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Passing the Buck on Growing Women's Hockey


It's tough to sometimes follow the logic of the IIHF, and it's view of what's best for growing the game.  They have legitimate concerns on one front about the continued viability of club hockey in Europe, and how the CHL's Import Draft hurts each federation's ability to develop their own stars.  When I say this, what I'm getting at is that the incentive for each club to invest in the development of players aged 15-17 is pretty minimal if they lose the players for ages 18-20 to the CHL.  And when they come back, they may not return to the same club.  I've discussed this before, it's been discussed recently, and I don't intend on revisiting too many of the main points regarding it.  My main opinion on the draft is that it works best for smaller nations, but it's helped decimate the Czech/Slovak ranks, which were ripe for the picking and need significant capital invested into them to ensure long term viability (new rinks, taking the older generation and making them coaches and even investors, etc.).

What doesn't jive with the IIHF's argument here is their plan to grow the game for women's hockey in Europe.  What they want is for North American clubs to be more open to taking on national team players from European countries to help expose them to a higher level of play.  Is this not exactly what the CHL Import Draft can provide for junior players from lesser nations?  And furthermore, is this not passing the buck from the European federations, who have done little to promote the women's game at home (outside of Finland, and to a lesser degree Sweden and Switzerland)? 

 

There has to be some kind of practical exchange of ideas going back and forth here.  Is sending players that, let's face it, aren't better than the Canadian and American women coming out of the NCAA and CIS systems really a benefit for the growth of the game in Canada and the USA?  The women from these countries are hoping to establish a professional circuit, and compromising the quality of their league in order to bring a couple of the less than 300 Russian registered female hockey players to play on the 3rd or 4th line doesn't really accomplish much of that. 

What Europe needs, more than anything, is coaches dedicated to developing the women's game at the grassroots level, and the arenas that make the game more accessible to a larger influx of participants in the sport.  At the recent World Hockey Summit, German national team Head Coach Uwe Krupp said he really liked how arenas in Canada were set up, as part of community recreational complexes that included anything from baseball diamonds to curling rinks to swimming pools and tennis courts.  Without more (and modern) facilities, all the will in the world won't make growing women's hockey, and therefore hockey in general, feasible. 

There is a great chance for this to happen.  Over the past twenty years, we had the first generation of European trained hockey players become millionaires.  It may not be the most noble use of their accomplishments, but it provides an example for each national federation to use in the support of creating more modern facilities.  It also provides a potential group of talent, whether for use on the business side of club hockey, or for coaching at the youth level, to draw from for communities across the continent. 

The IIHF publishes a Survey of Players every year, which includes the amount of registered players (divided by sex and age), referees, and rinks in each country in the IIHF.  Each national federation should be using those numbers to illustrate how they compare to other countries, and be able to target which areas they need to improve in order to increase participation in their sport.  I honestly think that the Survey of Players could be the most significant document the IIHF releases.  If used properly, it can be of great aid for not just tracking the growth of the game, but to actually accomplish global growth. 

I'm not trying to say that the Canadian and American federations shouldn't help European federations to grow the women's game...  it is clearly in the interest of everyone to do so.  But I don't think it's the most effective strategy, it seems to be a short sighted one that would only temporarily close the gap between the nations, if it will at all.  But increasing participation has to be the focus of the growth of the game in Europe, and that can only happen with more facilities, coaches, and therefore youth programs.  Somehow, I don't get the feeling that there is enough energy being expended on this front.  Can you really be mad about providing opportunities for your junior male players, yet insist on doing the same thing for your female players?  It gives off the impression that developing opportunities for women's hockey players in Europe is not a concern of the federations...  the ice time for the males is just too valuable.