(Photo courtesy of PWHPA.com)
Hockey has been known to be a sport that brings people together. From celebrating gold medal games as a nation, to playing road hockey as a kid, it is a sport seemingly integral to Canadian culture. However, the current landscape of professional hockey ignores half of the population. Young boys shoot pucks after school with dreams to grow up and be the next Sidney Crosby or Connor MacDavid, but girls don’t have the same visible goal to strive for. This is what is called the dream gap, and what the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) is hoping to close.
Women’s hockey in North America has had a tumultuous year. While earlier in April, the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup broke records for viewership, but one week later, the league announced they were folding. Over 150 athletes, including the Calgary Inferno who had days ago been hoisting the cup, were left without jobs.
After the 2019 women’s world championship that saw the United States narrowly edge out the home team Finland for gold, over 200 players from both the CWHL and NWHL released a statement saying they were stepping away from playing for the year, using the hashtag #ForTheGame.
This movement led to the creation of the PWHPA, and the subsequent announcement of the #DreamGapTour, partnered with Billie Jean King’s Women’s Sports Foundation. The tours aim is to help provide a visible dream for young girls to pursue a career in hockey. The tour features not just an opportunity to see other women play, but also provides skill development through camps run by the PWHPA athletes. Some of the ticket proceeds go to buying hockey equipment for young girls.
The tour, which began mid-September, has been off to a very successful start. With stops taking place in Toronto, Chicago and Hudson, New Hampshire. Toronto saw a sold-out crowd for all four tournament games at Westwood Arena. Teams Johnston, Jenner, Poulin and Knox faced off not only for the 1100+ fans in attendance, but also in front of a wide array of media outlets including TSN, Sportsnet, and CBC Sports. It was a star-studded event to open the tour, with ceremonial face-off guests including Brian Burke, Don Cherry, Ron MacLean, Tara Sloan, and guest coaches Tessa Bonhomme, and Gerry Dee.
Momentum only grew for the next two stops. Heading into Hudson, the tour was able to attract big-name sponsors including Dunkin’ Donuts, long-time supporter of the NWHL, and Bauer Hockey. In Chicago, the PWHPA was able to showcase some ambassador coaches including Cammi Granato, Jayna Hefford, previous commissioner of the CWHL, and Angela Ruggiero — all of whom are both gold-medal winners, and Hall of Famers. That stop also brought in an excited sponsor with Magellan Corporation, who were eager to assist in growing the game.
“Billie Jean King is a sports, social justice and equality icon,” noted Bob Arthur, CEO of Magellan Corporation. “When she and Ilana Kloss approached us to support women’s hockey, the fit was natural. We are already proud partners of NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars and the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. Let’s level the playing field for women and girls in sports.”
While it is encouraging to see the growth in sponsorship support, and the number of young girls who have decided to play hockey, more needs to be done. There still isn’t a league where women can make a living wage or have a schedule similar to the men’s leagues. On Nov. 6th, the PWHPA, in partnership with Budweiser, released a chilling video that used Stompin’ Tom’s famous Hockey Song to create a rally cry for the #ForTheGame movement.
“Budweiser has supported all levels of hockey and its fans for more than 10 years and we’re proud to be an official partner of the PWHPA, but we know this is just the beginning,” said Todd Allen, VP Marketing, Labatt Breweries of Canada. “We wanted to go one step further with this rallying cry to not only bring people together to support the mission of the PWHPA, but also provide a united voice for the players.”
“We’re excited to launch this anthem with Budweiser and some of our biggest supporters as a sign of solidarity in supporting the PWHPA’s goal of advocacy and awareness for the future of women’s hockey,” said Jayna Hefford, Operations Consultant, PWHPA. “We hope others will answer this rallying cry to support women’s hockey in any way they can as we look to the future and ensure that hockey remains for us all.”
The video, featuring star players including Natalie Spooner, Shannan Szabados, Sarah Nurse and Renata Fast, regained attention due to the tour. The main message of this video was that hockey should be #ForUsAll.
Following this came an announcement of another stop on the Dream Gap Tour that will take place on Saturday Nov. 23rd at York University in Toronto. The event will see teams Fortino and Larocque compete against each other in an exciting match.
If you are looking for a way to support women’s hockey than this is it. Buy a ticket and bring a friend. Share the event if you cannot attend. These women had to give up continuing their hockey careers to give the chance for the next generation to have the potential to see a future in the sport. Hockey has the potential to be the best game you can name, but at the moment, only half of the population can mean it when they say it.