More on hockey: Whither our golden girls when Games are over?

‘Cause I’m beating this horse good and dead before I move onto another topic to rage about, I wrote about hockey again, this time for my Metro column:

Both our hockey teams struck Olympic gold in Vancouver. The next day, hockey fever raged on for the NHL. But whither the women after the podium is packed away? Is there support for women’s hockey beyond the Games?

I polled a few hockey-obsessed friends: The answer was no. For one, there’s no high-profile league; even if there were, the game lacks speed and finesse, one said. Another said women don’t excite the way pugilistic NHLers do. Wait, where did that fuzzy feeling go? I thought we were proud of our golden girls.

Despite limited interest in the game itself, I love women’s hockey. The players push the envelope of what’s seen as acceptable for “the fairer sex.” Look no further than the constant chortling about lesbian players and coaches, and about Team Canada’s cigar-and-beer-fuelled celebration (which I maintain was a tongue-in-cheek jab at how male players celebrate) to understand its place in our social fabric.

Female hockey players have always been a bit subversive. The sport began with men, and as a result, fans have come to see the boys’ version as the way it ought to be played. Now, women are adopting it, but with a style that’s all their own. I must be among a minority of those who would welcome that kind of play — if this wasn’t the case, a North American league like the NHL would exist by now.

There are some examples of women in men’s hockey: Hayley Wickenheiser in European leagues; Manon Rheaume in NHL exhibition games — but one league said Wickenheiser shouldn’t play with men, while Rheaume was dismissed as a publicity stunt. Still, everyone rubbernecked — eager to see if these gals could overcome that unspoken notion that men always outclass women, and actually beat a guy.

It’s a difficult pill to swallow, acknowledging that some spectators will never be inspired by women for their sheer athleticism; that she will always be good … but only for a girl.

Add to that the talk that women’s hockey ought to be removed from the Olympics. Supporters cried foul, citing limited opportunities and underfunding, maintaining that it will just take time to establish the sport and develop a deep talent pool. I hope that’s the case. That would be golden.

What I didn’t have room to add was an observation that when it comes to women’s sports — not just hockey — we tend to love it with our minds, in a cerebral, affirmative sort of way that says, ‘Yes! We support your right to play any game you please (but I don’t have to watch it, right?)’ while we will always love men’s sports more intensely, elementally, and we will feel that love with our hearts — from the very core to the tips of our raggedy-ass, blue and white Maple Leafs clown wigs. No one ever sits on the edge of their couch in double overtime, hands locked in prayer and brow furrowed, fervently in prayer to the hockey gods, waiting and hoping their bunch of breathless and exuberant women to hoist a silver-plated cup, y’know?

I suppose you can’t force anyone to feel a pure sense of joy and passion for something if it doesn’t strike you that way, but I wonder how much of it is manufactured by a celebrity-driven, money-soaked, extremely powerful league and sponsor system, and how much is rooted in the athletes themselves and their willful determination. I don’t believe female players feel their love for their sport any less than male players do, nor that they are limited in passing on that sentiment to their audience. If you do, you should read Roy McGregor’s first hand account of the cigar-and-booze celebration, which made me love the women’s team all that much more.

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