February 12th, Gold Medal Game in Sochi
For most NHL players, the Olympics are just something extra. They’re fun, and being able to say you have a gold medal is pretty cool, but it kind of takes a backseat to the Stanley Cup. For women, that same gold medal is everything. They don’t have a Stanley Cup to win, they just have this one tournament every four years, and this year, America was gunning for gold.
Right up until the final five minutes of the game, it looked like it was in the bag, too, they were 2-0 up on a scrambling Team Canada. With 3:26 left in the third period, Brianne Jenner scores the 2-1 goal. With 51 seconds left, Marie-Philip Poulin scores the tying goal, and would go on to score the OT game winner, securing a fourth consecutive gold medal for the Canadian Women’s Team. It was a behemoth of a comeback, and I’d expect nothing else from the calibre of player in the women’s game at this tournament. This was the game that made me want to learn to play, the game that made people start to look at female hockey players like just hockey players. At least two professional careers were launched from Sochi (Noora Raty, who didn’t medal, but was probably Finland’s best player for the whole tournament, and Shannon Szabados, who’s smashing glass ceilings left, right and centre in the SPHL).
February 20th, Hayley Wickenheiser elected into the IOC athlete commission
Every eight years, the International Olympics Committee elects two new athletes for the athlete commission. This year Saku Koivu and Beckie Scott (two time Olympic medallist in cross-country skiing) stepped down, and Hayley Wickenheiser received almost eight hundred votes to join Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen on the committee for the next eight years.
Wickenheiser has the most Olympic medals of any Canadian athlete, and she’s been paving the way for female hockey players for years, being the first female skater to play in a men’s league, and the first female player to score a goal in a men’s league, playing in two Finnish leagues and a Swedish league.
March, Noora Raty signs with Kiekko-Vantaa, a second tier men’s team
After Sochi, Noora Raty wrote a letter retiring from hockey, because she simply couldn’t afford to play women’s hockey (which is unpaid) without working a full time job, and she just didn’t have the time to do both. She then signed with Kiekko-Vantaa, a Finnish team in the Mestis league. She’s only the second woman to play in this league, after Hayley Wickenheiser, almost ten years previously. She was eventually loaned out to Bewe-Tuuski, a team in the third tier league, and became the first Finnish woman to play in a men’s professional league.
Raty’s always been a history-maker though, in her senior year at Minnesota, she went undefeated all season, with a record of 38-0-0, 17 shutouts, 36 GAA and a save percentage of .956%. I can’t wait to see what kind of numbers she puts up in Mestis.
March 5th, Shannon Szabados practices with the Edmonton Oilers
At the start of March, the Edmonton Oilers had just traded Devan Dubnyk away, but had a practice scheduled for the morning before his replacement, Viktor Fasth would arrive. Shannon Szabados, fresh off her gold medal win in Sochi, stepped in and helped Ben Scrivens out at the Oilers practice. This brought with it a Twitter campaign to get the Oilers to sign Szabados as the backup for that night’s game, with the hashtag #SzabadosForBackup gaining more and more enthusiasm by the minute. Disappointingly, the Oilers signed a goalie from the University of Alberta’s men’s team, but Szabados has said if they ever come calling, she’ll be there.
March 7th, Shannon Szabados becomes the first woman to sign with an SPHL team
Shortly after making headlines by practicing with the Oilers, Szabados decided she wasn’t done. She signed with the Columbus Cottonmouths, a professional men’s team in the Southern Professional Hockey League. She’s the first woman to sign with this league, and she follows Manon Rheaume and Danielle Dube as Canadian women goaltenders to play in men’s leagues.
March 15th, Shannon Szabados becomes the first female goaltender to start a game in the SPHL
In her first start, Szabados made twenty seven saves on thirty one shots in a 4-3 loss to the Knoxville Ice Bears. She would finish the season with a record of 0-2-0 and a save percentage of .894%, but she must have impressed someone on the Cottonmouths, because she was resigned for next season after their exit from the playoffs.
June, Jincy Dunne is the only girl to compete at the 2014 Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships, with the St Louis AAA Blues
At sixteen, Jincy Dunne was selected to join the Team USA women’s hockey team for consideration for the Sochi Olympics. More recently, she was named captain for the US team that ended up winning silver at the 2014 IIHF Under-18 World Championships in Budapest. Nowadays though, she plays with the boys, playing defence for the St Louis AAA Blues in the National Championships in Wisconsin, taking home another silver medal. She could have chosen to play for the Lady Blues with her sister and usual defensive partner, but when a spot opened up on the boys’ team, she took it, playing instead with her brother, and she doesn’t seem inclined to go back to the women’s game any time soon.
June 11th, Charline Labonte becomes the first openly gay North American hockey player
In June, Charline Labonte did what no NHLer has done before, or since. She came out, using her fame as a gold medal winner goaltender in Sochi to highlight her article: I am Charline Labonte, Olympic hockey player, and proudly gay.
She was one of 109 athletes, coaches and sports personalities to officially come out this year, and joins six other openly gay hockey players (all women). She’s one of only nine hockey players to ever come out as gay, but she’s not going to be the last.
October 3rd, Hilary Knight practices with the Anaheim Ducks
Hilary Knight made history in October by becoming the first female skater to practice with an NHL team, and made even more waves by choosing to wear a half visor instead of her usual cage, like every player on the Ducks.
In an interview with The Pink Puck, she revealed that she’d actually had offers from men’s leagues in Europe, but she turned them down, because her priority first and foremost is growing the sport for girls in North America, and she’s determined to make playing in men’s leagues in America work, following in Shannon Szabados’ footsteps. To paraphrase a popular superhero film from a couple of years ago, Hilary Knight recognises the existence of a glass ceiling but given that it’s dumb, she’s electing to ignore it.
October 13th, Anne Schleper practices with the Tampa Bay Lightning
Before the dust even had a chance to settle in the world of women’s hockey, Anne Schleper jumped right up, not to be outdone by her Sochi teammate, joining Steven Stamkos and his Tampa Bay Lightning for a practice. She joined Knight in the Women Wearing A Half Visor club, too, showing the world that women can play hockey without full facial protection. In other words, just like men, without fear of breaking their pretty faces (note: sarcasm).
October 22nd, Noora Raty plays her first game for Kiekko-Vantaa
After finishing the end of the last season in the third tier league in Finland, Raty returns to Kiekko-Vantaa for the start of the new season. She’s played five games, and has a save percentage of .906%. Her goal is to become the starter by the end of the year, and once she gets her feet under her, she can easily pull out the kind of numbers she displayed with the Gophers and the national team.
November 21st, Shannon Szabados becomes the first woman to win a game in the SPHL
After going 0-2-0 to start the season, Shannon Szabados recorded her first professional win in a 5-4 OT victory against the Fayetteville Fireantz. She’s since gone 5-4, and was named the SPHL’s player of the week recently, going 2-0-0 on the week, with a .963% save percentage, and 1.49 GAA. She seems to have settled into her groove, and together with Andrew Loewen, she’s helped them win twelve of the last fifteen games, including a ten game win streak started by her OT victory over Fayetteville.
December 13th, Inaugural CWHL All Star Game
After a year of big news for women’s hockey, the All Star Game is possibly the most exciting. Taking place in the Air Canada Centre, home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with captains voted for by fans, and forty of the best CWHL players chosen, it’s a smaller version of the popular NHL All Star Games. It was even aired by Sportsnet in Canada, and the NHL network in America, one of the first women’s hockey games to be aired by a major network, coming off the back of a new TV deal whereupon Sportsnet will air some regular season CWHL games, as well as the Clarkson Cup final in March.
It’s been an exciting year for women’s hockey, but it’s only going to get better. With news of new leagues in Europe, and talk of expansion for the CWHL itself, 2015 is going to be even better. We’ll have to wait and see which glass ceiling gets smashed next.