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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    ‘He was great, full of life’: Sharks’ Braun mourns the passing of father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak

    BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Justin Braun #61 of the San Jose Sharks looks on during the third period against the Boston Bruinsat TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    San Jose Sharks defenseman Justin Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final with a heavy heart.

    According to CSN Bay Area, Braun’s father-in-law and NHL veteran Tom Lysiak passed away at the age of 63 after a battle with leukemia.

    The news was confirmed Monday.

    “He was great, full of life,” said Braun, as per CSN Bay Area. “Loved to hang out with the boys. Loved to talk about his hockey days. Great father, great husband. Great to me, welcomed me into the family.

    “Just a tough day.”

    Lysiak was a three-time NHL all-star, playing 13 seasons in the league with the Atlanta Flames and Chicago Blackhawks. He scored 292 goals and 843 points in 919 games over the course of his career.

    Braun played Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. As per CSN Bay Area, he is expected to be in the Sharks lineup for Game 2.

    “It’s a tough situation. To Justin’s credit, he was business as usual. He’s made some arrangements for after Game 2 to pay his respects and do what he has to do on that end,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told reporters.

    “There’s not much you can do. You feel for him. He went out there, he battled for us under tough circumstances. I think we all appreciate it.”

    Video: Crosby has an ‘insatiable appetite’ to get better

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    Remember when Sidney Crosby was publicly criticized by some members of the media — here’s one particular example — as the Pittsburgh Penguins faced elimination in the Eastern Conference Final?

    Well, the Penguins’ captain set the tone for the Stanley Cup Final, as Pittsburgh grabbed a 1-0 series lead with a thrilling 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Monday.

    Crosby had an assist, setting up Conor Sheary for the second goal of the evening. He had four shots on goal in almost 21 minutes of ice time and his line with Sheary and Patric Hornqvist was, for the most part, dominant in possession.

    (On the ice together for 13:37 at five-on-five, Crosby and Hornqvist had Corsi For ratings of 56.52 per cent, as per War-on-Ice.)

    “He steps up in big games and he always has and he always will. He’s the leader in this locker room and on the ice, and you expect that from him in games like this,” Sheary told reporters.

    On the Sheary goal, Crosby was able to win a race with Sharks’ defenseman Justin Braun to the puck, turn on a dime as Braun lost an edge and slid to the ice, and find Sheary wide open in the slot. With Marc-Edouard Vlasic preoccupied dealing with Hornqvist in front, Sheary ripped a shot stick side on Martin Jones.

    “He sees you all over the ice. They overbackchecked a bit and I found that soft area. I was looking far side (on Jones),” said Sheary.

    “That’s what Sid is always great at — getting guys to overplay him so he can find the other guy that can get open to give you more time and space with the puck, because us other guys, we need that time and space,” added Chris Kunitz to NHL.com.

    That was part of a long night for Braun and Vlasic in trying to at least contain the Crosby line.

    Sheary and Hornqvist both benefited with sterling possession numbers against both Sharks’ blue liners, who seem to have drawn the main assignment against No. 87.

    (In fairness to Braun, he is also dealing with a personal issue after losing his father-in-law, NHL veteran Tom Lysiak, after a battle with leukemia prior to Game 1.)

    The Penguins now go for the 2-0 series lead on Wednesday.

    On Tuesday, as the Penguins held an optional skate, Crosby was apparently one of two regulars on the ice.

    “I don’t think he’s as good as he is by accident,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters.

    “As long as I’ve been associated with this league, I don’t know that I’ve been around a player that has the same work ethic as Sid does as far as that insatiable appetite to just try to get better and be the best. I think that’s why he’s as good as he is.”

     

     

    With Rust still day-to-day, Sullivan isn’t in a ‘hypothetical’ mood when it comes to his lineup

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    Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan still has forward Bryan Rust listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury after he took a controversial hit from Patrick Marleau in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.

    (The league stated Tuesday that there will be no suspension for Marleau.)

    As for Rust, who has six goals and nine points in these playoffs, his status hasn’t changed since the conclusion of the game. But with Game 2 set for Wednesday, Sullivan may have a lineup decision ahead of him if Rust isn’t able to play.

    Sullivan, who said Rust is still being evaluated, was asked about the possibility of Eric Fehr moving up onto a line with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz, where Rust had been playing.

    Naturally, Sullivan praised Fehr but didn’t want to delve into the possibilities for his lineup tomorrow.

    “If he were to go back on that line, he’s a pretty good player. Regardless of which line he plays on, (Fehr) has had the ability to adapt his game. The one thing he does bring to the respective lines, he’s another center iceman that can take faceoffs in the defensive zone,” Sullivan told reporters.

    “He has a real good awareness in the D zone. He’s pretty strong on the wall. He brings all of those elements to that line that we choose to put him on. We’ll make decisions accordingly depending on who we think is available for our lineup. But hypotheticals is not the world that we live in.”

    ‘It was frustrating for me,’ says Tarasenko after struggling offensively versus Sharks

    SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Vladimir Tarasenko #91 of the St. Louis Blues in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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    St. Louis Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko has opened up about his play in the Western Conference Final versus the San Jose Sharks, who held the talented forward off the score sheet in five of six games.

    It wasn’t until the third period of Game 6 that Tarasenko finally broke his slump, scoring twice as St. Louis tried one last desperation comeback attempt. It didn’t work. The Blues were eliminated and the Sharks are in the Stanley Cup Final.

    “They played really tight and they backchecked so hard,” said Tarasenko, as per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s just experience. It was frustrating for me. I wish I could do better. I’m supposed to do better.”

    After a 40-goal regular season, the 24-year-old Tarasenko’s point production through the first two rounds — versus Chicago and Dallas — was solid, with 13 points in 14 games.

    But the Sharks kept him in check.

    His lack of production became a key focal point as the third-round series carried on. Blues’ coach Ken Hitchcock, who signed a one-year extension to stay in St. Louis, admitted Tarasenko was “learning hard lessons” against the Sharks and that he had to fight through the tight checking in order to produce offensively.

    As the series continued, Hitchcock added that Tarasenko just needed to play within the system, and that getting away from that is perhaps a “natural tendency” for young players pressing to make things happen in crucial situations.

    There had been talk about a rift between Tarasenko and Hitchcock, especially after video replays showed the two in a brief but heated exchange at the bench during the first round. Of course, the coach later downplayed it.

    As the Blues’ playoff run ended, there was speculation about why, exactly, Tarasenko didn’t address the media on the same day the rest of his teammates did.

    From St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Ben Frederickson:

    More importantly, Tarasenko’s no comment closed the book on his season without addressing the elephant in the dressing room.

    There is growing speculation of friction between Tarasenko and the Blues. Is there a rift between the star and his club?

    If I’m a member of that front office, I sure would have liked a player under contract until 2023 to squash such a story on Saturday.

    On the subject of any perceived issues between the Blues organization and Tarasenko, both parties responded: