U.S.-Canada women’s hockey rivalry needs more support to flourish

Hope sounded like shrill screams.

Dreams looked like the smiles of awe of kids wearing hockey jerseys and shirts and holding signs of encouragement Monday at the Crypto.com Arena as the US women’s hockey team took on Canada in the latest installment of one of the fiercest rivalries in sports. Not in women’s sport – in all sports.

The Americans and Canadians are the class of women’s hockey that only came to public attention during the Winter Olympics. They never disappoint. Her great goalkeeper acrobatics and goalkeeper scoring make for exhaustingly dramatic duels at the Olympics and World Cups. They shine with their talent and their competitiveness and their tenacity, although as children they were told not to play hockey, they were a nuisance that they would waste time training them to lead boys.

In the four years between the Olympics, as women hockey players struggle for adequate resources and work to build a stable professional league, those who rule the game continue to drop the ball when they should drop the puck.

The US women’s national team had to threaten a boycott of the 2017 World Championships until USA Hockey increased their pay and promised to give the team much-needed youth development programs and more opportunities to showcase their exceptional talent. Out of this came the US-Canada Rivalry Series, which expanded to seven games this year, but is still not nearly long enough to raise awareness of who the players are and what they’re doing — and that they’re constantly changing between rounds must work for a better hockey future international stage.

“It’s every day. And I wish there were more opportunities for people to see what that’s like every day, so that the game gets a little bit more sustainable, so women can keep playing that game,” USA team captain Kendall Coyne Schofield said lost to Canada at the Olympic gold medal game in Beijing in February.

U.S. goaltender Nicole Hensley stops a shot against Canada in the first period at Crypto.com Arena on Monday.

U.S. goaltender Nicole Hensley stops a shot against Canada in the first period at Crypto.com Arena on Monday.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

“It’s something that goes through my mind every day. Our game in Vegas [before their stop in Los Angeles] was great, but do you know how incredible it would be if our hands weren’t tied and our feet weren’t tied because we often lack resources between events?”

Monday’s game, a 3-2 overtime win for Canada, was the fifth in the series, which resumes in Canada in February. The crowd at the Crypto.com Arena was lively, initiating chants and chanting and roaring with hometown pride as Eastvale defender Cayla Barnes scored Team USA’s first goal.

“It was great. I loved the crowd. Had a lot of energy,” Barnes said. “It’s my first time playing at home so it was super fun. I had family and friends in the stands. Overall so it was a great experience.”

During a busy holiday week for an event scheduled about a month ago, the attendance of about 8,640 wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t as good as these women deserved.

They should have played in a fuller house. Players from both teams should have been seen and heard all over LA, by any means necessary to promote a unique sporting event. How can you know if there’s an audience for a sport if people aren’t made aware that it exists and that it’s around?

US striker Taylor Heise controls the puck in the second period in front of Canadian Renata Fast.

US striker Taylor Heise controls the puck in the second period in front of Canadian Renata Fast.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

How do you know it can be you if you can’t see it?

“No matter how many young girls there are, you never know who’s going to be the next Hilary Knight or Kendall Coyne in the seats,” said US coach John Wroblewski, who lives in South Bay.

“Watching this tour, watching this series, it’s so much more than just filling an arena. It has so much to do with inspiring not only the next wave of women hockey players, but also fans of the game and people who will love the game.”

College hockey has been a great source of sustenance for the Canadian and American women’s teams, as well as other nations hoping to break this North American stranglehold. “Our collegiate players and this infrastructure are pretty solid. But once you walk that stage, it’s a really bittersweet moment,” said Coyne Schofield. “Because the locker room, the daily ice cream, the weight room that you wake up daily and have alongside your training just disappears.”

US goalkeeper Nicole Hensley stops a shot by Canadian striker Jamie Lee Rattray in the first period.

US goalkeeper Nicole Hensley stops a shot by Canadian striker Jamie Lee Rattray in the first period.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

The landscape for women’s professional hockey has split into two camps. The Premier Hockey Federation, formerly the National Women’s Hockey League, has seven independent teams and has affiliated with a handful of NHL clubs. There is also the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Assn., which includes most of the best Americans and Canadians. It hosts the Dream Gap Tour and events across the US and Canada. Tennis legend and activist Billie Jean King and Dodgers chairman Mark Walter have held talks with the PWHPA.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said he would let the women’s hockey leagues work out their problems before joining one. “We actively support both North American women’s hockey organizations, and that support has increased over time,” Assistant Commissioner Bill Daly said via email. “Our position on operational support remains the same.”

The popularity of women’s basketball and soccer has increased, both in terms of broadcast ratings and attendance. Until women’s hockey gets enough marketing support to see if a pro league is viable, players will have to settle for the Olympic spotlight and the occasional big moment like Monday’s.

Cayla Barnes, left, celebrates with forward Abby Roque after scoring in the first period against Canada.

Cayla Barnes, left, celebrates with forward Abby Roque after scoring in the first period against Canada.

(Ashley Landis/Associated Press)

“One of the things about women’s sport is that you don’t have consistency,” Knight, the all-time world championship leader, said last weekend. “You may know of a game less than a month in advance – unfortunately we have that coming up on Monday. Sometimes you can’t help it. But once we get that consistency, you know where to find your favorite club, your favorite players who play night after night and you know it’s easier to find them, I think that’s really going to set the mold for women’s sport breaking across the board, and hockey will also be one of those forward-looking sports.”

Right now, hopes and dreams live in screams, clap and chants for women who deserve it and so much more.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/hockey/story/2022-12-19/usa-canada-rivalry-series-womens-hockey U.S.-Canada women’s hockey rivalry needs more support to flourish

Emma Bowman

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