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Women in hockey: The good, the bad, and why we need to persevere

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I reached out to a few female colleagues to get their take on what it's like working in a male-dominated sport.

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"The negativity that women in sports journalism still receive is all the more reason for us to push forward..." - Katie Brown

I remember the conversation well; I was quite young, and our little town had finally organized its first ever all-girl hockey league. I wanted to join. My parents were less than sold on the idea because hockey was "too dangerous." Lo and behold, I wound up in cleats instead of skates.

Now, I don't want you to get the wrong idea - my parents are good people and meant well by giving me the opportunity to play sports while I was growing up, but my childhood reaction to their response was that hockey wasn't meant for girls.

Fast forward to my current situation where I am fortunate enough to work for an exceptional company, writing with talented individuals about a sport that I once thought wasn't available to me. Following what has proven to be an - interesting - season, filled with plenty of upsetting situations (and I will leave it at that), I wanted to reach out to my fellow female colleagues to see how and why they found careers in hockey, and what kinds of issues, if any, they had faced along the way.

Robyn Flynn (@ladyhabs), fellow EOTP writer and TSN690 broadcaster, said even though she always loved the sport, it took her a while to decide that broadcasting was her passion, "My first-ever pro interview was with Sidney Crosby, so that was pretty cool. But my favourite moment so far was doing play-by-play for a Les Canadiennes game recently. It was a dream-come-true moment."

Luckily, Robyn hasn't experienced a ton of push-back within the industry, but social media has been a different story, "I've been called every name in the book. I've gotten rape threats, death threats, some pretty horrific stuff." From being an unpaid intern, working part-time, and going to school full-time, Robyn has paid her dues. Her advice to women looking to get into the field? "Stay true to who you are, don't change anything about yourself. Tenacity is your best friend. And work as hard as you can."

Michelle Thomas (@Slapshotg0al) from fellow SB Nation blog, Winging it in Motown, and resident prospect guru, never intended to get into the field, "I found WIIM when I was a new hockey fan...It's a challenge that helps me continue to grow both as a person and as a fan." Michelle states that even though every now and then a fan will take things a bit too far, she credits the WIIM community for speaking up against issues when they arise.

In addition, the work Michelle has done with the Grand Rapids Griffins (the Detroit Red Wings AHL affiliate) has been very positive, "The Grand Rapids Griffins organization is great about media credentials and being open to anyone who conducts themselves respectfully and professionally." Michelle's advice is simple, "Don't ever limit yourself, or think you can't achieve your dreams...Keep dreaming, keep thinking, keep confidence in yourself, and treat yourself the way you want the rest of the world to treat you."

Catherine Silverman (@CataCarryOn) currently works with the Arizona Coyotes organization. It hasn't been an easy path to get to where she is, having faced backlash because of her gender, "I've also had a player or two tell me that I know a ton about the game from a 'memorizing facts' standpoint, but had them downplay how well I actually read the game just because there are limited opportunities for women to play at the level they have." Catherine stated that these incidents are few and far between and that overall, her experiences have been pleasant, despite a few 'bad eggs' along the way.

Catherine's favourite career moment so far happened when she was working with some youngsters during a hockey clinic, "While we were all scrimmaging, I asked one of them who her favourite player was - and she said me. I was floored - I don't even play pro. I'm just a youth coach, and a very elementary-level one at that. She told me that I showed her that women could play hockey for a career too, and that made everything I do seem worthwhile."

As Catherine stated, even though she has felt her share of push-back in the field, it's important to continue moving forward, "The growth of women in hockey is going to make people feel uncomfortable, but the end goal is to make it seem normal and accepted."

Katie Brown (@katiebhockey) is an NHL reporter/correspondent who covers the Washington Capitals. Writing has always been a passion for Katie, who actually quit a full-time job to get into freelance writing, "It was an enormous risk, and it's still really hard sometimes, but I know that I made the right choice and my hard work is paying off." Unsurprisingly, Katie says most of the push-back she has received has also been on social media, "The negativity that women in sports journalism still receive is all the more reason for us to push forward and keep on working in sports."

Jenny Scrivens (@JenScrivs), goaltender for the NWHL's New York Riveters, was kind enough to take the time to discuss her personal experiences. Jenny and the NWHL made history last year, becoming the first North American female league to pay its players.

She never imagined making a career out of hockey. "...The thought of playing professional hockey never occurred to me until I heard about the NWHL last spring. I was working in Edmonton at the time the league launched, and my first thought was that I wanted to get involved and help with communications. It wasn't until I heard that there were still spots left on the team that I began getting back into hockey shape."

Jenny has been fortunate to not have experienced a ton of push-back, though she has witnessed a lot of her teammates face adversity as female athletes. Maintaining a balance has been key for Jenny, "Hockey has been an extremely positive influence on my life, but it is not the only thing in my life."

This past season has shown me a few things:
1. Women in hockey are slowly gaining ground and becoming more accepted and welcome.
2. We still have a long way to go. Especially on social media.

I encourage all of you to follow these amazing, intelligent women on Twitter and support their work.

I grew up thinking that hockey was inaccessible, and while I still encounter some issues with the odd, disgruntled fan, this path I chose has been more rewarding and exciting than I had ever dreamed possible. With women such as these helping to pave the way, I know that I am in good company and am excited for that next, big step. Let's continue to make history.