BEIJING (AP) — Speaking less than 24 hours apart over the final two days of the Olympic women’s hockey tournament, the messages from the two captains were emphatic, emotional and similar in their desire to grow the sport.
Kendall Coyne Schofield choked back tears after USA lost to Canada at Beijing Games for gold saying, “We have to keep pushing for visibility. We have to keep fighting for women’s hockey because (status quo) is not good enough. It can’t stop after the Olympics.
Switzerland’s Lara Stalder expressed a similar theme addressed to her country’s hockey federation after losing the bronze medal game to Finland.
“My message is to build a league in Switzerland. Make the best league in Europe,” Stalder said, noting that she and 13 of her teammates play professionally in other countries.
“Obviously there should be a league, like the NHL, so that we can all play against the best players,” she added, suggesting that men’s teams in the Swiss league should consider sponsoring women’s teams. . “But I think we are a long way from that in Switzerland, and that has to change.”
Another Olympic tournament is over and little seems to have changed. Canada and the United States have met in the final for the sixth time in seven Winter Games, and the question of how to improve the sport on a global scale remains.
At a time when everyone agrees that change is needed, there is little concrete consensus on what needs to be done other than private or public entities making larger investments.
This is the case in North America, where there are few signs of a thaw between the continent’s only professional women’s hockey league, the recently renamed Premier Hockey Federation, and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players‘ Association, whose members are largely American and American. Canadian national team players.
Based on player responses, PHF remains mostly off their radar despite the league’s announcement last month it goes from six to eight teams and more than doubles the salary cap for each team, from $300,000 this year to $750,000 next season.
In a breath, Canadian forward Brianne Jenner said, “It’s a really exciting thing, and I think we want to see success in this league.
In the next breath, however, she added, “But we also want to see something that will stand the test of time.”
When asked who should come to the table if it’s not the PHF, Jenner replied, “That’s a good question.”
The NHL was meant to be that entity, before backing down after the coronavirus pandemic blew a major hole in its budget.
American star Hilary Knight essentially shut the door on the PHF by reiterating the PWHPA’s mission statement to establish a player-focused league with a sustainable business model.
The responses are a setback for the PHF, which has spent the past two years restructuring its governance model by bringing in private ownership groups. The league hoped its decision to invest $25 million over the next three years to raise wages, provide health care and improve facilities would help attract PWHPA members.
If there was a silver lining in Beijing, criticism that the world was falling behind the United States and Canada after several lopsided victories seemed premature.
The Americans briefly trailed the Czech Republic before claiming a 4-1 victory in the quarter-finals.. Canada, meanwhile, were hot on their heels as the Swiss reduced their lead to 5-2 before rallying for an eventual 10-3 win in the semis.
What became clear was that the United States and Canada benefited early on after spending the previous four months playing and training together. Most other nations did not have this advantage. Their players haven’t had much time to be together as they have work commitments and have had to deal with COVID-19 related travel restrictions. They used the preliminary round matches to find their chemistry.
The Beijing Games were the first of seven Olympic women’s hockey tournaments in which each team recorded a win, and the field grew from eight to 10 teams.
At the International Ice Hockey Federation level, newly elected president Luc Tardif has tried to fill a credibility gap, with the governing body being criticized for favoring men’s play over women. The latest example came a few months ago, when the IIHF canceled the Women’s Under-18 tournament for COVID-19 reasons while continuing its Junior Men’s World Championship.
The World Junior Championships were eventually halted days after the tournament started due to COVID-19 and were postponed until August. The women’s under-18 tournament will also be rescheduled this year.
Tardif noted that the IIHF added $5.4 million to its women’s hockey budget to increase its prize money for players in qualifying tournaments and the Olympics.
“I’m not the guy who doesn’t believe in women’s hockey. I think Zsuzsanna is by my side, she’s always there to remind me of that, but she doesn’t need to push me much,” Tardif said, referring to women’s tournament organizer Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer. “I am convinced and I believe in women’s hockey.
Tardif spoke at a press conference originally scheduled for 10 a.m., two hours before the women’s gold medal final. The press conference was moved to 9 a.m. after the IIHF realized it could conflict with the game.
Stalder shook her head in dismay when informed of the potential scheduling conflict.
“Find your answer yourself in there,” Stalder said sarcastically. “We need to make women’s hockey a priority.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.
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