

She was the quotable quote at the Salt Lake City Olympics when word struck Team USA players were trouncing on the Canadian flag in their dressing room.

More recently, she has become an advocate for growth of women’s hockey, not just in Canada but also globally — all in the face of back-room chatter that the sport isn’t strong enough to maintain Olympic status.

She spoke eloquently last month at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, challenging countries to reach beyond societal stigma of women playing sports and help young girls grow and flourish as athletes.

She spoke of strides made toward the creation of a professional women’s hockey league, one that you said you would go watch.

And this past Thursday, she stole the spotlight by announcing she would be playing for CIS hockey for the University of Calgary Dinos.

Danielle Goyette, Dinos head coach, recruited her longtime teammate on the national squad.

“She will show the girls how hard you have to work to become the best player in the world,” Goyette said during the official announcement. “It’s going to help our team to get better and bring it to the next level.”

Hayley’s going back to finish her kinesiology degree.

She has five years of eligibility at the CIS level.

And she’s 32.

Kinda ripe for a rookie.

For Hayley, though, it was the right timing. Typically, she spends her off-Olympic winters skating with the Oval X-Treme in the Western Women’s Hockey League.

But that team has suspended operations for the season.

Or, she’s gone to Europe to play pro men’s hockey.

You have to figure, though, moving her family to Finland or Sweden has to be tough.

So here she’ll stay and don the Dinos colours.

You are split on the decision.

@DerekTaylorFSR: Here’s what’s wrong with Cdn. college sports…32-year-old former pros can play CIS hockey. http://bit.ly/9bpj9X #Wickenheiser

@ValerieWatts: Hayley Wickenheiser to play for U of C… Is that even fair!?

@FrammaZamma: Hayley Wickenheiser @wick_22 needs to get over herself. Move on and give a spot to a deserving young player.

@JSaggau: I don’t know if it helps the women’s game at all but I would definitely go watch. She’s a Canadian legend.

@JimPap: Nope. Taking a spot from someone who busted butt to get there, just so she has somewhere to play. Totally selfish

@askrickdotcom: No! Great move for herself. Not doing anything for women’s hockey. Shannon Millers coaching university hockey helps.

@ToriePeterson: I can’t wait to check out the Dinos. I’ll admit it – she’s piqued my interest. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

@DanPagan: Yes, depends on if Hayley can help bring the Dinos team to the next level and make other players better.

@itstara88: I’d love to go see one of her games

@AbbyPlaysHockey: someone with her credentials should really boost interest. i’d def go see if i was in the area or nearby.

@brennancreative: If it draws more attention to the CIS woman’s game and increases attendance it can’t hurt.

A status update on Hayley’s Facebook fan page lit up with well wishes, positive messages and congratulations.

Here’s the thing.

She’s the best player in the world.

Yeah, I already said that.

She has three gold medals and one silver medal at the Olympics. She has six golds and three silvers at the world championships.

So the question is why? Why Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s hockey? Why three, four, maybe five or six steps down from what she’s used to playing?

“It was the right timing, coming off the Olympic year,” she said during the press conference. “I want to go back to school and work on my degree. Everything worked out where I have the option to play here, practise with the men’s team and still play all of the national team events. It seemed like it was the best situation at this time.”

It’s fair to expect she will skate onto the ice and instantly dominate.

It’s fair to expect she will skate circles around the competition.

Maybe it’s also fair to expect she will serve as a player/assistant coach, helping Goyette and the rest of the Dinos coaching staff in teaching the intricacies of the game and leading her teammates through the various stages of improvement.

And how can anyone deny this excitement:

“I think it’s amazing being able to play with Hayley,” Dinos goaltender Kiersten Giesbrecht said. “I’ve been dreaming about it since I was little. It’s going to be great.”

Last month, at the Summit in Toronto, Hayley was part of a panel that discussed Canada’s national-team members acting as mentors, sharing their skills and knowledge with grass-roots organizations around the world.

But it’s also important to remember that we need to keep developing the game on our own soil.

Maybe this is Step 1 for Hayley becoming that mentor, not just inspiring little girls and young women around the world with her play, her gold-medal chewing and her flag waving, but also with her teaching and her support.

And there’s nothing selfish about that.

One Euro or two?

Maybe major junior hockey only needs one import player per team.

The Canadian Hockey League may consider reducing the number of import players per team from two to one, said league commissioner David Branch at the closing press conference of the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

Each major junior team – WHL, OHL and QMJHL – selects two players from non-North American countries and then they have to bust their asses to get those players over here.

And Branch earlier this week heard sharp criticism from those non-North American countries, who are holding the CHL import draft responsible for the destruction of their junior development systems.

“We heard some passionate comments,” Branch said. “They were great comments and they were concerning comments. We have to look at it from the importance of growing the game and the importance of the health of the game.”

There was a time when the CHL had huge issues in attracting the best,  young players to their teams, Branch said. But the organization which serves as an umbrella for the three regional leagues made a commitment to better facilities, better coaching and a recognized scholarship program.

Let’s not kid ourselves here, folks. The CHL offers the best route to the NHL for an aspiring pro hockey player. Young men of any country should want to play in this forum for its similarity to the NHL — from its schedule to its culture and its rules — simply to prepare themselves for achieving their dream of playing pro hockey.

But for Branch, he’s committed to the growth of the game, not just at home but also globally.

“We can’t overlook the need to do what’s best for the game and we will address this area with serious discussion,” he said.

$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.”

Eliminate Ontario organizations for cost saving

Alleviating the cost of hockey could be as simple as eliminating the amount of bureaucracy in the game.

During the Player Skill Development Initiatives session at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit, one minor hockey volunteer noted a bigger cost will hit us in the face very shortly.

n276855599228_1407“The deterioration of facilities is a tsunami that is about to strike Canada,” said Jack Hewitt, better known as the Vice-President of Marketing Services for Kraft Canada. “The buildings are falling apart, the boards are falling apart and they aren’t even close to being energy efficient.

“We need to figure out how to be more efficient and get more ice time out of these facilities.”

Aside from infrastructure, he said, minor-hockey teams in Ontario are paying $450 for a 50-minute practice and that means a good triple-A program in Toronto needs $20,000 a season for ice time.

Can we alleviate any of this cost, from ice time to facility repair or renovation?

Easy … break up the amount of organization.

“We have 10 governing bodies in Ontario,” Hewitt said. “Each of those associations has a president, a board, an office, a website, overhead costs, a process, schedules, member travel cost, insurance and so on.

“How much could we save if we cut back three or four governing bodies? If that’s reinvested in facilities, it could fix a lot of rinks.”

It’s a controversial suggestion to be sure but let’s not kid ourselves … what if less organizations were fighting with each other for the ice times and working together toward the greater good of minor hockey in Ontario?

“We also need to eliminate districts and boundaries preventing kids from playing hockey where they want and with their friends,” he said.

Whoa, Nelly … now that’s just crazy talk, isn’t it?

Healthy, no doping players = skilled players

How do we build the next Sidney Crosby?

We make sure he’s healthy, said Dr. Mark Aubry, Chief Medical Officer for the International Ice Hockey Federation.

“Healthy players can develop skills better than an unhealthy player,” he said yesterday during the Player Skills Development Initiative session of the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit.

n276855599228_1407Strength training must be a component of a young player’s development but not until he at least reaches puberty, Aubry said, noting pre-pubescent children don’t have the hormones required to develop muscle.

That doesn’t mean we start pumping them full of creatine, protein powder, HGH or any other supplement that’s hot on the market right now.

“Kids think they need supplements,” Aubry said. “We know that if you do the proper training, you don’t need supplements. We know they’re filled with contaminants anyway. They don’t help and you don’t need them.”

Four of the top-10 scorers in the NHL this year, he noted, weighed less than 200 pounds. It means, he said, a hockey player doesn’t require size and muscle bulk to be successful.

“We have very little doping in hockey because we have skill,” he said. “Hockey is complicated. It’s made up of many skills. We need to show our young athletes that they don’t need to dope to be successful.”

Because children are so influenced by their peers, he said, they need role models from the game to show them the way.

To that end, the Green Puck Project has been developed by the IIHF.

“We had current and former NHL players holding a green puck and in (video) clips saying ‘no to doping,’” Aubry said. “It appeared on the jumbo screens at the world championships this spring.

“We must get the message out to young athletes and we’re developing an online program to promote the project and send to federations around the world.”

At this time, there is no link on the web to learn more about the Green Puck Project. A Google search rendered nothing.