Same Team: Hockey is Hockey

I was so happy when my daughter told me she wanted to play hockey. As a hockey fan and former hockey player, there’s nothing quite like lacing your kid into their first skates and watching them walrus their way onto the ice. Each year they play, there’s one less thing for you to do: this year they snap their own helmet, next year they tape their own socks. (When did they stop wearing garters?) In hockey years, by the time they can tie your own laces correctly, they’ve probably been punched in the face at least once. Hey, it’s hockey, right?

But it wasn’t the physicality of hockey that drove my daughter to focus on drama, instead. She played D and loved to battle along the boards and scrum in the crease. What she didn’t love was having boys call her names like bitch, c**t, pussy.

It took me a long time to sit down and write about what Ron Duguay said on Sunday night because I found myself holding anticipatory arguments with commenters in my head. I heard them — you, perhaps? — telling me that no one cares about women’s hockey, calling me a social justice warrior and a snowflake, yammering on about how hitting is part of the game, everyone’s getting too soft. And if you feel that way, still, in 2018, with the NWHL and CWHL growing and thriving and the US and Canada ready to play the most anticipated hockey game of all time, I honestly don’t know how to change your mind.

But I’m still going to try. Because those boys who called my daughter names? They were on her team. They didn’t call her names because they got caught up in the heat of competition. They called her names because they refused to let her forget she was a girl, and by their logic, she didn’t belong on the ice. And they drove her away.

And that’s why it sucks when Duguay says things like this, and then basks in the support of fans who clearly don’t feel like thinking about what it means.

And hey, Ron’s right. If by “soft” he meant “less physical,” then yes, women’s hockey is less physical than the NHL. But so is men’s college hockey, Olympic hockey, and many European leagues. But I don’t think that’s what he meant.

I think he meant what The Athletic meant when they promoted this article about  Marie-Philip Poulin:

Yes, former Team Canada captain Cassie Campbell-Pascal made the Crosby comparison; she also called Poulin “the most skilled player we’ve ever seen.” So then why frame the article this way? If you’re not a hockey fan, the comparison means nothing; if you are (anything but a Pens fan), you’d rather slam your hand in a door than see Sidney Crosby’s name. (CUZ “CINDY” SUX, AMIRITE???) But hey, even the New York Times felt compelled to dedicate the online equivalent of column inches to Sidney Crosby’s sister, for no reason other than that she’s — you guessed it — Sidney Crosby’s sister. (And with all due respect she’s no #bestkessel, either.)

I could sit here and provide endless links to proof of the physicality of the women’s game, but that’s not my point. I could also remind you that a few good punches aren’t worth anyone’s life, but Becky already did that here. The point is that the hockey community should celebrate women’s hockey because it’s HOCKEY. Don’t we love the sport? Don’t we want to grow the game? How can we do that if the half that holds the bulk of money and media attention insists on depicting the women’s game as, at best, annoying little sisters, and at worst, a weak facsimile of their own “real” sport?

Ron Duguay’s comment stings not only because it speaks to how many of the old guard feel about women’s hockey, but also to how the Rangers organization feels about it. For two years, Dolan and Co. flatly refused to officially acknowledge the Riveters, who eventually defected to New Jersey, where they’re welcomed and promoted. As a franchise, the Blueshirts lag behind the Devils, the Bruins, the Sabres, the Penguins, the Habs, the Leafs, the Flames, and the Wild, all of whom have forged temporary or long-term relationships with women’s professional teams. (But then, the Rangers have showed little interest in courting fans from marginalized communities of any kind. And that’s a problem.)

Ultimately, mocking or minimizing women’s hockey isn’t just bad for women. It’s bad for hockey. If we really love this ludicrous, improbable, inconvenient, expensive sport, we need it to grow, and that means we need new fans to love it too. Everyone belongs on the ice, and behind the bench, and in the bleachers. But comments like Duguay’s, promos like The Athletic’s, and choices like Kid Rock (fight me, Roenick), really make me wonder if we’re ever going to get there.