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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    Lightning, Islanders make East playoff races even more confusing

    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes the third period save as Ryan Strome #18 of the New York Islanders looks for a rebound at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Whenever you groan at what seems like a quiet trade market, take a step back and ask yourself this: “Who is really out of it?”

    For a while there, it felt reasonable to dismiss the chances of teams like the Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning. Now? There’s probably only a handful of teams that can really be comfortable, at this very point, with calling themselves sellers.

    The Islanders took care of their business with a 3-1 win against the fading (probably selling?) Detroit Red Wings, even with Petr Mrazek making a save like this.

    Meanwhile, Ben Bishop might just be putting his game together (while Nikita Kucherov‘s game remains very much together) as the Tampa Bay Lightning throttled the Edmonton Oilers 4-1. Bishop might just end up being indispensable – or at least not worth trading – as he’s on a five-game winning streak.

    With those wins, the races for the last seemingly available Eastern Conference playoff spots just get that much muddier.*

    Third place in the Atlantic: Maple Leafs – 67 points in 59 games, 28 wins, 27 ROW

    Second wild card: Panthers – 66 points in 58 GP, 28 W, 25 ROW

    Bruins – 66 points in 59 GP, 30 W, 28 ROW
    Islanders – 66 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 27 ROW
    Flyers – 63 points in 59 GP, 28 W, 23 ROW
    Lightning – 62 points in 59 GP, 27 W, 25 ROW
    Sabres – 62 points in 60 GP, 26 W, 25 ROW

    Wow, that’s crazy-close. Naturally, teams like the Islanders and Flyers lack the luxury of having a third spot in reasonable reach – unless things get truly wild – but that’s quite the congested group of playoff hopefuls.

    And, sure, the Bolts are among those facing longer odds, but the way things keep swinging wildly this season, who knows? Especially with a team with a track record of success and high expectations like the Lightning.

    * – We’ll arbitrarily cut off the East race at the Devils, but just in case you’re wondering, they have 60 points, the Red Wings have 58 and the Hurricanes have 56. Also, the Ottawa Senators hold the second spot in the Atlantic with 70 points and the Montreal Canadiens lead the division with 72, so that group could see quite a bit of movement over the last quarter of the season.

    Forsberg’s hat trick, own-goal highlights Predators’ wild OT loss to Flames

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    If you want to summarize the kind of night the Nashville Predators experienced, you could do worse than to draw parallels to Filip Forsberg‘s experiences.

    The highs were quite high, you see. Forsberg & Co. carved away at the Calgary Flames’ 4-1 lead as his hat trick (see above) eventually gave the Predators a fleeting 5-4 edge.

    We all should have seen more drama coming … and it did. Forsberg ended up being at the wrong place at the wrong time in overtime; the Flames’ 6-5 overtime winner ended up going off of his foot. Ouch.

    Mark Giordano ended up being credited with that goal. The game was just a barn-burner.

    While it was an up-and-down night for both the Flames and Predators, Pekka Rinne‘s evening was pretty much uniformly dismal.

    Rinne was pulled early in the second period after giving up four goals on 13 shots, making way for Juuse Saros (who actually ended up gtting tagged with the loss).

    The Flames can breathe a sigh of relief after winning the game despite coughing up a big lead, improving to 64 points and strengthening their grip on the second wild card spot. That “charity point” comes in handy for Nashville, leaving the Predators with 65 points and a game in hand on the Flames.

    Serious performance: Blackhawks gain on Wild thanks to Toews’ five points

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    If the Chicago Blackhawks are going to make up some serious ground and overtake the Minnesota Wild for the Central Division title, they’ll need wins like these.

    It’s only fitting that “Captain Serious” Jonathan Toews did the heavy lifting, generating a hat trick and two assists as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 5-3 on Tuesday.

    Yes, Toews was involved in every goal. And yes, the Blackhawks won this one in regulation after beating the Wild in overtime last time around. It’s a nice swing for Chicago:

    Central Division title chase

    1. Wild – 84 points in 59 games (39 wins, 36 ROW)
    2. Blackhawks – 79 points in 60 games (37 wins, 35 ROW)

    Yeah, that’s still a substantial edge for Minnesota … but this is a significant swing.

    Even beyond the name recognition that comes with Toews & Co., the Blackhawks’ push shouldn’t be surprising. They’re red-hot in February so far, going 7-1-0 despite playing seven of eight on the road (strangely losing that lone home contest).

    The Wild have played reasonably well in their own right, yet this loss sends them into a bye week with some frustration … and maybe some questions about whether they can hold the Blackhawks off.

    Also, tonight marked a nice milestone for Joel Quenneville:

    Matthews, Leafs get last laugh in OT vs. Laine and the Jets

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    Hockey fans tend to get their radars up about over-hyping things, particularly promising rookies.

    Is it hasty, then, to wonder if there’s something to a rivalry between Auston Matthews (and the Maple Leafs) vs. Patrik Laine (plus the Jets)? If nothing else, the two have come up big in two very exciting games.

    Back in October, Laine generated a hat trick as the Jets beat the Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. This time around, it was another 5-4 overtime decision … only Matthews and the Maple Leafs took this round.

    This isn’t to take anything away from Laine’s performance, mind you. He scored two goals on Tuesday, becoming the rare modern rookie to muster 30 goals. He reminded hockey fans that he only needs the smallest window to make you pay with his deadly, world-class shot.

    MORE on that goal and the violence that ensued here.

    But Matthews wouldn’t be denied, either, and fittingly did so in a quieter fashion. (Virtually everyone seems a little quieter when Laine’s around, it seems.)

    The Maple Leafs’ outstanding rookie managed three assists in this game, giving him 52 points in 59 games. He also has six points in a three-game run and eight in his past five.

    Laine? He now has 54 points in 55 games, extending is own point streak to five games (seven goals, three assists).

    In other words, it’s really close … just like the games when these two budding stars (and their young, promising teammates) meet.

    You might even be tempted to believe the hype.