86 15860

(photo: http://www.mprnews.org/)

Vinny Prospal retired late last month. He had played 16 seasons in the NHL, jumping Jagr-like from team to team, first with the Philadelphia Flyers and eventually the Columbus Blue Jackets. He was born in 1975–a good year for hockey, and for the Flyers in particular, who made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. They were turned away by the Montreal Canadiens, but Reggie Leach won playoff MVP. The Habs’ Guy Lafleur was the season’s top scorer but the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke won season MVP.  Mel Bridgman made his NHL debut after being selected first overall, and fourteen seasons later he retired. In 1992, he was was named the first General Manager of the Ottawa Senators, for whom Prospal played from 1998-2001.

By the time he announced his retirement, Vinny Prospal had skated on a lot of different ice and called a lot of different rinks “home.” He had been to Turin and taken home a bronze medal. He had played 1,108 games in the league, all told. He is 38.

Noora Räty is 24. She played 139 games for the Minnesota Gophers and won 122 of them, including a perfect season in 2012-13, where she recorded 17 shutouts and a .95 save percentage. In a 38-game season, Räty let in a mere 36 goals, giving her a 0.96% GAA. She made the Finnish National team at age 15 and helped them win bronze at 21, making 16 saves for a win over Sweden. She won the IIHF World Women’s Championships Best Goalie in 2007 and 2008 and MVP in 2008 (Hayley Wickenheiser, former captain of Team Canada and flag-bearer at Sochi’s Opening Ceremonies, won the year before). 

She has 41 career shutouts in the NCAA–a Division I record. Earlier this year, The Hockey News ranked her as one of their People of Power (at #63). They wrote, “Räty ha[s] the ability to be the tournament [in Sochi]’s most influential player. She [is] the person capable of derailing a juggernaut almost singlehandedly.”

It’s not speculation. Räty shut out Team USA–who has never left the World Championships without a gold or silver medal–in the 2008 World Championships with 30 saves. Räty’s shutout came the same year that the American team beat the Canadians for just the second time in 11 matches; in other words, an already-juggernaut team at their absolute strongest.

“As long as I get a shutout, we can’t lose,” Räty told the Minnesota Daily last March.

Noora Räty is among the best goalies in the world, male and female. She is 24.

She is retiring.

This is Noora Räty:


What’s remarkable about this save isn’t that Räty didn’t fall for the deke; it’s that she did. You can see her glove hand going up, reaching for a puck that isn’t coming. It’s like she’s isolated her different muscles, like each of them can react independently to one another. Räty’s glove hand is falling for the deke while her leg knows better. She makes two saves at the same time.

A goalie like that would go first round in the NHL draft, if she were lucky enough to have been born with a Y chromosome. A goalie ready for the international stage at 15, who can be fooled and unfooled at the same time, a goalie who can carry her team in her glove, would barely languish at all in the AHL. A goalie like that would be hailed as the next Ken Dryden, the next Patrick Roy, the next Martin Brodeur.

Brodeur, by the way, is 41. He has played 21 seasons with the New Jersey Devils. Roy retired after 18 years in the NHL, first with the Canadiens and then the Avalanche (for whom he is now coach and Vice President of Hockey Operations). Dryden played just seven seasons with the Habs, retiring at 31. The decision to retire was his own; he was ready for different things. His life as a hockey player had run its course.

Compare that to Räty, whose announcement on Twitter today told a different story:

…As much as I would love to just play the game I love and that has given me so much, I have to choose a work career (unless I can make a living from playing). Why? Because who would then pay my rent, car loan and insurance, and other bills? I’m 24-years-old, out of college, single, and the money doesn’t grow in [sic] trees so yes you are right, the answer is no one. I’m done living from hand to mouth and now it’s time to start building wealth and think[ing] about my future. And I’m not the only player having this problem… the majority of female players have the same problem.

Noora Räty is not retiring because she is finished with hockey; she is retiring because there is nowhere for her to go. I wrote earlier this week in “Women’s Olympic Hockey: Why Gold Matters” about how limited a woman’s hockey options are, the farther along she gets in her career. Despite being one of the fastest growing women’s sports in the world, when it comes to making a living, even the most extraordinary players are brought up short. 

The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), full of talent and empty of funds, cannot pay its players. Russia has an 11-team professional woman’s league, but the league suffers from the same curse that plagues the CWHL–the same plague that follows women’s hockey (and women’s sports) everywhere: underfunding, underexposure, and a near-total lack of engagement outside of Olympic years.

Throw a stone in most places and you’ll hit five separate hockey programs for little boys; throw a boulder and you’ll still miss the single female hockey program as it rounds a corner. A 2009 study of coverage by gender in ESPN The Magazine published in the International Journal of Sport Management found that:

  • for 1,425 feature articles which pertained to men’s sports, only 50 pertained to women (and only 48 pertained to both)–which means that men received 96.6% percent of the coverage, and women a mere 3.3%
  • of the articles devoted to women, 90.0% of them were relegated to the back half of the magazine; only 58.8% of articles about men received the same treatment
  • 94.7% of “special photographs” (i.e. covers and “Zoom” section photographs) were exclusively dedicated to male sports, and only 5.3%  to women’s sports.

“But wait!” you say. It’s not ESPN The Magazine‘s fault that not as many people watch women’s hockey. It’s not the media’s fault that audiences will watch 4,000 replays of TJ Oshie vs. Russia in the shootout but aren’t sure how to spell “Wickenheiser.” Can we really blame ESPN The Magazine for catering to its readership?

The problem is that readership is as much dependent on content as it is determined by content. Maybe most women don’t spend a lot of time reading ESPN The Magazine,  but why should they? People like them aren’t in it. A woman sports fan has to read 1,375 articles to find a story about someone whose gender identity matches hers. Writing for dudes about dudes creates a feedback loop that doesn’t allow for growth in either direction. As the same study points out, “the media are seen as influencing people’s leisure choices because of their ability to cultivate images and perceptions of what’s popular and attractive … for those sports that are under-represented, awareness and efforts to build fan bases are often much more difficult.”

Getting fans there is half the battle. Once they’re in the building, they’ll bring their wallets, they’ll buy beer and t-shirts and season tickets. They’ll grow loyalties and cultivate favorites; they’ll spend hours on the pond with their daughters talking about the game they saw when they were younger– “Oh man, honey, you should have seen it–Wick with the puck and Räty in goal, I swear the whole stadium stopped breathing…”

In other words: if you build it, they will come.

— 

There’s a caveat in this story, which is that Noora Räty is not actually retiring from hockey.

She is retiring from women’s hockey.

I will hang up my skates for good if I can’t play professional hockey IN A COMPETITIVE LEAGUE next season. I said competitive league because I could always go play in the Russian women’s league … [however, after] playing a few games there myself in January, I don’t think this league will challenge me enough[…] But I play hockey because I love to get challenged as it drives me to get better as an athlete and goalie.  Thus, I would love to take on the challenge and try playing with men since I can’t play college hockey anymore and there’s no professional league [that pays its players] in North America. But I guess time will show if some men’s pro team is willing to give me a chance.

Räty wouldn’t be the first female player to play on a team with the boys; Manon Rhéaume was the first women to play in an NHL game (for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992) and Hayley Wickenheiser played on both Finnish and Swedish men’s teams (she also turned down an offer from Phil Esposito to play for the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL). Hilary Knight, in an interview after the USA/Canada game on Wednesday, talked about going to Sweden to play in the men’s league over there. When asked whether she wanted to play with the boys, Knight grinned big and said, “Oh, yeah.”

LA Kings TweetThe problem with this joke by the LA Kings’ twitter is not that it is at the USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team’s expense; it isn’t. It’s at the LA Kings’ expense. The problem with this joke isn’t that women couldn’t hack it in the NHL; in my opinion, many of them could, if they wanted to. The problem with this joke isn’t even that it isn’t funny, because at least 1,598 people found it so.

The problem with this joke is that not a single player on the USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team has a chance to make even the NHL’s minimum salary of $525,000 playing their sport and doing it better than many of their male counterparts.

The problem with this joke is that Noora Räty has to retire so that she can pay her car loans.

Gender integration isn’t something that has ever made it too high up on the NHL’s To Do List. They are more worried about whether players should be allowed to tuck their shirts in, and trying to figure out what arbitrary line in the sand would mark the difference between Just Part of the Game Violence and We Are About To Get Super Duper Sued Violence. Technically, there is nothing stopping women from playing in the NHL, except that they are rarely given the chance.

Women’s hockey has peculiar pressure points. Checking isn’t allowed, technically, but it still happens; the match-up between the USA and Canada on the 12th proved that. Still, there are no Broad Street Bullies, no Big Bad Bruins. There is no such thing as an enforcer, or at least, not in the way that the NHL understands the term. You can’t make a living off your fists in women’s hockey because you can’t use your fists. Even players whose main job is to play the enforcer-type role has to be able to contribute at the technical level. (Also, of course, you can’t make a living in women’s hockey at all.)

The game has evolved to put high focus on stick-work and skill. Essentially every player on the team has to be able to perform the kind of puck-handling madness that players like Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby do in the NHL. That’s not because women can’t fight, or learn the right way to absorb a hit; it’s because that element was taken out of their league’s game, and they had to compensate.

(Well. For the most part.

 

They’re only human, after all.)

Of course, gender integration of the NHL is not the answer to the problems of the CWHL–or women’s hockey in general. As Brenda Andress, Executive Director for the CWHL, told the Toronto Star, “We’re not the NHL and we’re never going to be, nor should we be, we have a very different game.” Räty herself doesn’t even call for it; instead, she writes that she believes the best hope for the future of women’s hockey is to build up the North American women’s leagues to a competitive level. Women’s hockey–women’s sports–already have the players. They have the heart and the hands and the heads.

Someone just has to build the stadiums up around them.

Molly is not an athlete. She quickly got used to winning the “Best Smile” award at every Seeley Summer Olympics (an award made up especially for her by her grandmother, who felt bad that she never won anything else). Hockey-wise, she’s one of two people who has never lived in Ohio that is obsessed with the Columbus Blue Jackets and neither she nor the LA Kings twitter will hear a word said against them. The Penguins will always have a special place in her heart as the team that made her fall in love with the sport. Her favorite players are Hilary Knight because duh, and Jack Johnson because he’s a beautiful gleaming beacon of patriotism and plays the kind of consistent, solid, hardworking hockey that never gets enough credit.

86 COMMENTS

  1. The numerous important points of this article are buried in the non-blog-like format. It is written like an article for The Atlantic. As a fan of Noora Raty I read the whole thing, but at the end I realized I wasn’t reading about Noora. If I didn’t believe your points were important I wouldn’t leave this comment. Good luck for continued progress of your advocacy.

  2. It is horrible that most Olympians can not make a decent living competing in the sport that they excel at. That being said, is this article satirical? The majority of women’s players would have trouble making high school varsity teams.

    • Alex, if you believe that then you are part of the problem. I have had the pleasure of working with various former Olympians in hockey clinics set up by my local NHL team. these women are way more skilled than you are giving them credit for.

      • The US women’s team, one of the best women’s hockey programs in the world, proved a close match for strong high school boys teams a warm-up game against Warroad High School leading into the 2008 olympics; so much so that the coach petitioned to have the scheduled second game against Thief River Falls turned into a scoreless scrimmage. Canada practiced by playing a number of men’s AAA teams and generally got thrashed. The greatest female hockey player of all time proved herself a serviceable “checking / PK / face-off specialist” forward on a 3rd-division men’s team in Sweden.

        The majority “having trouble making high school varsity teams” probably is selling them short, but not nearly by as much as you think. And this isn’t based on some sexist hyperbole, this is just from looking at the record.

        • Well, I don’t know how accurate the rest of your “facts” are, but, given that there wasn’t a Winter Olympics in 2008, one has to wonder…

          • Yes, yes, I had a brain cramp early in the morning. So sue me.

            Warroad High 2, US Women’s Team #1
            http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/news/story?id=2281644

            And the European league in which Wickenheiser participated was Finnish, not Swedish; she later got a tryout with a 3rd division women’s team in Sweden, but did not make the team.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayley_Wickenheiser

            So take the sarcasm quotes off of “facts” and address the salient points at hand, if you would ever be so kind.

          • I don’t know if the blog censors out URLs or not, but the facts on Wickenheiser can be double checked on Wikipedia. A simple google on “Warroad High 2 USA Women’s Hockey 1 would reveal as the #2 hit an ESPN article covering the details.

            So you can take the sarcasm quotes off of “facts” if you would be ever so understanding that people can have brain cramps early in the morning, and address the salient facts at hand.

          • Like it or not, the facts are there to back up his point. A decent example is Sara DeCosta, one of the three goalies for the US in Nagano. She was on a decent men’s public high school team in Rhode Island but never won a high school championship in the smallest state in the Union; she did, however, win a gold medal. Just imagine what a high school team with Johnathan Quick or Tuuka Rask would look like, and you’ll start to understand that the comparison is apt.

            That’s not to say that women can’t or shouldn’t play hockey, far from it. What is true, however, is that the best, gold-medal-winning women are still worlds below the skill level of the vast majority high-level men’s players–not just pros, but decent, D-3 amateurs who will face the same decision to end their hockey careers as Raty.

          • Their skill level is the same, if not better. It’s the physicality and physical tools that they are missing. i.e. a woman’s biological build could not stand up to that of a man. Men are physically just stronger and (sometimes) faster.

        • Team Canada regularly beat the AAA boys teams they played up until this year and even then the women were above .500 against them. My u18 team beat a AAA bantam boys team this year.

          • Well, that would be where I’m getting the “probably selling them a bit short” from. Team Canada being a slight favourite against AAA boys teams certainly sounds plausible. I’m just trying (and failing, it seems) to try and keep the exaggerations of this article in check.

            And please let me add that I very much respect you taking on the challenge of playing an AAA bantam boys team, and congratulations to you and your team for what sounds like a very big victory.

    • Majority of which women’s players? My daughter is 14, until this year played A or AA Boys travel hockey (that would be 2 years of full checking) and was the 5th leading goal scorer in her first year at Bantam with 15 goals in 45 games. She also made the JV team at her HS (they don’t let freshman play on the Varsity) this past fall and is very likely to make the varsity next year. And yet the talent in the Tier 1 AAA girls program she just moved to this year is so good that she only made the 14U team. There are at least 15 girls in the same program that could easily make the Varsity team at just about any HS.

  3. I’m all for giving women every opportunity in society, don’t get me wrong. However, sports is a pageant. It’s nothing else. You make money based on how many eyeballs you draw. There is no artificial ceiling or gender inequality. Women would be welcome to play in the NHL if they were capable.

    They’re not.

    >> “The problem with this joke isn’t that women couldn’t hack it in the NHL; in my opinion, many of them could, if they wanted to.”

    I’m sorry, the US Womens National lost 2-1 to Salsbury High School in Boston just before the Sochi games began. Not a single one of those teenagers will ever play in the AHL, and only one or two will ever play in the ECHL or WHL. We’re not even talking about the NHL.

    Wickenheiser, is the Mario Lemeuix of women’s hockey. She is extremely talented and has had offers to play in the men’s ECHL, which would pay about $60k per year. She has turned down those offers.

    Let me state it again. I’m not opposed to equal rights. I would love it if women could play in the NHL, but there is no artificial barrier to entry. If I want to watch high-school level hockey, there are A LOT of free games you can go see in every city and town in the hockey-loving world.

    I don’t know how you could support a league that pays six-figure salaries on that.

    I’m sorry it doesn’t work. I don’t know what to do about it, but complaining about gender discrimination is not the solution.

    • Wickenheiser also went to play in Finland with men, but could only cut it at the third highest level. She might be the best female player in history and she was 25, very much in her prime. She was pretty good playing with glorified beer leaguers. She’s two inches taller than Martin St. Louis, but she wasn’t physical enough for the second division. So, there’s still some way to go to the NHL.

      I’m all for women’s hockey, but we don’t do it any favors by distorting the facts.

  4. My only issue with this article is that I don’t think women could cut in in the NHL like you’ve stated numerous times. Team Canada played Midget AAA boys teams to prepare for the Olympics. 6 games in fact. They lost 3 of them. Doesn’t sound like they’re ready for the NHL just yet.

  5. I started reading this article and understanding where the argument was going, and found myself agreeing with you. However, as I went on, it became clear this was not the article I thought it was going to be. It’s extremely sad that Raty is being forced to retire in order to pay bills, but that certainly isn’t because ESPN doesn’t cater their articles to women’s sports, and it’s certainly not because she could “hack it” in the NHL but isn’t being given a fair shot because of gender.

    Crying “discrimination” here doesn’t really make sense. These women are talented, no doubt, but simple genetics are absolutely real. Many women could hack it in the NHL, really? Try that again the first time Amanda Kessel’s 5’5″ 140lb frame takes a strong hip check from Niklas Kronwall, or is on the receiving end of an open ice hit from 6’4″ 240lb Milan Lucic, etc. It’s just not going to happen. Ignoring the very real fact that testosterone and genetics are real only continues to discredit women’s sports. Let’s let them be celebrated on their own instead of making asinine arguments like “many of them could hack it in today’s NHL”.

  6. Women’s hockey will never be able to pay players the way you hope, unless the NHL subsidizes operations. The US team lost to boys prep schools in their or Olympic exhibition games. They cannot compete in men’s pro leagues, with the exception of as a goalie. The difference in stature and muscle make up leaves the women unable to play with men at that level. Rheaume was a publicity stunt, alright, a great heart warning story. ‘Wick’ is the best women’s player in history, and had a stature that would leave you to believe she would have the best shot, and her attempts were not successful with the men. It’s it sad? Perhaps, but it is fact. The best women in the world will never draw fans as you write here. They’re great athletes. And play great hockey, but even the NHL didn’t really appeal to the masses. But guess what? Women’s luge participants have to get jobs too..

  7. “The problem with this joke isn’t that women couldn’t hack it in the NHL; in my opinion, many of them could, if they wanted to.”

    Seriously? Hahahaha

    • If you continue reading the article you’d see that the author is not an athlete, just a fan of hockey. You’re comment makes you sound like an uneducated sports fan the article aims to take notice of. If the author’s opinion, as a FAN of hockey, is that some women could make it in the NHL, then let her have that opinion. Don’t disparage the author’s writing or women’s hockey based on one comment; the entire article was well written and brings light to the sad fact that while women are great athletes, their sport is not comparable to men sports

      • The problem is, the author is citing something as an opinion that is verifiably incorrect, then basing her claims of “obvious sexism” on this ‘opinion’. And it wasn’t just that “one comment”, it is the entire cornerstone of her post.

        * Rãty is skilled enough that she’d have been a first round pick if, all other things being equal, she was a man.
        * Women’s hockey doesn’t get exposure solely because they’re women, not because it’s non-checking or because it’s played at an AAA level.
        * “… not a single player on the USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team has a chance to make even the NHL’s minimum salary of $525,000 playing their sport and doing it better than many of their male counterparts.”

        Of course she is entitled to her opinion. And if the record shows her opinion is factually incorrect, others are entitled to point it out. This is how debate works.

  8. Well done article and I must say it is a shame that Nora Ratty has to give up hockey because she can not make a living doing it. I’d love to see a league created that could support and provide income to the best women’s players in the world. Towards the end of the article however you make the assertion that many “women players could hack it in the NHL’ I am sorry but that’s quite far fetched. The Canadian National Women’s Team’s compete against Midget AAA men’s teams,Haley Wickenheiser arguably the best women player in the game played professional albeit Division II in Finland. The NHL has no responsibility to create gender equality in my opinion in terms of having women playing alongside the men, but perhaps could try a program to fund a women’s league in extension with it’s already existing men’s league.

  9. Many of the comments seem to be ignoring this sentiment. Perhaps they didn’t read to the end.
    “Of course, gender integration of the NHL is not the answer to the problems of the CWHL–or women’s hockey in general. As Brenda Andress, Executive Director for the CWHL, told the Toronto Star, “We’re not the NHL and we’re never going to be, nor should we be, we have a very different game.” Räty herself doesn’t even call for it; instead, she writes that she believes the best hope for the future of women’s hockey is to build up the North American women’s leagues to a competitive level. Women’s hockey–women’s sports–already have the players. They have the heart and the hands and the heads.

    Someone just has to build the stadiums up around them.”

    I find it hard to believe true hockey fans wouldn’t enjoy watching women’s hockey. The US-Canada games are a prime example; and perhaps they aren’t even matched to the other countries, but neither was the men’s US-Slovakia matchup. They deserve more than the Olympics to build their skill. Arguing that they couldn’t match to the NHL, well, perhaps, but remember these women have to retire at 24–24! That’s when many (male) players are just getting their start.

    Hockey is hockey. The more the better. And if there’s a way to keep talented women playing, building their talent, helping expand the sport and talent pool internationally, why not?

    These women are extremely marketable. They’re skilled, they’re personable, they’re beautiful if it *has* to come down to that.

    Thanks, Mollyhall, for your perspective. Thanks, Noora, for your talent, and for sharing the truth to such a large audience.

    Here’s hoping someday these ladies get their ice of dreams.

    • Bringing body checking back into the game is a mandatory first step. It’s obvious that these athletes can handle the physical contact at the highest levels. If you’ve been watching the Olympics, then you’ve seen how aggravating it is watching the referees in confusion about whether or not they’re supposed to enforce the rule, you have teams like Switzerland just saying “to hell with it” and hitting in the preliminary round with reckless abandon.

      As it is, you have athletes at an AAA talent levels playing a no-checking brand of hockey, the kind of which many people won’t even watch when the NHL’s best players play it at the All-Star Game. That’s why it’s a tough sell, not because “lol women’s can’t play hockey hurr durrrrr”. The absolute skill level of the athletes is a problem, but it’s not insurmountable if the game is exciting. And I think if they just let Canada and US ‘play the damn game’ in the finals and throw this ridiculous no-hitting rule out the window — in theory as well as in practice — the world would see just how exciting it can be. Heck, listen to the crowd in the ‘line brawl’ video above. They’re eating it up.

      • This is somewhat unrelated to the article but in response to this comment. While bringing body checking into the game would excite some fans, it would also put the athletes at risk of head and brain injury. Not worth the risk.

        • We allow body checking at the age of 13, I believe; are we really saying that THE MOST world-class, elite, top-level female athletes can’t handle the same level of roughness that 13 year old boys can? I don’t much care for that implication myself.

          • subjectively I don’t watch men’s hockey because of the body checking – wrestling on skates is not my thing. therefore, I am happy that they don’t allow body checking in women’s game. and I don’t thing that the ladies won’t be able to handle the roughness of the game – most of them did play with guys.

          • I certainly respect your subjective preferences here. I do know you aren’t alone, there are fans who prefer the non-contact game for that reason. But in terms of discussing popularity, surely you would agree that the contact game IS more popular. Heck, the crowd reaction to the line brawl that erupted between the US and Canadian women’s teams should be proof of that.

            I’m with you as well, I see no reason why elite female athletes can’t handle the body checking of women’s hockey. Women play fully-geared tackle football, women have two weight classes in MMA. They can handle it. My response was to Sue, who felt the risk was too great for the best female athletes in the world but not (presumably) average 13 year old boys.

          • Charles – with the concussion syndrome and memory problems occurring with some professional athletes from football, hockey, wrestling and even soccer, I think the type of body checking and hitting that causes these problems should be seriously looked at in all sports – male and female. If i recall correctly a helmet is being made that would monitor hits but I’m not sure if it would protect the brain from concussive type injuries. Women could handle body checking in their game – I just wonder if it’s worth the risk to add it now.

  10. without checking and fighting the interest level will remain where it is. Once it becomes a physical game of the same proportions as the NHL, you will have a chance to draw viewers.

  11. (Sorry if this posts multiple times, the website wasn’t loading right and then the comment wasn’t showing up)

    A good article made weaker, I think, by the late emphasis on the possibility of women playing in the NHL. You acknowledge none of the top women in hockey have called for it, but you still went on and on about it. Only a few of the larger women in hockey are the height and especially weight of the smaller NHL players. Most of those smaller NHL players are skill guys. There are women in hockey who are as skilled, if not more so, than those men, but are they also among the larger women? Or are they 140lbs, about 30lbs smaller than most of the tiny NHLers?

    Gender integration of the NHL is so far from being helpful to women’s hockey that I’m sorry you brought it up. Not only is it largely unrealistic, even under the best circumstances and the most accepting management, it would only help a VERY small number of female players – even adding in AHL levels, because the size problem remains just as limiting.

    There are enough hockey fans that, if sexism didn’t prevent interest in what could be a much more affordable league to follow, women should be able to play in a pro league where they can make a decent salary – between $40,000 and $80,000 per year, say (roughly WNBA salaries). That would give a significant number of women a place to play, and a place for young women to see female hockey fans, a source of development of both current and future stars. Why would you ignore the possibility of supporting and growing the CWHL, possibly in partnership with the NHL, or mention it only vaguely in passing, in favor of fixating on something that, even if at all feasible, would only provide a living for a tiny number of players?

    • > women should be able to play in a pro league where they can make a decent salary – between $40,000 and $80,000 per year, say

      Where did you get these numbers? The level of play (approximately boys AA Midget) is played in every neighbourhood arena in Canada and the Northern US. Generally tickets cost about $5 and they usually sell about 100 of them, mostly because they charge parents to watch.

      The next HIGHER leagues (QMJHL, OHL etc) pay their lower-end players a $10k stipend and some basic living costs, as they’re just bridge leagues. Only when you get to the AHL, which is 4-6 levels higher than the women’s team currently plays, do you find a whole team making over $50k salary.

      You can make up wishful salary numbers, but unless you show the tickets would sell, there isn’t much to discuss. The AHL often sells out 6,000 seat arenas 40 times per season at $20-$40 each).

      Like I said, I’m not here to tell women to quit. Far from it. I love the olympics, and as much as I wish there was a market for professional skeleton racers and professional curling players and the like, I just don’t see it happening.

      The skip of the Canadian curling team is a lawyer (because most olympic sports don’t pay a living wage). It’s just how olympic sport is. Men’s hockey is a rare exception to this, actually.

      • It’s kind of odd that you should say “where did you get those numbers,” since I did say where I got them: WNBA. But in this case, $40,000/year is a long-term goal based on starting with a very small league – perhaps supplemented with support from national federations, as the NWSL in women’s soccer.

        There is a potential market for women’s hockey that does not exist for Midget AA or the OHL, because women’s hockey has something they don’t: female athletes. Women’s sports suffers from poor marketing and media investment, as well as sexist, outdated ideas about what is appropriate for women to do. But people watch women’s tennis even though they aren’t serving as fast as the men, because they’re highly skilled players who have interesting rivalries and are playing competitive matches. But female tennis players are also more traditionally feminine, and thus face fewer barriers in gaining fans.

        None of these circumstances are immutable. I don’t see a professional women’s league where the athletes make hundreds of thousands of dollars any time soon, but markets are there for well-marketed, sensibly run pro women’s leagues who are capable of paying their athletes a living wage. Female athletes don’t have to be able to beat male athletes to make their sport entertaining, because they aren’t playing against male athletes. And they don’t need to get the audience that men do (read: please don’t share your personal preference about whether or not it’s interesting to watch) because they don’t need to pay millions of dollars.

  12. The USA women’s team used to scrimmage the bottom 2 lines of the varsity boys’ team and the top 2 lines of the varsity boys’ JV team of a boarding school near where I live because they couldn’t find competitive female teams to play against. They would lose those games against the lesser 1/2 of a high school varsity team. No female hockey players would be effective in the NHL. Size alone makes it impossible. The average hockey player is 6’1″ and weighs 202lbs. The average goalie is 6’2″. At 5’5″, Noora Ratys would be first cut on a male team.

  13. Lack of a professional league has not hindered the continued participation of adult women rowers, the bulk of the Olympic teams across the world are all post college grads for both men and women. The difference in rowing is the marked growth of the support at the grass roots. For women’s hockey to receive the attention it deserves, we have to build the sport out from the bottom. If more girls dream of playing Olympic Hockey, it is better for everyone.

  14. (Hayley Wickenheiser, current captain of Team Canada and flag-bearer at Sochi’s Opening Ceremonies, won the year before). ************

    Caroline Ouellette is the current captain of Team Canada.

    Please correct the error.

    • You’re correct, we apologize for the oversight, thank you for pointing it out. The error has been corrected. Caroline even RT’d the article earlier today without mention, she’s doing fantastic with her captaincy!

  15. I have thought about this issue many times. Watching my own sons grow up in the world of hockey and coming across talented girls on teams as they graduated from one level to the next. It always perplexed me that women do not support women in hockey. While the idea of a “paying” professional league for women is appealing, there will never be such a league until women themselves embrace the sport and are willing to pay for it. However, most women are not sports fans to the extent men are, and men will watch men’s hockey rather than a perceived weaker woman’s product. Thus most of the money goes to supporting men’s NHL professional hockey rather than any other league. Take a look at the attendance to Marlie’s games in a market of millions. The Marlies are just north of 6000 people per game, in a town that some hockey pundits project will support 2 NHL franchises. And the Marlies are just a single notch below the NHL.

    That is how daunting the challenge of a woman’s league is. Not enough fans will support the idea (yet?) and a professional league for women is unlikely.

    I think bring up gender integration into the NHL is just fantasy. I can’t imagine any woman withstanding the physical punishment of body contact in the world’s fastest league.

  16. 99% of hockey players in Canada had to give up playing because they couldn’t make a living at it unfortunately. We all have to get real jobs at some point.

  17. How can you say many of these Olympians could play in the NHL when team USA (women in the peak of their skill level) lost to a boys Prep School team, Salisbury School, (14-19 year old boys) 3 to 1? If we’re being generous maybe three of those boys have a taste of the NHL. I’m not downplaying the ability of these women, especially Noora who is incredible, but to say they could compete in the NHL is ridiculous granted they lost to a prep school whose best player wouldn’t last a shift in the NHL right now.

  18. Given that most of us have a limited amount of time and money, we need to direct every ounce of our attention toward women’s sports teams and players we care about. If you want to grow something, you see it through its infancy when it’s not so strong. What if we went to see sports because we loved to watch the game locally, played by those we know? What if we went to matches explicitly to support those who aren’t pros, and we didn’t care that Räty is not Tuukka Rask? She is a great player and fun to watch nonetheless. She will inspire so many people. I’d buy breakfast cereal or car tires from her. To hell with the pros.

  19. The women have just as much SKILL (if not more!) than the men, but they definitely do not have the physical tools to hang in the NHL. It’s not sad, it just is what it is. And it is a fact. It doesn’t take anything away from the women’s game… it’s just a more skilled version of hockey. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is that people won’t even give it a chance, as you’ve noted here.

    • If it’s all about skill and only the physicality that is an issue, then can you explain why, when we remove this physicality aspect of the game (i.e. playing by non-checking rules), the best women still struggle against good boys teams and AAA men’s teams?

  20. I’m a fan of womens hockey, and I think they get less respect than they deserve, but they couldn’t handle physicality in the pro Mens leagues. It is silly to think that even the best women could hang as even a minor league player. I would be interested to see what Raty, the best goalie, could do in a mens league. I think instead of trying to convince people women deserve to be playing in the NHL, we should convince them that the Womens game has much more to offer in the skill department than people know.

  21. Someday space aliens may land on Earth and utterly dominate men’s hockey. What will be said then? Probably, “Oh, those are aliens. They’re not human. Let them have their own league. So we can play *real* Earth hockey.” Exclude the aliens because they are blessed with different physical characteristics. Appreciate the men’s game for what it is.

    Can this not be said for women’s hockey? Can this not be said for the child of any hockey mom or dad? If you haven’t appreciated hockey at all levels, you probably haven’t been personally invested. It’s hard to blame you. Watching a U8 girls hockey game is probably pointless to you. But if you’re a parent, that game is probably the pinnacle of humanity. Maybe someday you’ll be that parent and understand.

    Appreciation for women’s hockey (NCAA D1 and Olympics) seems to primarily originate from those of us with this perspective. Can it be spread to those who don’t have the same perspective? We don’t care for the answer. We only know that it should.

  22. it’s sad how women’s sport is mistreated. i did not realize that until this olympic games, when i was not able to watch any women’s competition from start to the begining as the translation swiched to men’s competition. and they even won’t show the finals of women’s ice hockey, but they show all the group cometition of men’s.
    i do no understand why people do not watch women’s sport. for me, it combines two things that i like: action and women. therefore, it is much better to watch women’s competition as one get’s twice the pleasure. and women’s hockey is even better as it is pure hockey and not boksing on skates.
    after being unable to watch the cometition i wanted, i wrote a letter to the television about the mistreat and sexism they are incorporating in the translation, which does not do any good. maybe this will not change anything, however, they will know, at least, that there is a person who would better watch women’s ice hockey then men’s. if more people would demand the translations and articles about women’s sport, the situation would change fast enough not only for noora raty to stay in the game and to give all the spectators the pleasure to watch her in action, but for all the women athletes to devode themselves more and to improve even faster.

  23. it’s sad how women’s sport is mistreated. i did not realize that until this olympic games, when i was not able to watch any women’s competition from start to the begining as the translation swiched to men’s competition. and they even won’t show the finals of women’s ice hockey, but they show all the group cometition of men’s.
    i do no understand why people do not watch women’s sport. for me, it combines two things that i like: action and women. therefore, it is much better to watch women’s competition as one get’s twice the pleasure. and women’s hockey is even better as it is pure hockey and not boksing on skates.
    after being unable to watch the cometition i wanted, i wrote a letter to the television about the mistreat and sexism they are incorporating in the translation, which does not do any good. maybe this will not change anything, however, they will know, at least, that there is a person who would better watch women’s ice hockey then men’s. if more people would demand the translations and articles about women’s sport, the situation would change fast enough not only for noora raty to stay in the game and to give all the spectators the pleasure to watch her in action, but for all the women athletes to devote themselves more and to improve even faster.

  24. it’s sad how women’s sport is mistreated. i did not realize that until this olympic games, when i was not able to watch any women’s competition from start to the beginning as the translation switched to men’s competition. and they even won’t show the finals of women’s ice hockey, but they show all the group competition of men’s.
    i do no understand why people do not watch women’s sport. for me, it combines two things that i like: action and women. therefore, it is much better to watch women’s competition as one gets twice the pleasure. and women’s hockey is even better as it is pure hockey and not boxing on skates.
    after being unable to watch the competition i wanted, i wrote a letter to the television about the mistreat and sexism they are incorporating in the translation, which does not do any good. maybe this will not change anything, however, they will know, at least, that there is a person who would better watch women’s ice hockey then men’s. if more people would demand the translations and articles about women’s sport, the situation would change fast enough not only for noora raty to stay in the game and to give all the spectators the pleasure to watch her in action, but for all the women athletes to devote themselves more and to improve even faster.

  25. it’s sad how women’s sport is mistreated. i did not realize that until this olympic games, when i was not able to watch any women’s competition from start to the beginning as the translation switched to men’s competition. and they even won’t show the finals of women’s ice hockey, but they show all the group competition of men’s.
    i do no understand why people do not watch women’s sport. for me, it combines two things that i like: action and women. therefore, it is much better to watch women’s competition as one gets twice the pleasure. and women’s hockey is even better as it is pure hockey and not boxing on skates.
    after being unable to watch the competition i wanted, i wrote a letter to the television about the mistreat and sexism they are incorporating in the translation, which does not do any good. maybe this will not change anything, however, they will know, at least, that there is a person who would better watch women’s ice hockey then men’s. if more people would demand the translations and articles about women’s sport, the situation would change fast enough not only for noora raty to stay in the game and to give all the spectators the pleasure to watch her in action, but for all the women athletes to devote themselves more and to improve even faster.it’s sad how women’s sport is mistreated. i did not realize that until this olympic games, when i was not able to watch any women’s competition from start to the beginning as the translation switched to men’s competition. and they even won’t show the finals of women’s ice hockey, but they show all the group competition of men’s.
    i do no understand why people do not watch women’s sport. for me, it combines two things that i like: action and women. therefore, it is much better to watch women’s competition as one gets twice the pleasure. and women’s hockey is even better as it is pure hockey and not boxing on skates.
    after being unable to watch the competition i wanted, i wrote a letter to the television about the mistreat and sexism they are incorporating in the translation, which does not do any good. maybe this will not change anything, however, they will know, at least, that there is a person who would better watch women’s ice hockey then men’s. if more people would demand the translations and articles about women’s sport, the situation would change fast enough not only for noora raty to stay in the game and to give all the spectators the pleasure to watch her in action, but for all the women athletes to devote themselves more and to improve even faster.

  26. I think most people on this forum have TOTALLY misunderstood what the author of the article was getting at. She wasn’t stating that women should play in the NHL, she wasn’t even stating that they should be allowed. She was stating that women’s hocky and women’s sports in general should be given a chance in the professional relm. Media outlets should cover women’s sports with the same intensity and frequency that they cover men’s sports. More than 50% of the population is female afterall. If the media paid as much attention to women’s sports, perhaps a professional hockey league could be supported and attended by fans. I have been around women’s hockey for nearly 15 years now, by watching my daughers play as little girls, on boys team and eventually on AAA girls team. I had the pleasure of watching my oldest daughter play Division I and Division III hockey. It is a great game to watch because the actual skill and strategy of hockey has to be perfected. My challenge to the NHL is why don’t you fund a WNHL and see what happens.

    • But, there is one in the CWHL. Unfortunately, they struggle to sell 400 tickets to a game. In fact, many of the Canadian Olympians play on these teams. They get a fair bit of funding from other organizations and several teams (The Leafs and Flames) completely funded several of the women’s teams travel, equipment and coaching for several years.

      In total, these NHL teams put more than half a million $$ into supporting those teams, but over the course of the ENTIRE three seasons, they had a TOTAL attendance less than a single Toronto Marlies game.

      They even aired one of the games on TSN2 in Canada, but the viewership was so low, they probably won’t do it again soon, as they lost money doing it.

      Like I said, sports are a pageant. If girls are inspired to watch hockey and their mothers are inspired to pay lots of money for tickets and merchandise, then there will be a professional league, but not before then.

  27. Good article. But most everybody is looking at this article from the angle of women can’t play in men’s leagues or there is no place for her to play after graduation. So what? She got a free education and college hockey career courtesy of Joe Taxpayer and Jane Alumni. How much student loan debt is she graduating with? Probably nothing. How much did her family donate for higher education in the U.S? Probably nothing. Contrast that with women playing sports at the Division 3 level. I know several excellent Division 3 hockey players that have quit after 2 years because of growing student loan debt. They went out and got a 20 to 30 hour per week job instead of devoting that time to the sport they love, in order to lessen the impact of debt when they graduate. They had to stop playing halfway through their college career. She got to finish her career at a great university for free, courtesy of most of us taxpayers and alumni that support universities. No tears from me.

  28. Simple economics. You can argue all you want that there is a large supply of entertainment for women’s hockey (I’ll argue against that), but there is clearly no demand for it. You can’t make up money out of nowhere. This article provides no logical argument. A league, women’s salary etc doesn’t just show up out of nowhere. It needs to be driven from a demand. Consumers pay for the ‘show’ that is the NHL. If the CWHL drew 15,000 fans a game then yes, there might be a future for women’s hockey.

    And it is actually outrageous how many people here believe that womens skills are comparable to the mens. I mean really?

    • Marcus, have you ever watched a women’s game in real life? Pretty sure you’d realize that the women’s skills are completely comparable to the mens’… if not better. The women’s game is all ABOUT skill.

      Also, it goes both ways. How can there be a demand if there’s no knowledge that the game exists? Just because you don’t want to watch it, doesn’t mean there are tons of people out there who agree with you.

      Go watch a game. You’ll enjoy it.

      • If the skills are completely comparable as you assert, then why are there no women playing in the NHL? After all, there exist women that are the same physical size as the smallest NHLers; if your theory were correct (since the women’s game is entirely about skill, per your theory), then surely one of them would be playing in the NHL by now? Hilary Knight is the same size as Martin St. Louis and Daniel Briere, after all, and heck, St. Louis is on the Canadian National Team!

        • You’re fighting it, and one can only imagine as to why.

          Women’s bodies are built differently. Their pelvises are shaped such that they are more prone to ACL damage, their neck muscles cannot physically be as strong making them more prone to concussions. Etc etc etc. All this making them unsuitable to play with men. But that’s not the point, and “playing with men” shouldn’t even be seen as the pinnacle of anything. The women’s game is plenty exciting. Have you even given it a shot?

          When I say skills it means what they can do with the puck. Nowhere did I say the women’s game is ONLY about skill, simply that because the rules in regards to checking etc are different, they are forced to be more skillful instead of more physical.

          Perhaps Canada could have used Hilary Knight’s help in yesterday’s game vs Latvia, since MSL and co. could barely find the net…

          • If by “fighting it”, you mean “asking you to explain the dissonance between your claims and observed reality”, then yeah, I’m fighting it. If your claim is true, then a Hilary Knight sized woman would have been in the NHL by now. This has not happened, therefore your theory is invalid. Not hard to grasp.

            I’ve certainly given it a shot, I’ll be watching the gold medal game shortly; I’ve cheered on Canada’s women’s team since 1998. I’ve watched developmental league arena football, so the actual skill level of the athletes isn’t always going to mean I can’t get into the game. Overall, I wouldn’t watch women’s hockey outside the olympics simply because body checking is too integral a part of the game for my tastes; you can see my posts above to that end.

            With regards to your speculation, it doesn’t actually require imagination, you just have to read the posts I’ve made, but I’ll spell it out for you anyways: there exist people who cry “sexism” and “discrimination” at every turn, such as those who would assert that the lack of popularity of women’s hockey is because of misogyny, as opposed to the fact that it is non-checking hockey played at a AAA level; in fact the only sexism at play is the PRO-female sexism of segregated sporting leagues, without which female athletes would literally earn billions of dollars less per year than they would in a gender-blind meritocratic sports model.

            And yeah, they barely found the net, what with their nearly 60 shots on goal. Every sports journalist is referring to this as a minor league goalie playing the game of a lifetime. If we could have had the luxury of playing Pavelec in the quarter finals, we’d have put up at least four like the US did.

          • PS Canada sure appreciated Hilary Knight’s help in todays’ game.

            PPS perhaps the USA could have used Kristers Gudlevskis’s help in net?

            PPPS if you need another signed Canadian flag, just let me know.

          • It is fascinating that you know so much about Women’s hockey (“signing the flag” is soooo 2002 after all), yet you’ll be so dismissive of a sport and of athletes that do deserve as much attention as their male peers. It’s curious that you’d take the time to check out a women’s hockey website in the first place, especially if all you’re going to do is come in and poo-poo the game and its players.

            Women’s hockey is NOT the same as AAA hockey. It’s simply a different game than men’s hockey, period. If the women were somehow able to have mens’ bodies and retain their skill, they’d kill the AAA teams. I watched the US women play vs a couple local high school teams before the Olympics. In the game they lost, it was clearly because the boys all happened to be much taller/bigger. There’s simply not enough skill in the world that can make up for that gap. And that’s okay, because if you’ve been following, you’ll see that I couldn’t care less about a woman playing in the NHL. Women’s Hockey simply deserves the same amount of visibility as mens. Who cares about women vs men? When there’s an even playing field (USA vs CAN) it IS truly exciting. That’s why you just watched the women’s gold medal game, isn’t it?

          • “It is fascinating that you know so much about Women’s hockey (“signing the flag” is soooo 2002 after all), yet you’ll be so dismissive of a sport and of athletes that do deserve as much attention as their male peers.”

            Their male peers play in AAA hockey. This has been shown time and time again in countless games. Does that mean I can’t cheer for them in an international competition? Hell no. I was proud as punch of them winning, certainly as proud of their win as you are of America’s loss. But there’s no shame in silver.

            “It’s curious that you’d take the time to check out a women’s hockey website in the first place, especially if all you’re going to do is come in and poo-poo the game and its players.”

            A female hockey player I follow on Facebook posted a link to this article. I read it, and found it made a claim I felt was false. I joined the debate, made my point via logic and rhetorical question, and read the rebuttals. Isn’t this how people expand and further inform their opinions?

            “Women’s hockey is NOT the same as AAA hockey.”

            No, but it’s played at that skill level, which for purposes of “popularity as a sport” is all that matters.

            “It’s simply a different game than men’s hockey, period.”

            Yeah, it’s also non-contact, *another* important factor to consider as to its lack of popularity.

            “If the women were somehow able to have mens’ bodies and retain their skill, they’d kill the AAA teams.”

            Never mind that there are women who are the size of small-but-still-NHL-sized men, yet not one has even cracked the ECHL, much less the AHL or NHL. If they were able to have mens bodies and retain their skill, then they’d be more popular. This is a completely vacuous truth.

            “And that’s okay, because if you’ve been following, you’ll see that I couldn’t care less about a woman playing in the NHL… Who cares about women vs men?”

            The person who made this post? Anyone who attempts to claim sexism and misogyny is solely responsible for women’s hockey being commercially unpopular “because they’re just as good as the men”? Anyone who needs a reminder that their equivalently skilled male peers toil in equal obscurity? If you’ve been following, you’ll see that this is what I’m arguing against.

            “When there’s an even playing field (USA vs CAN) it IS truly exciting. That’s why you just watched the women’s gold medal game, isn’t it?”

            I watched it because it was my country playing against an arch-rival nation, and I love hockey enough that I can genuinely enjoy AAA-level hockey, even without body checking and even with HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE officiating (even you would have to admit the refereeing has been a visible black eye on the game this tournament) when it’s my country versus a rival country on the biggest international stage. And I’ll watch them again in four years. And if they iron out the ridiculous no-checking rule, I’ll start watching them at Four Nations’ Cups and the women’s IIHF tournaments and enjoy it.

            But here’s what you’re missing: I enjoyed the game IN SPITE OF the skill level and the rules, not BECAUSE OF it.

          • Nowhere did I say that if the women had men’s bodies and retain their skill they’d be more popular. What I said was that they’d be able to actually compete with AAA players. When I watched the ladies play local HS teams, their higher skill level was abundantly clear. The boys simply had no answer to their skill/stickhandling. THey didn’t know what to do once they couldn’t just smash them into the boards. These women hockey players are the best WOMEN, and they should be celebrated just as the best men hockey players are celebrated. It shouldn’t matter if they can compete with any level of male.

            Have you ever watched these ladies play in real life? Every time I go to a CWHL game, I see little kids (both genders) with their eyes wide and jaws dropping, lining up to get autographs at the end of the game, staring up at the players in awe. The skill and excitement and- yes- physicality- is undeniable. Nobody has to force themselves to enjoy it.

            Officiating can be horrible in all leagues, we see it in the NHL all the time. Hockey is just as much about the bounces/calls as anything else.

          • (It should go without saying that all the adults who make it out are expressing the same awe as the kids.)

          • Okay, I just couldn’t leave this alone:

            “Officiating can be horrible in all leagues, we see it in the NHL all the time. Hockey is just as much about the bounces/calls as anything else.”

            I defy you to tell me with a straight face that the two Canada / US games weren’t THE WORST OFFICIATED games in a major tournament. How many consecutive Too Many Men penalties did Canada get away with in the first game? Or the puck that went in seconds after the while blew, but meh, Canada celebrated, so it counted. Or the love tap on Szabados pads in OT, which was as flagrant an even-up call (for the “we’ve let far worse go during the game” crosscheck by Canada 5 seconds earlier) as ever was? Or the game-winning power-play goal, where Hilary Knight crosschecked the back of Hayley Wickenheiser’s ankle with her left foot? You can ACTUALLY SEE the ref call a penalty shot, then realize she shouldn’t do something like that, so decides it wasn’t a clean cut breakaway and make something up on the fly.

            This says NOTHING about the embarrassing double standards regarding what’s a “legal illegal body check” and what’s an “illegal illegal body check” — commentators and fans alike had no idea what would be called and what wouldn’t; imagine how the players felt?

            I had never, ever heard a commentator on a major network outright state that “the ref has no idea what’s going on”.

            Again, I get that bounces are part of the game, but there is good and even officiating, and there is horrible and uneven officiating. So again, I defy you to tell me that this wasn’t truly atrocious and embarrassing officiating. You might stick to that claim, but you will be in a minority so scant that you will make the NJ Devil’s “Club 334″ look positively legion.

            “Have you ever watched these ladies play in real life? Every time I go to a CWHL game, I see little kids (both genders) with their eyes wide and jaws dropping, lining up to get autographs at the end of the game, staring up at the players in awe”

            I’ve seen the exact same thing you’ve described at a developmental league arena football game. Doesn’t mean that they should start being able to play professionally to packed houses of just as many fans as attend a CWHL game, and it doesn’t mean it’s “automatically sexism” if they don’t.

  29. […] Which was boring. I really enjoyed the women’s hockey too, and let me tell you, when I read Noora Räty’s open letter, telling the world why she’s retiring despite only being 24 and SO GOOD that she played […]

  30. Woman sports are popular because there more or less the minor leagues. WNBA, women’s soccer, women’s hockey all of them. There no chance women’s hockey players could as this author wrote make it in the NHL they would be dominated in every aspect.

Leave a Reply