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

Team USA’s Meghan Duggan, Red Sox fan, mocks Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda before opening pitch

Matt Larkin
duggan

Score one for the trolls.

Meghan Duggan, captain of the American women’s Olympic team, did an ingenious job poking fun at a controversy surrounding the New York Yankees Thursday night. Duggan, a Massachusetts native, was on hand at Fenway Park to throw the game’s ceremonial first pitch, clad in a Red Sox jersey. Before she popped the mitt, she made a cheeky little gesture, touching her neck:

 

Duggan first pitch

Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY sports

 

She did so in reference to Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda, who was busted a night earlier for having pine tar on his neck. He was dabbing his fingers with it to improve his grip on a cold night. It’s a wise move in theory, but it’s technically cheating and he did so with the subtlety of How I Met Your Mother (Yep, I went there. Vastly overrated show.)

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Golden boy Nicholson has NHL in his future

Nicholson

There will be no need for Hockey Canada to give Bob Nicholson a golden handshake or a gold watch when he officially announces his departure on Friday. Nicholson already has approximately as much gold as Fort Knox.

Under his watch as president and CEO of Hockey Canada, his country has won seven Olympic gold medals (three men, four women), five World championship golds, 12 World Junior golds and 10 World Women’s gold medals. And speaking of gold, he has presided over Hockey Canada becoming a money-making monolith, both in terms of attracting sponsorship money and generating revenues from events. For example, the WJC in Montreal and Toronto could make a profit of up to $30 million, 50 percent of which goes to Hockey Canada. Read more

Clarkson channels The Ellen Show with sweet selfie

Ryan Kennedy
Clarkson-women

When you make history, you want to remember it. So when the Clarkson University women’s team won the school’s first-ever NCAA title in any sport, they took a picture. And since this is 2014, the players jumped on the trend that talk-show host Ellen Degeneres started at the Oscars this year and took a big group selfie:

 

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Szabados the latest pioneer in the evolution of women’s hockey

Adam Proteau
Shannon Szabados (Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

When she skates out to start in net for the Columbus Cottonmouths Saturday night in Georgia, Shannon Szabados will be making history as the first female ever to play in the decade-old Southern Professional League. But in the big picture, she’s another bricklayer in the road today’s best females are building for generations of young women to come.

The 27-year-old Edmonton native already has risen to the summit of the women’s game, winning her second gold medal for Canada at the Sochi Olympics and establishing herself as one of its most dominant netminders. But this is a different kind of victory, a podium you step up on without hearing your anthem. Although Szabados won’t appear in an NHL game anytime soon, her time in Columbus isn’t just a publicity stunt. Playing against men who play the game for a living is a legitimate next-level achievement and a test for someone who has excelled when tested. Just as importantly, the fact she signed a professional contract Thursday and participated in a brief practice the same day only encourages other women playing the game to dream and push themselves, no matter how far-fetched their goal might sound to some. Read more

Ask Adam: Luongo, Trotz’s future, and the women’s game

Roberto Luongo (Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

More mail? More mail. It’s Friday, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Thanks as always to those who sent in a question or two.

Hello there Adam!

In the early days of his WWE career, Randy Orton was doing the “Legend Killer” gimmick and cut a promo against a tired and haggard looking Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Orton said when you wake up in the morning and no longer have the drive to be the No. 1 guy in the company, the guy who wears the belt, well that’s the day you need to hang them up.

Well, I compare old Hacksaw to Roberto Luongo. Bobby Lou will never, and I mean ever, win a Stanley Cup in Florida. And he knows that. So my question is, why do so many players say it’s not about money when they talk to the media? Of course it is! If you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that you’re just playing a game and collecting a paycheck, why jerk around the fans? Nathan Horton will play out his career in relative obscurity in Columbus, but at least he has his Cup ring. Same can’t be said for Luongo or his teammate Ed Jovanovski.

So why not just state the obvious and say “I’m in it for the money”? You’re not insulting anybody. I’d take Captain Obvious over Captain Hypocrite any day. I mean, really, if you’ve been in the game as long as Luongo and you’re NOT in it to win the Stanley Cup, just what are you doing there anyways?
Steve Dicker, Paradise, Newfoundland

Hello there Steve!

While I’m sure there are NHLers who do what they do more for the love of the money than the pursuit of a championship, Luongo isn’t an example of one. When he signed his 12-year contract with the Canucks, they weren’t a sad-sack team with no chance of winning a Stanley Cup. To the contrary: they’d just won their division and a playoff round. It’s not his fault GM Mike Gillis horribly mismanaged Vancouver’s goaltending situation to the point he had no choice but to move him for a relative pittance.

But no matter which player you point to as signing somewhere for monetary reasons, you can’t expect them to be candid about that. People like you and I might appreciate the honesty, but imagine the team marketing campaign: “Come See Us Play! Not Everybody Wants To Be Here, But Everybody’s Getting Paid!” Not the best optics, I’m sure you’d agree. Read more

Queens of the rink

Adam Proteau
(Photo by Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)

It might seem to easy to suggest the Canadian Women’s team that won gold at the 2010 Olympics is the best collection of female players ever. But when you examine how it won and the depth of skill it leaned on, it’s fitting to hang them with the No. 1 label.

In Vancouver, the 2010 Canadian team proved it could throttle you with offense – including an 18-0 steamrolling of Slovakia and 13-1 walloping of Sweden – just as easily as it could play the kind of controlled defensive game that beat its archrivals from America in the tournament’s final game.

The Swedes should consider themselves fortunate to have scored at all on the Canadians. Only one other team (Switzerland) managed to score a single goal. And both goals Canada allowed came in the preliminary round.

Team Canada’s skill was matched only by its depth: Shannon Szabados, the then- 23-year-old netminder who won Canada’s final game, was named best goalie of the Games, but coach Melody Davidson could’ve just as easily given the nod to veterans Kim St-Pierre or Charline Labonte, who were instrumental in past Canadian gold medal wins.

And if observers could see diminishing roles for some veteran Canadian players, it wasn’t due to a fall-off in their play. Rather, it was because the monster known as Meghan Agosta (the tournament’s top scorer and most valuable player) and then 19-year-old phenom Marie-Philip Poulin were making them share the spotlight.

It took a veteran such as Hayley Wickenheiser, Canada’s captain and someone who has skated in every Olympics since female players began participating in 1998, to put the Canadian 2010 team in perspective.

“The best team of all-time I think was (the 2010) team, in terms of top-to-bottom quality, overall skill level, fitness level and execution,” Wickenheiser said. “I don’t know that we had our strongest D-corps I’ve ever seen, but as a team, as an overall unit, this one was best.

“The competition is tougher now to make the team, the preparation is greater and we had more time to be together, so the performances are better.”

Prior to the Vancouver Games, Team USA cornerstone Angela Ruggiero spoke of the respect she held for the program Canada has put together for its female players.

“You can’t argue with success and two straight gold medals for (Canada) means you have to give them their due,” Ruggiero said in the fall of 2008, before the Canadians extended their Olympic run to three consecutive gold medal victories. “Don’t get me wrong, I believe in (the U.S.) program, but the time and effort that Canada invests in its female players is really great for the sport and it shows in the results that they’ve gotten up to this point.”

And after Canada’s domination in Vancouver with a team for the ages, one might assume those results are going to continue.

This is an excerpt from THN’s special issue, Greatest Teams of All-Time.