Talk about a timely subject. During the last IIHF Congress a Women’s Ice Hockey Workshop was held for the first time.
It’s been an exciting year for women’s hockey with the unprecedented global spotlight after the U.S. defeated archrival Canada for gold in a shootout at February’s PyeongChang Olympics. This historic three-hour summit focused on ways to spearhead the growth of the sport worldwide.
After Irina Gladkikh, head of winter sports and IF relations at the IOC Sport Department, spoke about the IOC’s gender equality initiative, IIHF President René Fasel emphasized that expanding the opportunity for women to compete on the world’s biggest stage will serve that mandate: “We are going to 10 teams in the Women’s World Championship, and we hope the IOC will accept to go to 10 teams at the Olympic Winter Games too.”
IIHF Women’s Committee Chairwoman Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer – the first registered hockey player in the history of Hungary – examined what has happened since 2010 when the IOC challenged the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament due to a lack of parity. She talked about the hiring of a women’s program manager, new initiatives from various countries such as the U16 tournament, and camps at both the high-performance and development levels. The next one, the 2018 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp, will start this weekend in Finland.
“Over 90 former camp participants went on to become Olympians in either the Sochi 2014 or PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games,” Kolbenheyer said.
Kolbenheyer also highlighted IIHF events that promote women’s hockey such as the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend and the Global Girls’ Game. These are supplemented by promotional videos and campaigns, including the “This is who I am” video shown on the video cube at big events like the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
A wide-ranging panel discussion featured important voices from around the hockey world. Melody Davidson, who manages Hockey Canada’s women’s program, has been hands-on at many events. She recalled how the first IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp in 2011 in Bratislava, Slovakia was an eye-opener for many players about how hard they must work to achieve the level of world-class athletes.
Legendary former Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak, the head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, spoke about the importance of women’s ice hockey being an Olympic sport, and also emphasized how men’s hockey can help women’s hockey. “The last Women’s All-Star Game in Russia was the most-attended one, as it was played in conjunction with the KHL All-Star Game,” said Tretiak.
Olga Votolovskaya, who manages Russia’s women’s hockey program, spotlighted the WHL (Women’s Hockey League), Russia’s seven-team professional women’s circuit with 24 regular-season games for each team. She noted that this season, playoffs took place for the first time. Votolovskaya also presented a video on the successful 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Dmitrov, Russia.
Emma Terho (née Laaksonen), a five-time Olympian and newly elected member of the IOC’s Athletes Commission, talked about developments in Finnish women’s hockey, such as IFK Helsinki’s establishment of a new women’s team, and high-performance camps.
Poland’s Marta Zawadzka, an IIHF Council Member and co-chair of the Women’s Committee, talked about female officiating. This year, the system with four on-ice officials was implemented for top women’s hockey events. She emphasized the importance of recruiting new officials, and noted that it’s also a chance for referees from smaller countries such as Slovenia to move up to the top level. Zawadzka also highlighted the example of Sweden’s Katarina Timglas, a 2006 Olympic silver medallist, who officiated in the gold medal game in PyeongChang.
Meanwhile, Austria’s Martin Kogler showcased the EWHL (Elite Women’s Hockey League). This cross-border league helps to raise the level for various Central European countries. Denmark’s Hvidovre and Kazakhstan’s Aisulu Almaty are among the other teams that have participated in the league as special guests beside the teams from the immediate neighbourhood.
IIHF Vice President Bob Nicholson stated: “Player development is a marathon, not a sprint.” He noted that at the 1998 Olympics, we gave the women the same dream that male players were able to fulfil. Also, since 1990, six women’s teams have won medals, compared to nine on the men’s side. This speaks to a rapid rate of improvement.
IIHF Council Member Luc Tardif (France) seconded President Fasel’s motion about getting 10 teams into the Beijing Olympics, while fellow Council Member Franz Reindl (Germany) highlighted what the Competition & Coordination Committee is doing to help the women’s game. Reagan Carey, USA Hockey’s director of women’s hockey, emphasized that the sport is still growing and that federations can allocate more resources to keep the momentum going. Additionally, the IOC's Ansley O’Neal spoke about the Olympic Sport Programme process.
Lucas Aykroyd, who has covered five Olympics and three Women’s World Championships for IIHF.com, spoke about the role of media in promoting women’s hockey. Aykroyd, a contributor to the Washington Post and the Globe and Mail, stressed three keys for women’s hockey players, clubs and federations: “Make yourself available and visible,” “Give journalists what they need,” and “Get creative.”
Kolbenheyer pointed out that women’s hockey has grown both in competitiveness and in numbers: there are now close to 200,000 women’s players worldwide, compared to just over 170,000 in 2010. Still, from equitable distribution of prize money to more mutual consultation on rule changes, there is still much work to be done. After a lively Q&A session, the event concluded with encouraging words from President Fasel.
Building on the foundation of the Women’s Ice Hockey Workshop, the spotlight will turn to Finland in 2018-19. First, the 2018 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp will take place at the Sport Institute of Finland in Vierumaki (7-14 July). Then, the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship comes to Espoo (4-14 April) and will for the first time include 10 teams.
LUCAS AYKROYD & MARTIN MERK