In Canada, though, female hockey is thriving. Registration numbers continue to grow (unlike stagnant numbers on the boys’ side) to the point where it’s normal…and perhaps even expected…for a girl to grow up wanting to play hockey.
At the elite level, Canada’s reign at the Olympics came to an end in 2018 but the country still has still won four of six gold medals at the Olympics all-time. All of that is thanks in large part to the work of Melody Davidson, who spent 26 years in various roles at Hockey Canada, starting as an assistant coach at the 1994 IIHF World Women’s Championship and then moving on to be the team’s head coach, general manager and head scout of all female programs.
At the end of June, just as Canadians were kicking off the summer of 2020, Davidson said goodbye to Hockey Canada, closing a chapter of a sporting career that would be difficult to rival on the women’s or men’s side.
“There’s lots,” says Davidson when asked about her favourite memories and what she looks back on in her hockey days. “The one thing I would say for memories is all of the people you meet and the quality of those people and the relationships you build. There’s lots of great memories on the blue line with the Canadian anthem and I’m very appreciative of the opportunities provided to me by Hockey Canada for that. Overall, just all of the people and the things you share in regards to the growth of the game and the friendships. The growth we’re seeing internationally in the women’s game with 10 teams in the Women’s World Championship.”
Davidson has left Hockey Canada to join Own The Podium, a not-for-profit organization that was originally created to give Canadian athletes a leg up to medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The program has since expanded into summer sport, which is where Davidson has landed as a high-performance advisor for basketball, rugby, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby teams on the men’s and women’s sides.
One of the things Davidson mentions when asked about what attracted her to the position and organization is the opportunity to work with sports programs like basketball and rugby that want to attain to new heights.
Davidson’s career spanned 36 events with Team Canada, with her teams winning four gold medals at the Olympic Winter Games, five at the IIHF World Women’s Championship and 10 at the 4 Nations Cup. She was head coach of Canada’s National Women’s Team in 1999-2000 and again from 2004-07 and 2009-10, which included those memorable gold medals in 2006 in Italy and 2010 in Vancouver, where female hockey exploded in popularity.
After the win in Vancouver, Davidson moved on from the bench and became head scout for Canada’s national women’s teams, which includes the under-18, under-22 and senior programs and then spent five years as general manager of the women’s program at Hockey Canada, overseeing one of the most successful women’s sports program anywhere.
“One of the strengths of the men’s game has always been the old boys club,” says Davidson. “Sometimes people say that as a negative but it’s not, it’s a network. We never had a network in the women’s game for so many years and now we do. Now, when we go to events, we have meetings, we have small group discussion: ‘what’s happening in your country, what are your challenges?’.”
“I think it’s just the development of the old girls network, if you will, and the fact that everybody understands that we’re all in it to help each other. Any country wants to win and be as successful as possible so it’s not about keeping secrets or not sharing. It’s about helping to make the game better every chance we can.
Davidson is clear that she is not stepping away from hockey and is thrilled that OTP will allow her to commit time to the sport she is most well know for (Davidson is a consultant to the Winnipeg Ice of the Western Hockey League, a premier Canadian under-20 league).
And while some hockey fans, athletes and coaches may be surprised by Davidson’s transition from winter to summer sport, she sees this as coming full circle. Davidson is from Oyen, a small town in the Canadian province of Alberta, and she grew up playing and coaching summer sports. She has had her eye on Own The Podium for some time and things fell into place this past spring with the high performance advisor role.
“One of the things I thought a lot about when I stepped out of the GM position into head scout was that people really only know me from hockey but my original beginning was in sport, multi-sport, Alberta sport, things like that,” says Davidson. “I wanted to have a legacy of sport, not necessarily just hockey down the road. I want hockey to be part of it. That’s been on my mind the last few years as well. I was a recreation director, I was involved in my own community growing up in multiple sports, coaching them and playing them. I’m really excited to get into summer sport and the sports that I’ve been assigned.”
Davidson is looking forward more than she’s looking back, in part because she admits there will be a steep learning curve in joining OTP and being assigned to basketball and rugby. She is thankful for the trust that many in hockey put in her in the past and also mentions the faith that executives at OTP have shown as well.
“Number 1, the opportunities I got don’t happen without the Hockey Alberta support and everything they did in my growing years, and the Bob Nicholsons, Murray Costellos, Scott Smiths, Tom Renneys of the world, the people at Hockey Canada who continue to grow and lead in all different ways,” says Davidson. “And just the trust Anne Merklinger (CEO of Own The Podium) and Mark Hahto (Director, Summer Sport at OTP) are putting in me to dive into team sport and understanding it will take me some time to learn about each world and start to help grow it. Just the trust and faith they’re putting in me, bringing me on board, this late in my career.”