I used to try to not think too much about it. I used to block it out because it made me too angry, upset, and just plain sad.
I realize now that those emotions are important. I also realized that people need to talk about this more and more. Now, the women’s world championships are being cancelled for a second straight year. Days before the IIHF is set to play the men’s U-18 tournament, months after the IIHF cancelled the women’s U-18 tournament which was set to be played while the men’s World Junior tournament was scheduled.
It just cemented what many in the game have known for years: women’s hockey has reached its highest level on the ice, but administratively, the sport is fundamentally broken. The collateral damage is now too high to ignore.
As someone who has covered women’s hockey for over 15 years, I have seen my fair share of stuff. Anyone close to women’s hockey for any extended period of time knows what I mean by “stuff.” It’s the things that don’t seem right in the moment and are often shrugged off or seen as “just the way they are.”
From a COVID-19 protocol that was falsely labelled a bubble and put players at risk while becoming a super spreader event, to major games not able to be streamed because of a lack of resources, to players practising in arenas without access to bathrooms, to being kicked out of an arena after a championship because of another game right after.
These are actual moments that have happened just over the last five years in the CWHL or NWHL. It is undermining the primes of some of the best women’s hockey players we have ever seen. It is not okay.
Now, while men’s tournaments have gotten the go-ahead and support to be played despite the pandemic, yet another blow to the women’s sport has a direct hit.
Let me set one thing straight. This tournament was not cancelled by the Nova Scotia government because it was women’s hockey. The Nova Scotia government is simply doing what it thinks is best for their people (and like all politicians, themselves) despite the protocols put in place. For them, this isn’t because it was women’s hockey.
But the immediate reaction of the IIHF likely would have been different had it been a men’s tournament. We have seen the power of sponsorship with the men’s Worlds when that tournament was moved.
Ann-Renée Desbiens rose to the forefront of women’s hockey just over a year ago. She made brilliant saves as Canada won the three-on-three game against the United States at the NHL All-Star Game. She turned 27 years old in April, and has no professional regular season games on her record. She has one playoff game from when she was 17 years old.
After representing Canada at the 2018 Olympics and exhausting her NCAA eligibility at the University of Wisconsin, she sat out the entire 2018-19 season as neither the CWHL nor the NWHL provided her a feasible professional option to play. She played in intramural games, which she eventually was banned from. She is now a member of the PWHPA.
Desbiens has the luxury of being a national team player. So many others do not. She was likely going to play her first game of Team Canada’s camp on Wednesday afternoon in Halifax, right about the time the reports surfaced about the tournament she was preparing for. In fact, the team had just finished a goaltending practice when the reports surfaced.
On Thursday, she was one of the many players to tweet about the World Championships being put on ice.
Very disappointed and frustrated with the cancellation of the @IIHFHockey Women’s World Championship. Très déçue et frustrée de la décision de la Nouvelle-Écosse d’annuler notre Championnat du Monde. On était si prêt du l’évènement... pic.twitter.com/uATxQBuSzu— Ann-Renée Desbiens (@adesbiens30) April 22, 2021
Women’s hockey players deserve better. The pandemic has shone a light at the discrepancies between men’s and women’s sports but hockey might just be in the worst position, at least when it comes to North America.
Regardless of what you think about the state of the pro game, the fact is even the highest level of women’s hockey is letting the players down.
The last international game between Canada and the United States was February 8, 2020. It was one of five games played since the 2019 World Championships. With the World Championship put on ice, there is not a single game scheduled over 14 months later.
Team USA captain Kendall Coyne Schofield, one of the current stars of the game turns 29 in May and has played a total of 13 professional league games. She also spoke out about the World Championships.
We Deserve To Compete In The World Championships... pic.twitter.com/AnNfDSZ428— Kendall Coyne Schofield (@KendallCoyne) April 22, 2021
The women’s game has taken great strides to prove to people that the game’s top athletes don’t just show up every four years.
Depending how the next few months go, they may end up at the 2022 Olympics doing pretty much that.
The system still favours those on national teams who are the only ones who can afford to train full-time. Everyone else — and even some national team players — are forced to play the sport part-time. There are growing resources for women’s hockey players, including in Montreal where the Centre 21.02 in Verdun opened amidst the pandemic. They are still few and far between.
The pandemic created situations that no one could have prepared for. It doesn’t excuse everything else that has gone on because these patterns have been going on whether there was one professional league, two professional leagues, or back to one. The players are being let down by people in administrative positions who are not at the same level as the players on the ice.
It is the likely (if not hopeful) scenario that the IIHF will decide to play the World Championships eventually. It doesn’t take away the fact that the players were again left out in the cold.