Then and now.
I can still recall those early morning practices, getting fully dressed at home and being driven to the rink by a half-awake father, who was always sure to stop at Timmy’s along the way. It seems not much has changed since then to now, well, minus the whole putting my gear on at home – I think I have outgrown that stage just a little!
Throughout my childhood and high school hockey years, my parents played a huge role in my hockey career. When I would outgrow my equipment, they were the ones to dish out the cash for a new set of pads. When hockey registration bills were due, they were there to sign the check. But when Ohio State came knocking on my door and offered me an experience of a lifetime, I had to turn my back on that support and enter a whole new world, dependent on myself…
OK, that wasn’t entirely the case, which I found out my freshman year as a Buckeye. As a member of a Div. I NCAA hockey squad, we were taken care of, and I mean really taken care of. From custom-made equipment to head-to-toe OSU hockey apparel, we were spoiled. I really did feel like a “pro.” But looking back, I realize there was so much I took for granted throughout those four years. The saying is true, you really don’t appreciate what you have until it is gone.
Returning this season to play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, when the time came to get my skates sharpened, I was lost. In Ohio, all I had to do was write my number on the white board and they would be done for me that day. Realizing I was forced to be independent like the rest of the amateur hockey world, I decided to hit up a local hockey shop and entrust my skates with them. Thinking nothing of it, I dropped them off and said I would return in 15 minutes. All I can say about the next time I stepped on the ice is – man I miss having an equipment manager!
Comparing today to my early years, not much has changed despite all of my experiences. Instead of my parents driving me to the rink - or on a team bus or airplane - I drive myself to the rink. There is no more white board to write my number on when I need my skates sharpened. Likewise, there are no more full rides or housing stipends coming my way.
In the CWHL, the players aren’t complaining about contracts or lack thereof – there is no such thing. The women who comprise the CWHL are there because they love the game and are highly competitive athletes who have found a place to play and showcase their talent. They are students, full time employees and mothers – all working for a living, only dreaming to play hockey for a living.
All this talk these days of a recession is not news to us. The struggle to keep a professional women’s league afloat has been an issue for years.
Prior to the existence of the CWHL, the National Women’s Hockey League failed to harvest a home for the elite, folding prior to the start of the 2007-08 season due to financial problems.
In the wake of all the turmoil, several players, including Sami Jo Small and Jen Botterill, stepped up and were at the forefront of launching the CWHL. Today, many of the teams are supported by the girls’ minor hockey associations in the communities they are located.
Thanks to league, team and individual fundraising/sponsorships, the league is just holding on.
“We’ve worked tirelessly all season as a committee to try to raise enough money for all the teams to be able to play, however, with the financial situation in Canada, this has proven to be a daunting task,” says Small, who is chair of the sponsorship committee.
Ultimately, what the future of this league holds for these players is unknown. But what we know for sure is we will continue to drive to the rink, day in and day out as long as we have a place to play, because that is our life, that is what we do, and that is what we love.
Erika Vanderveer is a goaltender with the Burlington Barracudas of the Canadian Women’s League, a six-team circuit featuring many the game’s top female players. Vanderveer is in her first season in the CWHL after spending four years tending goal at Ohio State on a full scholarship and one year in Europe in the European Women’s League. She will blog for THN.com throughout the season. Read her other entries HERE.