Our family is a hockey family. I was blessed to pursue my dream to play (and coach) in the National Hockey League (NHL) for 17 seasons. Something you may not know is that my two brothers and sister played hockey also. In fact, cheering on my sister, Donna was my first introduction to Ringette and female hockey.
Over the years I have observed the growth and increase in intensity of the women’s game, about 40 years after my original introduction to girls’ hockey, my appreciation escalated.
After enjoying the opportunity to be an assistant coach with the Vancouver Canucks, Hockey Canada offered me the opportunity to be the Head Coach of Canada’s National Women’s Team. The women’s game is very competitive at the national level, especially between Canada and the US. Players at the national level are talented and intensely competitive.
Coming into the program with a fresh set of eyes was an asset, but it also meant that I needed to rely on other coaches around the program. We faced a time-crunch to select our team by the end of training camp. As expected, I was impressed with many of the veteran players like Hayley Wickenheiser and Jayna Hefford.
Both women had been long-time contributors to Canada’s National Women’s Team on the ice, utilizing their strong leadership skills within the team dynamic. During my time as Head Coach I was particularly impressed by their desire to not only be their best, but also continuously get better. In fact, I have noticed this tendency is consistent across all hockey players who excel and go on to play at the highest levels. The drive to learn more, to hone their skills always separates the best players.
I have humbly stated in the past that getting to the NHL is not easy, but it is also not as hard as staying in the NHL. The energy, focus and hungry spirit that it takes to play a few NHL games has to be ratcheted up tenfold if a player wants to stay at that level and etch out a long career. It is no different at the National Women’s level. Veterans like Hayley and Jayna had won multiple Olympic Gold Medals, but instead of sitting back and believing that they deserved to make the team, they focused on continuously improving their skills, getting their best game on the ice, and allowing the culmination of their on-ice and off-ice skills to do the talking.
Women’s hockey throughout North America is in great shape; women’s hockey throughout the rest of the world, not so much. During my women’s hockey coaching stint on the world stage, I saw this first-hand. Many of the European countries have not yet prioritized and properly funded women’s hockey.
Women’s hockey will only take the needed next step as other non-North American government associations start to prioritize their programs. When and if they do, the sport of women’s hockey will go from good to great! In the meantime, I encourage North American girls and women to take full advantage of a fabulous opportunity and embrace the female side of our game.