The best minds in women's hockey will try to improve their status at World Hockey Summit

womenshockey.jpgWhile I didn’t get to see as many games as I would have liked, I came away with a few lasting impressions from watching women’s hockey during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The two biggest ones were:

  • “Despite following (and revering) Jaromir Jagr during his Flowing Mullet Years, it’s still an odd sight to witness a ponytail poking out from a hockey helmet.”
  • “Wow, Team Canada/USA is really blowing out [other over-matched women’s national team]. This is kind of like that time [high school girl X] pulverized my ego.”

Women’s hockey is somewhat like basketball and soccer; much could be done to enhance its big-picture exposure, but I wouldn’t suggest that many people consider it a long-term career path. (Apologies to Cammi Granato.)

Still, that doesn’t mean I’m rooting against the efforts of those who are trying to improve the standing of the “fairer sex” in the sport. The Hockey News has an interesting article regarding the efforts of Canadian Olympic team captain Hayley Wickeneheiser* and others who will state their gender’s case during next week’s World Hockey Summit in Toronto.

* – Who, by the way, earns numerous bonus points for doing the old double gunslinger salute in her photo for that article.

While that article is interesting as a whole, let’s first take a look at the sheer number of participants (something that I believe makes the argument for change in a nutshell).

Together, the U.S. and Canada have 145,000 registered female players. The natural competition in large player pools produces talented athletes. Those two countries have met in the final of every world championship and three out of four Olympic finals.

Sweden, the Olympic silver medallist in 2006, and Finland, this year’s bronze medallist, together have fewer than 10,000 women playing. The rest of the countries in the 2010 Olympic tournament were Russia, Switzerland, China and Slovakia, which combined have fewer than 2,000, according to IIHF statistics.

Even the gap between North Americans and Scandinavians becomes more pronounced in Olympic years.

To curtail the severe gap between North Americans and the rest of the hockey world, there are two contrasting schools of thought. Canadian national team head coach Melody Davidson argues one side of the discussion while Swedish Olympic team coach Peter Elander provides the counterpoint.

Elander suggests capping the number of days a country can centralize a team. He says Sweden won’t give its women as much preparation time together as Canada or the U.S. get, although he points out his country’s female cross-country and alpine ski teams do operate a centralized model.

“If the Olympic tournament should be close, we can’t have the two best teams with the most players with fully centralized teams and the others can’t afford to do that,” Elander said.

Davidson won’t agree with a cap.

“We’ve got to go after the highest standards,” she said. “I think instead of lowering the standards and lowering the expectations, we need to do everything we can to help other countries increase the number of days their players are together, the money that’s in their program, the competition level and all of those things.”

I have to say that I’m on Davidson’s side of the argument; you should never attempt to “improve” a sport’s standing by limiting the amount of talent one (or two) nations produce. Instead of hamstringing those North American programs, they should instead look into ways to bolster other countries’ programs. (Obviously that’s easier said than done, though.)

That being said, Davidson nails the discussion on the head when she says that the perceptible disinterest boil down to two problems: “Number one is social. Number two is financial.” When it comes to women’s hockey and other athletic endeavors, it really becomes an issue of supply and demand. Do women want to play hockey, especially worldwide … and will anyone pay for them to do it?

Wickenheiser, Davidson, Elander and many others certainly hope so.

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    WATCH LIVE: Stars at Blues – Game 4

    St. Louis Blues center Kyle Brodziak, right, fights with Dallas Stars left wing Curtis McKenzie in the first period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Western Conference semifinals against the Dallas Stars, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in St. Louis. (Chris Lee/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)  EDWARDSVILLE INTELLIGENCER OUT; THE ALTON TELEGRAPH OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
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    The St. Louis Blues can move to within one win of the Western Conference final with a victory on home ice at Scottrade Center tonight. The Dallas Stars will be hoping to send this series back to Texas all even. You can catch Game 4 between these teams on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or the NBC Sports’ Live Extra.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

    Here are some links to check out for this game:

    ‘Just worried about safety of friends and family’: NHL donates $100K to Fort McMurray fire relief effort

    If the Stars don’t get some better goaltending, their GM will have some explaining to do

    Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

    ‘Just worried about safety of friends and family’: NHL donates $100K to Fort McMurray fire relief effort

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    With more than 80,000 residents forced to evacuate the Alberta city of Fort McMurray due to a raging wild fire, the National Hockey League is donating $100,000 to the Canadian Red Cross relief effort.

    “The National Hockey League family stands with all who have been affected by the devastating fires in Fort McMurray,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement on Thursday.

    “We send thoughts of support and encouragement to our neighbors as they confront the physical and emotional impacts of this disaster.”

    The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers are also each donating $100,000 to the relief effort, as per the Associated Press.

    The evacuation is the largest fire evacuation in Alberta’s history, according to the Globe and Mail.

    From the Globe and Mail:

    Alberta Emergency Management Agency estimated that 80,000 people had fled Fort McMurray; the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo said the figure could be closer to 90,000. Of those forced to evacuate, approximately 10,000 are north of the city, where they have been directed to shelter at work camps.

     

    St. Louis Blues forward Scottie Upshall is from Fort McMurray, which is north of Edmonton, and he recently spoke about the devastation of that community.

    “I saw the freeway that I used to drive in from the airport. And both sides of the roads were kind of just 100-foot flames. I saw a couple restaurants that I used to go eat at and those were gone,” Upshall told Postmedia.

    “Yeah, there was a lot of things going through my head yesterday. Most of my family was trying not to overplay it at all, but there was nothing to really overplay when something like that happens. Just worried about the safety of friends and family, more so at the time my nieces, who were still in Fort McMurray while my brother and his fiancé are here watching us play.”

    Related: Blues aim to raise money for victims of Fort McMurray fires 

     

     

    With four vacancies, the NHL coaching carousel is ‘spinning out of control’

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    Bob Hartley watched bosses come and go three times as coach of the Calgary Flames. He will need one more general manager to believe in him to stay in the NHL.

    Fired Tuesday by the Flames, Hartley is itching to get back at it and he’s not alone. The Anaheim Ducks’ last two coaches, Bruce Boudreau and Randy Carlyle, are also in the mix for current vacancies.

    “Right now, the coaching carousel is spinning out of control,” Hartley said. “It’s the time of the year. So obviously there’s lots of jobs, there’s lots of names and there’s going to be lots of speculations.”

    The Flames, Ducks, Minnesota Wild and Ottawa Senators all have openings. All four teams have different expectations for next season and beyond, and different requirements for their next head coach.

    Anaheim is perhaps in the middle of its Stanley Cup window after winning four consecutive Pacific Division titles but failing to reach the final under Boudreau. GM Bob Murray dismissed Boudreau, citing “the way” the Ducks have been eliminated.

    A team with star forwards Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, a bright young blue line and goaltender John Gibson is an attractive destination. Winning in the playoffs is the expectation.

    Paul MacLean, who coached the Senators to two playoff appearances during three-plus seasons in Ottawa, was on Boudreau’s staff this season, and former Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins took the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup final in 2012. Then there’s Carlyle, who won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007 and has been out of work since the Maple Leafs fired him in January 2015.

    Minnesota has also made the playoffs four years in a row and is looking for more. GM Chuck Fletcher fired coach Mike Yeo and replaced him in February with interim John Torchetti, who is a candidate after a first-round exit.

    Fletcher flew to California, reportedly to meet with Boudreau, and is looking for a strong hockey person behind the bench.

    “I think it’s important that we find a coach that can hold the players accountable and put a system in place and get them to execute the system and hold them accountable to it,” Fletcher said.

    In some places, just consistently making the playoffs is the standard.

    The Flames missed the playoffs after a surprise postseason run a year ago, and problems that were there all along doomed Hartley. Calgary is the biggest wild card in the entire process because Boudreau knows how to get the most out of young talent, but GM Brad Treliving could think outside the box.

    Calgary needs a coach who will improve its special teams. Hartley, who won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year last season, knows his power-play and penalty-killing units weren’t good enough, but he sees the potential of forwards Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau, and knows his successor will have success.

    “I really believe that this team is just a couple of players away from being a great hockey club despite the fact that they’re still a very young hockey team,” Hartley said Wednesday. “We have done lots of good things that maybe didn’t show in the standings but will show in the very near future.”

    Like the Flames, the Senators made the playoffs against long odds in 2014-15 and fell backward in the standings this year, costing Dave Cameron his job. NHL head-coaching experience is a prerequisite, so Boudreau, Hartley, Yeo, Carlyle, Kevin Dineen, Marc Crawford and Guy Boucher are all legitimate candidates.

    Senators owner Eugene Melnyk said on Toronto’s AM-590 that the team was down to its last couple of interviews.

    “It’s gone well,” Melnyk said. “There’s some great talent (available).”

    Hartley, Boudreau and MacLean have all been named coach of the year, Carlyle and Crawford have each won the Cup, and Dineen helped the Chicago Blackhawks win it as an assistant.

    Then there are hot names like Washington Capitals assistant Todd Reirden and Philadelphia Flyers minor-league coach Scott Gordon, as well as college coaches like Providence’s Nate Leaman of and Denver’s Jim Montgomery.

    Of course, Hartley and his counterparts won’t go quietly.

    “Coaching is my passion, coaching is in my blood, there’s no doubt that I want to coach,” Hartley said. “I’m only 55 years old, and I believe that I’m in great shape and I love this game, I love teaching, I love competing to win hockey games.”

    Related: Sens will interview Boudreau on Friday

    Ribeiro likely scratched, again, as Preds look to even series with Sharks

    Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro (63) celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
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    If it ain’t broke…

    We’ll spare you the rest, but the cliche does appear to be appropriate for the Predators — after getting their first series win against the Sharks with Mike Ribeiro healthy scratched two nights ago, the Preds look as though they’ll keep Ribeiro in the press box for tonight’s pivotal Game 4 at Bridgestone.

    Rookie Pontus Aberg made both his NHL and Stanley Cup playoff debut in the Game 3 victory in place of Ribeiro, getting just under nine minutes of ice time.

    Preds head coach Peter Laviolette has stressed that this Sharks series is much different from the opening round against the Ducks. Anaheim presented a “heavier” challenge, whereas San Jose’s speed has proven to be an issue.

    Aberg is a young, strong skater and gives the Preds more speed — but the move wasn’t just about Aberg.

    Ribeiro has been a disappointment this postseason, with no goals and just one assist through nine games, with a minus-3 rating. He’s taken some bad penalties and his Corsi has dropped form 58 percent during the regular season to just 47 in the playoffs.

    Part of the disappointment stems from the fact that, last year, Ribeiro had a really effective playoff. He scored five points in six games in an opening-round loss to Chicago, while averaging a whopping 23:22 TOI per night (inflated due to the number of overtimes played, but still.)

    Nothing’s official for tonight’s game, and Laviolette could still reverse course and opt to put Ribeiro back in.

    But for now, the veteran looks as though he’ll be eating popcorn.