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Accidentally in love with women's hockey

I attended a women's hockey game over 10 years ago and fell in love with the sport.

Jessica Desjardins

My following of women’s hockey was pretty much happenstance. I was just entering my second semester at Concordia University, and had just become co-Sports editor of The Concordian.

This isn’t as prestigious as it sounds. My co-editor and I were the only ones to apply.

He covered men’s hockey. The Theresa Humes tournament was starting and they needed someone to cover it. That person was me. It was a game between the Concordia Stingers and the Plattsburgh State Cardinals. It was only the third sport I had ever covered besides men’s and women’s soccer. I knew practically nothing about soccer. I knew about hockey but very little about women’s hockey.

On production day, we needed a cover story and decided to use the fact that the proceeds from the tournament were being sent for Tsunami relief. I was the one who had to go to Concordia coach Les Lawton’s office to talk about it, and like that the beat was mine. That’s how beats work at student newspapers. Whatever needs to be done that isn’t grabbed by some eager writer is inherited by the editor.

I barely missed another Stingers women’s hockey game for the four-and-a-half years I was at Concordia. I fell in love with the sport. There was also an NHL lockout going on at the time. In retrospect, the lack of NHL hockey probably helped me to accept women’s hockey the way I did. But it wasn’t everything – the first CIS men’s hockey game I attended was months later. It didn’t hurt that the Concordia team I covered ended up winning the Quebec conference championship.

I can say that women’s hockey changed my life. I grew up – as a writer and a person - with the sport and made friends and dragged girlfriends and then wife with me to games and then, when I left Concordia, it stopped.

The only CWHL – and women’s hockey - games I attended after I graduated were to see former Stingers and friends of mine play against each other. One game was at McGill’s McConnell Arena, the other at Concordia’s Ed Meagher Arena and they couldn’t have been more recent than 2009.

It all came rushing back when I was watching the 2014 Olympics. I was working, streaming a game between Canada and someone else. And I remember thinking how much I loved women’s hockey and how bad I felt for ignoring it for years.

After the Sochi Olympics, the CWHL season resumed. I went to my first game as a fan with family. It was great to be back. I knew the names from my time at Concordia. A lot of the team had played in the CIS, specifically McGill. Others were part of the most memorable non-Concordia game I covered – an 8-2 Dawson College win over McGill at the 2006 Theresa Humes tournament. Current Stars Ann-Sophie Bettez, Emmanuelle Blais, Sara Dagenais as well as Catherine Ward (and possibly others – 2006 is a black hole for data on the Internet) were on that Dawson team.

There are many subtle parts to the women's game. Even though there is a penalty for body checking, there is contact. It's why size (or, more precisely strength) still matters in women's hockey. You need to be strong to hold on to the puck and even stronger to take it away.

The CWHL is great, because it opens your eyes to a whole new side of the game.

Imagine you watched the 2014 Sochi Olympics men's hockey tournament in the context of women's hockey. You would see P.K. Subban, a defenceman benched for most of the games. You wouldn't think twice about the eighth defenceman of Team Canada's women's team. We all know how good Subban is. You might not - and I didn't - realize how exclusive National teams are in that context. We know Tyler Seguin, Claude Giroux and Mark Giordano because of what they do in the NHL despite not being named to the Olympic team. Steven Stamkos has never played a game at the Olympics.

The CWHL gives other players a chance to show themselves against the best. If you watch a game and you see Bettez or Noemie Marin - who represented Canada at the Olympics, but in softball - they don't stick out as non-Olympians against Rebecca Johnston or alongside Caroline Ouellette. They stick out as great hockey players. And there are so many more examples.

Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux was an assistant coach on that Concordia team in 2005. I got to know her in the context of former Concordia player and coach. I never realized she was one of the people in the CWHL's initial meeting and the role she had in the start of the league and in women's hockey in general. She may be the most well-known non-National team member of the Olympic era.

I’m so excited to be a part of this great CWHL team as well as the EOTP family and to open your eyes to a game, league and team. You may even fall in love with it.