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Lovin’ the PWHL

How professional women’s hockey can be seen as a model for positive attitudes and behaviors in our world.

By John Oliver SmithPublished about a month ago 7 min read
Top Story - March 2024
9
Puck drops for the new PWHL season

The inaugural season for professional women’s hockey is well underway and I, like many North American sports enthusiasts, have cottoned on to the excitement of the games and the fanfare. Most of the women playing are relatively well-known through previous media exposure during Olympic games, World Championships and Rivalry matches between Canada and the United States. Yesterday, March 8, being International Women’s Day, I decided that I would pay tribute to the women of the world in my own little sports-minded way, and watch a PWHL game between the teams from Toronto and Montreal. Casually observing the new teams since the start of the season, I had suspected that the Women’s league was somehow different from the NHL and other men’s hockey leagues around the world. Sometimes these differences don’t show up during the Olympic games or World Championships because of the media focus on winning gold medals and the like. However, during a regular season hockey game, be it a men’s game or a women’s game, one gets a chance to really notice what the respective games are all about. I would therefore like to weigh in on what have formerly been suspicions but now are being seen as true differences between men’s and women’s professional hockey.

Hockey Ambassadors

First of all, the game is brought to the television viewers exclusively by women. Everything from the pregame analysis to the media banter to the player interviews, play-by-play announcing and the highlight specials is from a woman’s perspective. In short when there is not hockey being played, the focus is on a seemingly feminine, and possibly more realistic world. As a kid, I used to watch between-period summaries during NHL games with faithful dedication, trying to capture everything I could about players, teams, statistics and all the latest news about the world of professional hockey. I collect hockey cards (and have done so for over 60 years) and when I look at the cards, I imagine the world of hockey coming alive right in my hands as I flip through them. Back in the old days, player interviews with the likes of Jean Beliveau or Gordie Howe were insightful looks into the real lives of hockey players. I remember more than one intermission discussion between Ward Cornell or Frank Selke Jr. and Bobby Hull, where Bobby would break away from an answer to the question asked and start telling a story about playing hockey as a kid or a tale about some cow he bought in Saskatchewan. The interviewers asked real questions that lead to the players being interviewed, telling real-life stories. The typical NHL interview today is a boring template made up of the same questions used over and over and over in every other interview we have all seen a hundred times. The media person never smiles. The player never smiles. I have resorted to turning off the audio on my device for most of the televised NHL games I watch. When I watch the interviews sans audio, I imagine that the interviewer must be asking the player about the death of a family member or the loss of his favorite pet. You would think that a professional athlete making hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars would be on the verge of flat-out laughter pretty much all the time. But I suppose that these players have heard the same questions so many times that they have become over-stimulated, satiated, over-exposed and immune to what’s coming and they become talking heads just like the person conducting the interview. Even the game itself is more enjoyable without sound and the incessant jabber and analysis that comes from the play-by-play announcers. None of them tell jokes any more. Nobody laughs. Nobody smiles. It is far less boring for me to make up my own play-by-play and analysis as I watch the game while attempting to add as much fun and humor to the mix as possible.

NHL in the day!

Anyway now, enter the Professional Women’s Hockey League. Things have changed. There seems to be a new perspective on the same old game. The pre-game interviews prior to last night’s game were with some of the mother’s of the players. And because many of the players themselves had children of their own, those women being interviewed were actually grandmothers. The questions coming from the media women were fresh and lively and had to do with actual real-life situations away from the ice-surface. The answers coming from the “grandmothers” were equally as refreshing and took the viewer into a whole new realm of appreciation for the players themselves. Much to my surprise, these women hockey players were real people it seems. They apparently have real lives when they aren’t on the ice chasing around a hockey puck and tangling with players on the opposing teams. So, I turned up the volume on my TV. I wanted to hear more. The broadcast then broke into a segment where a former women’s hockey player, and now a cast-member on the Hockey Night in Canada media team, sat down with two present-day PWHL players and asked them questions about what it was like to be a mother. What the heck? They responded with answers which actually confirmed for me that they were real people. The interviewer went on to ask what were the challenges of coming back from a pregnancy and child-birth and rejoining the elite hockey world. The responses were amazingly frank and refreshing. There were smiles and laughter throughout the interview. It reminded me of Johnny Bower being interviewed about lending money to teammate Tim Horton to start up a business of his own and then being repaid in “doughnuts”.

From there, the actual hockey game got underway. The ice surface seemed bigger than ice surfaces in NHL games because the players were, of course, smaller. And, because the players were smaller, it took them longer to get from one place on the ice to another place on the ice. But, other than that, the game was the same. There was a tremendous amount of skill displayed. There was a great puck movement. Goalkeepers made great saves. Forwards rushed the puck. Defensive players made amazing break-out passes. The game was highly physical with a lot of open-ice contact and heavy collisions around the net and along the wall. So, if one didn’t look too closely, or if one’s eyesight is like mine, the game was pretty much the same as an NHL game. However, when the play stopped and the camera zoomed in on the bench and on the players themselves, things were strikingly different from what one would see in an NHL game. After heavy collisions around the net, players were smiling and laughing – and not just with teammates, but with opposing players. There was this sense of camaraderie on the ice and on the benches. When the game “was on”, there was intensity and a fierceness. But, after the whistle blew, players were teammates and friends and worthy opponents again, all of whom deserved respect and a shared love of the game. That is, at least, until the next play was whistled in.

Toronto vs Montreal in the PWHL

When the players came off the ice after a shift, they high-fived their teammates and took turns standing behind the bench to watch the game and act as cheerleaders. There was a youthful love-of-the-game vibe on both benches and on the ice as well.

The crowds go wild

Even the fans of the game were way more than a step outside of what one might normally see in a televised NHL game. There seemed to be no sign of tension, anxiety or animosity in any of the faces, as cameras panned the crowd. All different sorts of uniforms and costumes were displayed on a real mish-mash of men, women and children of all ages. Everyone cheered together for everything that was happening on the ice. It was a party atmosphere – something like you would see at a college hockey game.

All on the same side here!!

Hockey in the PWHL is not only good hockey, but it is refreshing. It is perhaps a model for the way hockey should be played at any level, as well as a template for the way life should be lived. Play hard. Work hard. Place value on a respect for others. Be competitive and intense, but be kind and always place the game or whatever we do into the perspective and framework of what real life actually is. I couldn’t help but come away from watching that game without feeling rejuvenated about being respectful and kind to others, not just in a sporting venue, but everywhere. Happy belated International Women’s Day to all women hockey players and to all women worldwide.

hockey
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About the Creator

John Oliver Smith

Baby, son, brother, child, student, collector, farmer, photographer, player, uncle, coach, husband, student, writer, teacher, father, science guy, fan, coach, grandfather, comedian, traveler, chef, story-teller, driver, regular guy!!

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Comments (4)

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  • Andy Pottsabout a month ago

    Enjoyed reading that. In my professional life I spend a lot of time interviewing athletes (particularly hockey players). It's striking how the NHLers, in any context, are almost always fairly guarded with the media. If you want something interesting to talk about, it's better at a lower-profile level of the game. Hopefully the PWHL can buck that trend and be both high profile and media friendly.

  • Excellent and Deserved Top Story, We are featuring this in the Vocal Social Society Community Adventure on Facebook and would love for you to join us there

  • Anna about a month ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • Kendall Defoe about a month ago

    I watched the league openers on New Year's Day, and I am genuinely impressed by what I've seen on the ice! Thank you for this... I need to get my Montréal jersey soon!

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