Photo courtesy of USA Hockey.
Hidden behind the men’s World Junior Championship (WJC) over the holidays was the women’s equivalent U18 world championship.
Starting in 2008, the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship (U18WWC) has showcased up-and-coming hockey stars, just as the World Juniors have done for the men since 1977. In the tournament’s history, the gold medal has only ever been awarded to either Canada or the U.S., with the States taking the overall lead with eight wins compared to Canada’s five.
Since the start of the tournament, the world of women’s hockey has seen significant growth in popularity both in the professional and national realms. However, while the men’s WJC is known as one of the biggest tournaments of the year, most people are unaware the women’s equivalent even exists. The small amount of media coverage and minimal advertising for the event highlights some of the many issues that need to be addressed.
The Streaming Issue
So, you somehow manage to hear that there’s a women’s tournament happening during the WJC, but where can you find it? For the men’s, most games were simultaneously on two different TSN channels (three for the bigger games), the TSN app, and TSN direct. If you couldn’t watch the game, there were also score and standing updates on the TSN website or The Score app. For the women, the only option was streaming through the IIHF website. While that seems to still be fairly accessible, the main issue here is that the stream provided by the IIHF was shockingly low quality.
As seen in the photo above, anyone interested in the tournament had to watch through a fishbowl lens where the players seemingly skate “uphill” in each direction. That was the only angle given for the entire game, and not only was it distorted, but also dim. The low quality made it practically impossible to make out players’ names or numbers. If the teams had similar colours it was even a challenge to determine which country had the puck.
Keeping track of plays during each game was also a challenge as not only was the angle bad, but there was no commentary. The in-arena announcer could be heard, but the sound quality was so low it wasn’t always possible to comprehend what they were saying. You couldn’t tell what penalties were called or how long they were for, and the jumbotron in the stream was basically illegible. The only added graphics by the IIHF was a score banner that only registered goals, period, and time (though time was recorded in European football style where it would say the minute of play in the entire game instead of counting down each period).
The low quality of the stream sparked outrage among viewers, and soon Twitter was abuzz with fans voicing their displeasure with the disrespect given to the tournament by the IIHF.
The IIHF responded with a statement saying they were unable to check the quality of the stream beforehand and were sorry for the poor quality. They acted quickly to improve the situation, and the next round of games saw improvements through multiple angles and even some replays.
It’s exciting to see that voicing an interest in women’s sport can lead to change, even if it is just a small step forward. However, the fact that the stream quality hadn’t even been checked beforehand says everything about how little respect there is for women’s sports.
About 10,600 people watched the gold medal game. The IIHF issued one tweet about it. One.
Sure, in the grand scheme of sports viewership, 10,600 is not a lot. But, considering the lack of advertisement, poor streaming quality and time of broadcast it is perhaps more than expected.
The Tournament Results
So what actually occurred throughout the event? A lot happened in hockey while most people across North America were asleep — Team Canada games took place at 6:30am EST, with U.S. games at 10:30 a.m.
The eight teams taking part were split into two groups. Group A consisted of Canada, USA, Finland, and Russia. Group B included Switzerland, Czechia, Sweden, and Slovakia. After preliminaries, Canada was at the top going 3-0 including a 2-1 win over the States, and the U.S. finished with a record of 2-1.
The semi-final matchups saw Canada and the USA advance to the gold medal game. Canada overtook Finland 4-1 after leading 3-0 in the first. Scoring was opened by Marianne Picard at 6:11 in the first period, and Finland broke the shutout with a third period goal by Nelli Laitinen. The USA swept Russia aside with a score of 3-0, and saw goals by Lindie Lobdell, Lacey Eden, and Emma Gentry.
Russia ended up finishing the tournament with some silverware as they overtook Finland by a score of 6-1 to win the bronze.
The gold medal game between Canada and the U.S. was a hard-fought battle, full of back-and-forth excitement. Abbey Murphy opened up the scoring in the first period to give the USA the lead. Canada struck back in the third with a slick goal from Sarah Paul to keep the game alive. Heading into overtime, there was a lot of persistence on both sides but at 14:52 Kiara Zanon netted her first of the tournament to win USA the gold.
Main stars for Canada in the tournament include: goalie Eve Gascon, who stopped 90/96 shots to earn a 93.75 save percentage; Jenna Buglioni, who led the team in points with four in five games (one goal, three assists); and the trio of Marianne Picard, Lindsay Bochna, and Sarah Paul who led Canada in scoring with two goals apiece.
Leading scorers for the USA were Abbey Murphy and Lacey Eden who also scored two goals each. The states also finished the tournament with the best save percentage at 96.52.
The Promise of an Actual Broadcast?
After the U18 Women’s World Championship and the World Junior Championship, TSN and Hockey Canada announced they had signed a new media deal that will extend through the 2033-34 season that sparked the interest of many women’s sport fans.
As shown in the above photo, TSN and RDS will maintain their exclusive media rights to Hockey Canada events throughout the time period including the World Juniors, men’s and women’s World Championships, U18 Women’s World Championship, and many more. After the atrocity that was the stream for the U18WWC this year, this statement seemed to be an exciting step forward for women’s sport.
It is important to note, that in a previous press release in 2013, the content is very similar. The only main differences were the wording changes from “30 games from key events” to “an extensive schedule of games annually from Hockey Canada events”, and the specific mentioning of the U18WWC. During the past tournament, while still the rights holder to Hockey Canada events, TSN didn’t even have a score tab for the U18WWC, and this new press release doesn’t explicitly show that a change is coming. The phrase “extensive schedule” of games is arguably no less ambiguous than the previous wording, so hopefully the mention of the Women’s tournament is not just an appearance of inclusion, but an actual step forward in broadcasting of women’s sport.
The Benefits for TSN to Actually Broadcast the U18WWC
There are many reasons why broadcasting women’s sport should be the norm, but unfortunately it still is not the case. Without seeing women playing sport, girls can’t dream of that being a future for them. Many studies have shown significant benefits both personally and socially from getting young girls involved in sport, and they need to know that is a route they can take.
Of course, sports is a business, and goodwill does not inspire everyone. Aside from the great societal benefits, there are many monetary gains that can be made from broadcasting the women’s game. The women’s tournament took place in Slovakia while the men were in Czechia. That means that different arenas were used, which allows for more sponsorship opportunities. It’s a whole new set of rink boards and commercial time that has yet to be taken advantage of. While there is still an issue of an investment gap when it comes to supporting the women’s game, even a small sponsor would still be a welcome positive. The men’s WJC saw multiple channels showcasing the exact same game which means the opportunity to bring in new viewers is lost. As the games for each tournament tended to be at different times of day, splitting the channels may not even be necessary, but the opportunities for new sponsors in-arena still remains. Adding the women’s broadcast also adds new opportunities to develop talent and create jobs. It would allow for newer reporters to gain more experience, creating greater skill levels across the organization.
It is time to stop shoving the U18WWC under the carpet and pretending it doesn’t exist. It’s here, it’s real, and it’s exciting hockey that deserves to be showcased.