adults in charge

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World Class Women’s Hockey

Thoughts from the World Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament

I have put some things on hold for about a week and a half to watch 2023 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) women’s championships. I always end up writing something about it. There is always something to say.

I used to not like watching sports, usually. As I got older I discovered that watching women compete athletically is often very entertaining.

I do not think this needs to be explained. Rather, men should be asked why they are so fond of watching other men run around in shorts or tights or those pants American rules football players wear.

It is easier to find female sports now. There is a big market for it. However, most of pro sports or international sports is run by old boys networks.

“Old Boys” means just that. I do not think most of them really like the idea that women athletes are just as skilled as men. But women are much more watchable.

Women are made to be watched. If that is considered to be a sexist statement, I really do not care. It is not a matter of leering at them; hockey players are head to toe in suits of armor.

A lot of the lingering prejudice against sportsy ladies is about money. Women make much less of it but put up with much more crap. They play for the love of the game, not money and ego, which makes them and their play so much more attractive.

One of my themes here is that both of these tendencies have delayed the development of a real women’s hockey league, a real platform for women players. One is the idea of the old boys hockey establishment that women might take some power and attention away from themselves. The other has been the slowness of women players to demand something better, and to organize to create it for themselves.


I have watched womens’ sports sporadically over the years but I had been involved in other things. I decided to drop out of some futile preoccupations about a decade ago. This gave me more bandwidth for women’s sports.

I really got interested in girl hockey during the Sochi winter Olympics in 2014. In the famous 2014 gold medal game, the Canadian women came from two points back in the last two minutes, tied it against the Americans, then won in overtime. That’s what hooked me.

One of the olympic players talked on camera about Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). It was “where we play between the olympics.” So I set out to track down this entity.

I had a hard time. It is like it did not want to be found. I finally caught up with it at the MasterCard centre in Etobicoke and watched the Toronto Furies defeat the Boston Blades.

I thought there was something strange about all this. There were usually very few spectators. I felt like I stood out.

Some of the volunteer staff looked at me like I was a strange specimen. With some of them it seemed like the games were really a personal thing between the players and a few friends. Outsiders were not really welcome.

Some rituals of women’s hockey struck me as strange. There was this “show up at this shopping mall parking lot at such and such time and you can touch Spooner’s gold medal” thing. Then there was this practice of selling unwashed jerseys the players had worn for one game and discarded.

I made some comments about this on the Furies twitter feed and got blocked. That made it harder to follow them. When the Thunder team moved to Markham, I started attending most of their home games.
I kept attending these games. They were very cheap. When Sami Jo Small took charge of the Furies I got her to let me out of the doghouse.

The NWHL came into existence. This league was based in The States and founded by one Dani Rylan. At first I actually welcomed it because the CWHL attitude toward their audience dramatically improved.

It seems Rylan was originally going to start a new CWHL team in the states. Then she stabbed CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress in the back, started her own league, and raided CWHL for players and sponsors. Rylan is a shining example of American capitalism.

She promised to pay the players something, but cut the pay in half during the first season with no announcement. Work conditions for NWHL players were abysmal. One NWHL player was left paraplegic after an accident in the first season. They had no insurance.

American NWHL players began coming north to play in CWHL, led by Hilary Knight. At least in CWHL the players were covered by Hockey Canada’s insurance, and paid a small stipend for part of their expenses.

CWHL started to wake up. The managers of the teams, and the players themselves, began to actually promote the league. They started streaming games and found reasonably capable people to do commentary.

However, the core management of CWHL seemed to resist this. They were stuck in a ‘nonprofit agency’ mindset. I have observed a few nonprofit organizations over the years. They tend to lose sight of their original purpose, and come to be about maintaining an income for the managers and on not getting in trouble with Revenue Canada.

It was apparent even to an outsider like me that running CWHL as a non profit was not a viable model in the long term. It saddened me that the hockey gals could not make a living doing what they were very good at. They seemed to just accept the situation.

Then came the sudden collapse of CWHL in 2019. Rylan seemed to believe she now ruled the “WoHo” world. US and Canadian national team members, who had mostly played in CWHL, had a different idea.

The rise of Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association (PWHPA) was inspiring. These ex CWHL players worked out a model which allowed them to form temporary teams and play exhibition games all over North America. They succeeded in spite of the mess which covid made out of pro sports.

However, a problem soon became evident. PWHPA was intended as a temporary solution until a proper league could be formed. This was considering the history of women’s leagues in Canada.

Before CWHL there had been something called NWHL; no relation to Rylan’s project. Before that there had been something else. People have kept putting together structures for women’s hockey on the fly, after the previous structures collapsed.

They all seem to have been based on a non profit model, which made it impossible to grow a league. The idea has been that someday the NHL, the main commercial men’s league in North America, would start a women’s league, like the soccer and basketball leagues in The States, and then everyone would live happily ever after. PWHPA has been based on a cooperative model, but is still operating on the NHL delusion.

The history of NHL has been that it is simply not interested in starting a women’s league. Yet they prefer that no one else start something which might impinge on their own revenues and total control of hockey in North America.

The line the NHL CEO Bettman kept running was that they did not want to start a league while there was already a women’s league in existence. Of course, women were not going to stop playing altogether while NHL made up its mind. PWHPL kept negotiating with NHL.

Meanwhile, the Rylan NWHL kept operating. She got pushed out by her ‘investors’, who seem just as nefarious as her. They renamed it ‘Premier Hockey League’, (PHF) which is a joke.

The ‘premier’ players are all in PWHPL. National team players remain disdainful of PHL. Thus, the quality of play is much better in PWHPL, they are better to watch.

Recently PHL have been getting more ’investment’ and revenues. Their players salaries have improved. However, conditions which national team players reject seem not to be sufficiently mitigated.

These are; working conditions, lack of insurance, and contracts which could leave the players liable for the ‘investors’ losses.

However, the forces of darkness, meaning PHF, were clearly gaining round on PWHPL. Crunch time came. There was a meeting last fall between PWHPL, PHF, and NHL.

PWHPL left this confab quite indignant about the “can you girlies just get together” attitude of NHL and gave up the idea of an ‘NHL-W’. They have now gone to plan B, which is to take up the offer of Billy Jean King and other investors who have been waiting patiently in the sidelines. King is the former tennis ace who became very wealthy building up women’s sports organizations.

It is sad that the core of women pro players built up around the national teams did not go this way about fifteen years ago. It would have saved them a lot of grief. We would likely have a well developed womens’ league by now.

I never understood why NHL was such an ideal for these gals. It is a very scandal ridden organization. Games are rigged, sexual abuse by players is covered up, player head injuries not taken seriously.

Of course, I once thought that the government of Canada, through Sport Canada, could be a solution. The hockey leagues of many European countries are run that way. However, that organization has had its own sexual abuse scandals in recent years.

It is best if women just ran their own league. It seems we will have this by autumn. Details are to be worked out, including a name.

There is once again plenty of girl hockey for me to watch on TV in these eternal covid times. PHF held championships. PWHPL held one this year, changing their format. And the IIHF women have now wrapped it up in beautiful downtown Brampton.

I could say something about IIHF as well. It is also now well televised. It now has ten teams competing.

IIHF still has this goofy system of A, B, and C groups. Maybe down to Z, for all I know. At every championship, the lowest team in each group gets ‘relegated’, bumped down to the lower group.

I watched the five teams in A group play, then the five in B group. Then somehow A teams were matched up with B teams, leading to a lot of very uneven games. I am pretty sure IIHF could come up with a better system than this for ranking the teams.

But here is the problem with international women’s hockey; the teams are so unequal in ability. This is due to the inequality in support for women’s hockey in the different countries. Then, this is thrown up as an excuse to scrap international women’s hockey competition, including at the olympics.

One prominent Canadian lady puck banger, in a media interview, responded to that nonsense. If women’s hockey were supported in these countries at least up to the standard of Canada, from juniors up, these teams would be as good as Canada’s.

In North America, support for girl’s hockey is good up to the college level. It is the level of professional play that is lacking. If that was supported properly, the quality of play would likely be better than the men’s leagues. Some women’s team members brag that NHL coaches look over video of Canada-USA women’s matches to study how they do it.

The difference which support for teams makes in the result is shown by the recent history of two teams, Sweden and Czechia. They both have pretty good support for girls at lower levels, thus a pool of talent to draw from. 

Sweden was a good team for a long time, winning bronze twice, even beating Canada twice. They have a system where a government funded sport federation ran a national league, which was also a farm team for a national team. Then the wrong people took control of the program.

For some reason, they had a contemptuous attitude to female players. They cut support and benefits, and insulted them in every possible way. The whole national team simply quit. Because of this the ‘four nations’ cup had to be cancelled because Sweden could not host it without a national team.

Sweden was ‘relegated’ somewhere far down in this IIHF scheme of things. After some controversies, new managers were appointed and the Swedish team began to recover. They are back in the top ten and are a very young team, average age twenty, with much potential.

Czechia was always known as a hockey country, but the women’s teams were little noticed until recently. It seems there was a decision a few years back to devote more resources to girl’s programs. It is now showing results.

Recently, Czechia brought in a Canadian, Carla Macleod, to coach their team. Carla’s Crew have now won the bronze twice in a row. I have begun following the Czech Czicks closely.

The most disturbing thing about IIHF is the officiating. A lot of it is very fishy. It is not usually the fault of ‘team Zebra’ on the ice, but comes when they are overruled by these mysterious review refs sitting up in the rafters somewhere.

Much of the ‘gold’ won by USA women in IIHF and Olympic competition is tarnished by the circumstances in which it was won. So often, their opponents fail due to strange referee decisions, or by mysterious inadequacies of coaching. It never seems to happen the other way, against the Americans. Jokes are made about Team USA having the CIA on their side.

The most odious was in 2019 when the Finnish gals actually beat team USA. The refs allowed the overtime goal, but the ‘upstairs’ overruled them and spent an incredible 14 minutes coming to a very strange decision. Even the American goalie wondered how she could be penalized for ‘tripping’ the Finnish player who, in the same interaction, supposedly committed ‘goalie interference’ on her.

At the 2018 Olympics, a recently appointed and strangely under qualified Canadian coach threw the game for the Canadian women by refusing to play most of the best players.

It happened again this year. With five minutes left, the game tied, Canada was suddenly assessed with two penalties, leading to a ‘five on three’ situation. USA scored two quick goals which Canada could not recover from.

The first penalty was possible to understand. The second was from some arcane rule no one had ever heard of before. The refs refused to even listen to the Canadian coach’s objection.

This time, at least, these reviewers were visible, sitting in a glass booth behind the scorekeeper’s bench. They sat with cheesy grins as some abuse and a few objects were hurled their way.

Another grievous example of politics interfering with the game has been the ‘expulsion’ of the Russian teams from the past two IIHF tournaments. Many western institutions are starting to walk back from the rabid Hate Russia rhetoric.

Tessa Bonhomme, my favourite ex D line player turned sports broadcaster and commentator, interviewed Luc Tardif, the new IIHF chief. She asked him when we can expect the Russians back.

His reply was surprising and somewhat encouraging. There was no snark about evil Russia and evil Belarus. He just said that there was a war on.

He claimed that the sole reason for the Russians and Belorussians not being around was that IIHF is worried about the safety of players from those countries. He stated no position about the conflict and hoped it would be over soon. The situation would be reviewed in March 2024.

So, I might be able to see my favourite Russkie lady puckster, Olga Sosina, at the world championship 2024 in Utica, New York. 

Maybe this will be the end of all the political bullshit in sports. If there is any country which really should be banned from international competition, it is the USA. They should stay home until their armed forces and intelligence creeps have gone home, all the sanctions have been ended, and all odious debts cancelled on developing countries.

But then, I would not be able to see Hilary Knight in action. She is still my favourite hockey lady and a real shit disturber.

She has been on the USA national team since age 17. In 2017 she organized a players strike which forced management to greatly improve pay and conditions.

She played in CWHL, then joined NWHL. Then she led the exodus back to CWHL when Rylan betrayed the players. When CWHL folded she was one of the founders of PWHPA and sits on its board of directors.

Team USA management finally made Hilary the team captain this year. She seems to be doing pretty well at it. I think they were afraid she would lead another revolt against them.

She is famous for saying really audacious things. At this tournament, an interviewer asked her what it is like to make an arena roar. She said she can not do that playing for the USA in Canada, but she knows how to make the place fall silent; score a goal for USA.

Then she did just that.

But my favourite puckster is still Rory’s Mom. She is back in action, four months after giving birth, and scoring goals for Canada again. Spooner is part of a baby boom among team Canada players.

She has been on team Canada a long time and done some audacious things on the side. She and Mikkelson were a team on “Amazing Race Canada” and came in second. She took up figure skating for “Battle of the Blades” and lifted her male partner. Roll on, Natalie.

Final note; I am not trying to be a sports writer here. I did not sit in front of the TV taking notes. I wanted to enjoy the games.

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