Steven Stamkos on the subway and other bizarre phone interviews

Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos is on the cover of the latest issue of The Hockey News. I was tasked with getting ‘Stammer’ on the phone for the article, which also included interviews with teammates, family and others who know the captain.

And as it happens, Stamkos has impeccable timing that stretches far beyond his goal-scoring prowess. The day Stamkos was supposed to call me, he was given my office number and my cell phone number, since I would be commuting home at one point. In Toronto, the subway line is almost entirely underground, with only a handful of stops offering daylight – and therefore, cell phone signal. Just as my train pulled into one such stop, my phone rang. I pulled one earbud out and with my iPod still blaring into the other side of my head, answered the phone as I jumped onto the station platform. It was Stamkos.

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Re-training the Red Dragon for the 2018 Winter Olympics

Ronnie Shuker

It’s a rare for a country to take women’s hockey more seriously than men’s. Heck, it’s still a challenge to get some hockey-playing nations to take it seriously at all. But with its women’s team ranked a respectable 15th while its men’s team sits a distant 38th, China is getting serious about its national women’s program ahead of the next Winter Olympics and backing the team with some big-time money.

With the 2018 Games being held close to home in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Chinese are demanding a strong showing from their women’s team. The field is wide-open behind perennial powerhouses Canada and the United States, and China is eyeing a shot at a bronze medal. The women finished seventh in 2010 but failed to qualify in 2014, and the country is pouring money into the program to get the team back in the mix on the international scene.

“Their training center was like the Vatican,” said Daniel Noble, a Toronto-based strength and conditioning coach. “That’s their job – to train all day. So it was a very cool environment to be in. It all comes from government funding. The dining hall is like a five-star restaurant. It’s unbelievable how they are treated. They get treated very, very well.” Read more

Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Arlene Dickinson joins up with Canadian Women’s Hockey League

Adam Proteau
Arlene Dickinson

The planet’s only professional hockey league for women got a notable boost Wednesday when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League added Arlene Dickinson – wildly successful businesswoman, author, philanthropist, and TV personality on CBC’s Dragons’ Den reality investment show – to its board of directors.

Since its inception in 2007, the five-team CWHL has been making slow-but-steady inroads in the business community, but the presence on the board (which also includes Calgary Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke, CBC analyst Cassie Campbell-Pascal and Trina Crosby, mother of Sidney Crosby) of Dickinson, a savvy venture capitalist and master marketer, can only accelerate that process. Anyone who’s seen her operate on Dragon’s Den has seen a thoughtful woman well-connected to the world around her and someone passionate about more than just making a buck.

Considering the CWHL is still not close to paying its players a livable salary, there’s no way Dickinson is working with the league because its teams are about to turn a profit. She’s in it because it’s an organization that empowers women, and she’s aiming to ensure it prospers. Read more

Will women ever get into the NHL coaching ranks?

Ryan Kennedy
Cassie-Campbell

When it comes to barrier smashing, the NBA has been a lot more results-oriented than hockey. Basketball already lists an openly gay player and a female union boss and now thanks to the San Antonio Spurs, a female assistant coach in Becky Hammon.

A former WNBA pro herself, Hammon earned her clipboard based on her basketball IQ, convincing Spurs coach Gregg Popovich that she deserved a shot with the defending champs. So who will be trailblazer in hockey? There’s no reason the NHL couldn’t have a female assistant coach right now (or a head coach for that matter).

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How the NHL can do a better job of welcoming women

Adam Proteau
Female fan (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, You Can Play Project co-founder and NHL director of player safety Patrick Burke tweeted an interesting thought:

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Burke’s question makes the point clear: pro sports could be doing a much better job of engaging with and cultivating female fans. But how? I’m not qualified to speak for them, so I solicited answers from female friends and women on social media. Here are some of the best responses:

1. Don’t market specifically to women. Market to hockey fans. This was by far the most popular answer and speaks largely to the fact women don’t want to feel singled out among the larger pool of hockey fans. It makes perfect sense, given that sports fandom is an exercise in tribalism; as soon as you start carving the tribe into sub-groups, the alienation process kicks in.

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Arriving at this end would mean doing away with promotions such as “Ladies’ Nights” and “Hockey and High Heels” initiatives, but in doing so, the league would strengthen its bond with women who already love and understand the game and aren’t turned off by a patronizing approach.

2. The color pink doesn’t define the female gender. The NHL’s decision to aggressively market pink and/or bedazzled versions of team jerseys doesn’t sit well with many women. They’d prefer to wear the colors of their actual team and not conform to tired gender-assigned hues.

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3. More variance and fairness in merchandising options. Speaking of jerseys, the lack of proper-fitting team wear for women is a real problem. So is the idea women should be charged more for clothing than men. That crap may fly in the hairstyling industry, but sports is supposed to be different. They don’t charge women different ticket prices than men and the same ought to go for things such as t-shirts.

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4. Hire more women. The NBA Players Association just hired its first female executive director. Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees hired a female assistant GM in 1997. But there are no women to be found in positions of prominence in NHL team management circles – and for that matter, there still aren’t enough women covering hockey in the media.

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There are two possible explanations for this – either there are no women who have insight on the game, or teams and news organizations aren’t doing enough to integrate one gender into the mix – and one is absolute nonsense. The sooner more is done to show women there’s a place for them in all corners of the game, the better off the sport will be.

5. No more ice girls/cheerleaders. The Florida Panthers recently discontinued their cheerleading squad, and that’s only going to help them in the eyes of women who see half-dressed females promoted and instantly feel objectified. Unless teams are willing to establish Chippendale teams of male cheerleaders, equality should rule – and cheerleaders/all-female ice crews should be a thing of the past.

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6. Basically, don’t do anything that makes women feel different, and do more to establish a culture of inclusion. That’s a simple enough message, right? Women aren’t The Other. They’re as varied in their background, experience and perspective as men are, and just as devoted to and passionate about hockey.

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If the NHL really wants to do more for its female consumers, removing as many labels as possible is the key. For the sport to continue growing, there has to be an improved sense of equality and stronger efforts to emphasize similarities between the genders. My friend – we’ll call her ‘C’ – encapsulated this mentality perfectly in this email:

I may be in the minority, especially of those you encounter on Twitter, but I look at the “marketing” a little differently than a lot of my peers on Twitter.

I’m not insulted by being called a “female fan.” I also have no problem with Hockey n’ Heels nights (though I wouldn’t go to one because it’s below my knowledge level, not because of the concept). I’m not offended by pink merchandise nor will I complain about the “cut” of a shirt or ice girls.

I just see it differently.

People spend so much time hating on each other. My saying these things must mean I’m not a “feminist” or I’m not as good of a “feminist” as someone who stands against all these things.

Neither of those are true. I simply believe that everyone is different. There are women who enjoy pink clothing (otherwise it wouldn’t sell), there are women who get a lot of benefit from the introductory information provided at hockey n’ heels style events and there are women who aspire to be ice girls. Either way it’s okay in my book.

The truth is marketing is a business. If people didn’t buy pink shirts they wouldn’t sell them. If women didn’t attend hockey n’ heels teams wouldn’t host it.

Instead of ripping on teams and the league for producing merchandise that sells or events that people attend maybe we as women should look back at ourselves and do a little less shaming of each other.

Instead of belittling the people who like these events or wear the t-shirts, saying they’re wrong or ignorant or not real fans or feminists, why not offer a culture of support and celebration?

Why not enjoy that people are enjoying the game?

Well said, C. When hockey gets to a point where men and women can enjoy the game without reminders of their chromosome makeup, it will have done all fans a tremendous service.

Tom Renney faces huge challenges at Hockey Canada

Tom Renney

When Bob Nicholson took over as president and CEO of Hockey Canada in 1998, few people outside the hockey industry knew who he was. Over the next 16 years, Nicholson went on to create a corporate monolith that generated millions of dollars in revenues and won countless gold medals on the international stage.

That will be an enormously difficult act to follow. That the board of Hockey Canada has reportedly handpicked Tom Renney to do it is, well, a little curious. Renney is a man of enormous integrity and has a coaching resume – particularly in the international game – that would rival that of anyone in the world. But this is the thing. Hockey Canada is not a hockey team. For the purposes of the president and CEO, Hockey Canada is far more a business than it is a hockey organization. Read more

Woeful Oilers land big off-ice free agent in Nicholson

Nicholson

NEW YORK – When Bob Nicholson stepped down as president and CEO of Hockey Canada in May, he made it clear he was looking for another challenge. Well, if that was his desire, he certainly found one. And while the Edmonton Oilers have had all kinds of trouble attracting big free agents for their on-ice product, they appear to have succeeded in landing the most prized free agent hockey executive in the world.

A TSN report has been confirmed by thn.com that the Oilers have a news conference scheduled for Friday in which they are expected to announce that Nicholson has been hired to be CEO of Rexall Sports, which owns the Edmonton Oilers. As first reported on Twitter by thn.com Wednesday night, Nicholson chose the Oilers over offers from the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks. It’s believed the Capitals offered the most money, but the challenge of being a part of rebuilding the Oilers on the ice appealed to Nicholson. Read more

Gay female Olympic hockey players are increasingly comfortable coming out – and that’s great

Adam Proteau
Charline Labonte (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

As someone who has regularly covered elite women’s hockey over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing snide remarks about the sport from other journalists. If I wasn’t getting an arched eyebrow from some crusty old colleague who unfairly wanted to compare the quality of hockey to men’s hockey, I heard “jokes” about how all the women who succeeded at the highest level of their chosen sport were all lesbians, butchy, abrupt and unfeminine.

Of course, I knew how idiotic all that garbage was. I knew there were straight and gay female players from all walks of life, and I knew they were as friendly and multifaceted as any other group of people. I knew how that hateful mindset said everything about the anger and confusion a head and heart must be entangled in to arrive at those baseless conclusions, and said nothing about the targets of that hate.

But what bothered me most wasn’t each individual bonehead who was compelled to quietly reveal their bigotry to me. Rather, I was troubled to think female players would have to stay in the closet for the years and decades to come as irrational loathing was passed down from one homophobic generation of backward people to another. I could see how careful players on the Canadian or American women’s national team were when discussing their sexuality and I fully understood why. When you could leave a rink or a media scrum without having to worry about the very essence of your soul being judged and challenged by people who didn’t know you, why wouldn’t you do that? Keeping your private life to yourself was the best way to keep a semblance of order in your day-to-day existence.

However, as society has moved rapidly to accept gay people and give them the full spectrum of human rights to which they’re entitled, that sea change has extended into the hockey world. And it’s absolutely wonderful to see these incredibly accomplished women of hockey speak out with pride and confidence about who they really are.

To wit: Canadian national team goaltender Charline Labonte has written an inspirational first-person story in which she describes her life, her hockey journey and her girlfriend (Canadian Olympic speedskater Anastasia Buscis). The 31-year-old, who won three Olympic gold medals in a playing career that ended after the 2014 Sochi Games, made it clear that, although she was always open with her teammates, even the dressing room culture in the women’s game – which has been understanding and accepting even as the world around it failed to do the same – had room to evolve and improve. Read more