Pictou Advocate sports

Women’s hockey has come of age


Women’s hockey? Way, way back, in the early 1920s I’m told, a provincial league operated for two or three years, featuring teams from New Glasgow, Amherst, Springhill, Glace Bay and Sydney. It was considered nothing more than a fad, and disappeared as quickly as it was organized.

Women’s hockey? When I was five and six years old, during the last years of the Second World War, my father was taking me to senior games in the old Arena Rink downtown. There was no indication women or girls played the sport. Not in public at least. Even when the Arena was crowded, it was mostly men looking on.

Women’s hockey? When my outdoors career fizzled after a couple cold winters on Connolly’s Dam, just off East River Road, there was no indoor hockey or minor leagues in town. The old Arena was history and the Stadium wasn’t yet built. Connolly’s Dam never attracted girls.

Women’s hockey? When my passion for the sport magnified as I reached my teens, got my first newspaper job, and advanced to a career that allowed me to connect with the game in as many ways as I could, girls were figure skating.

Women’s hockey? As I married and Jane and I raised our family in Cole Harbour, minor hockey was significant on our family calendar with sons Gavin and Graham playing in the Cole Harbour Minor Hockey Association. Our daughter Charlotte, like most girls, was in ringette.

Now, fast forward to the 21st century.

In a world that is finally giving more and more equal opportunities to females, women’s and girls’ hockey is growing rapidly, across our communities and provinces, from sea to shining sea.

It’s happened quickly. At first I hardly noticed.

Then my eyes were opened as granddaughters Claire and Anna followed their dad Graham, now a minor hockey coach, into the Cole Harbour system.

I was bitten.

I began new treks to local arenas, realizing girls and women could be just as important, just as entertaining, as the boys and men. I watch the two girls frequently. This season, Claire, 11, is in her first year in peewee, on a competitive team called Metro East Inferno. Anna, seven, is playing full-ice games in novice, a club called The Storm.

What fun it is.

Now retired and within months of my 80-year milestone, it’s no longer mandatory to attend every sports event within reach. The Halifax Mooseheads, university hockey and basketball teams and other events no longer saturate my calendar.

Just watching the two granddaughters gives me plenty of enjoyment, from Cole Harbour Place to the new 4-Pad complex in Dartmouth Crossing, to other local rinks.

Women’s and girls hockey? They need not take a back seat to any levels of the sport. They know how to play.

Women’s hockey? The 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, is showing the sports world that it has come of age.

Like many Nova Scotians, I’ve been attracted even more by this province’s involvement — players Blayre Turnbull of Stellarton, and Jillian Saulnier of Halifax, and assistant coach Troy Ryan of Spryfield who coached the Pictou County Crushers in the franchise’s first five years.

With the Olympics in the spotlight, in conversations everywhere, I put a photo on my Facebook page a few days ago — a photo of granddaughter Claire with Jillian Saulnier, taken after a practice in which the popular Olympian was an instructor at the workout. Many Facebook friends have been clicking the “like” button.

As the Olympics arrived, with no NHL participation on the men’s side, my primary interest switched to the women’s involvement.

For instance, on the first Sunday morning, I stayed home from church to watch the Canadian gals play their opening match in Pyeongchang. The two biggest reasons, of course, were Turnbull and Saulnier. I wasn’t disappointed for a moment. I could hardly wait for their subsequent games, even when they were scheduled for the wee hours of the morning and late at night.

Just a few hours after the Canadian women posted their win against the so-called Russian contingent, I was at Cole Harbour Place watching Anna and her novice teammates. As she showed me, once again, how well she can skate, stick-handle and score, I envisioned a connection between the Olympic team and the 30 or so little novices having so much fun out there on the ice.

It wouldn’t have been that long ago that Blayre and Jillian would have been novices in their respective associations. How quickly time can go by, how quickly careers can develop.

Less than 48 hours after Canada’s initial victory, the team was facing Finland at the ungodly hour of 3:30 in the morning. What do I do? Watch the game live at that crazy time or record the action and see it later in the morning?

I was brave. I went to bed after another evening of Olympic activities. Braver still, I didn’t even set the alarm. First thing I knew, I rolled over and the clock was reading 3:28 a.m. Two minutes later, I was in my favourite chair as my four-legged pals, George and Gracie, staggered into the room, looking at me strangely before stretching out on the floor.

I wasn’t a moment too soon. As I wiped the last evidence of sleep from my eyes, Meghan Agosta found the net to put Canada into the lead. Our side never relaxed, and smartly went on to victory.

I surprised myself — and probably the dogs, too — by not falling asleep during the entertaining action. Saulnier’s goal was a big bonus.

I was back in bed just as Information Morning was signing on.

Women’s hockey? Yes, I’ve become truly hooked. I was counting the hours until the Canadians faced their key American rivals in the last preliminary game, and handled that assignment like pros.

I knew I’d be watching all remaining action.

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