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.

Was women’s gold medal match botched by ref? Kerry Fraser says ‘no’, but feels game needs two-ref system

Jason Kay
Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 13 - Canada v United States

For Team USA in Sochi yesterday, there was no joy and too much Joy all at once.

The work of British referee Joy Tottman came under intense scrutiny after she called three penalties in overtime and Canada won the thriller on the power play.

Hilary Knight claimed the penalty call against her, the one that led to the golden goal, was “bogus.” She says she didn’t touch Hayley Wickenheiser, who had fallen to the ice on a breakaway.

It followed a slashing infraction whistled against Jocelyne Lamoureux, who tapped Shannon Szabados’ pads while Team USA was on a power play of its own.

The chain of events sparked controversy all over the world wide web and, for some, evoked memories of the gold medal women’s game in Salt Lake 12 years ago when referee Stacey Livingston called eight consecutive penalties against the Canadians.

We decided to turn to an expert for his take on what transpired in one of the most entertaining games you’ll ever witness. Here’s what former NHL ref Kerry Fraser had to say on:

Read more

THN in Sochi: Controversy in women’s hockey turns to refereeing

Ken Campbell
Joy Tottman

SOCHI – This much we know about Joy Tottman: She is the governance and compliance officer for the Sport and Recreation Alliance in Britain. She has refereed at the women’s level internationally for 15 years, including at the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics and she does a fair bit of refereeing of men’s professional hockey in the English Premier League.

And depending upon what side you’re on, she either made a mockery of the women’s gold medal game at the Olympics or had the guts to make bold calls in overtime.

Much of the talk surrounding women’s hockey at the Olympics, before this game, centered around whether or not the sport is competitive enough world-wide to even belong in the Olympics at all. International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel poured cold water on that notion when he declared it is not going anywhere. And don’t forget, Fasel is the winter sports representative on the executive board of the International Olympic Committee, so he holds a fair bit of sway.

Now the talk will be whether or not the refereeing needs to get better at this level. What will come under scrutiny will be two penalty calls Tottman made in overtime which led to a 5-on-3 power play, on which Canada scored in overtime. With Canada killing a penalty and creating a 4-on-3 during overtime, Tottman whistled Jocelyn Lamoureux for a controversial slashing penalty.

Then with Hayley Wickenheiser on a breakaway and Hilary Knight trying to catch her, Wickenheiser went down and Knight was called for crosschecking, of all things. When she made the call, Tottman pointed to center ice, which led everyone, including Canadian coach Kevin Dineen, to believe Wickenheiser would be awarded a penalty shot. Knight later said Tottman made “a bogus call,” and that she didn’t make contact with Wickenheiser and USA coach Katey Stone offered a stern, “No comment,” when asked what she thought of the call.

It’s difficult to fathom Wickenheiser would fall without there being at least some contact being made and it’s absolutely ridiculous to suggest she took a dive. She was on a breakaway in overtime of the gold medal game and had the puck on her stick with the opportunity to end the game. Players don’t dive in those circumstances.

But the questions will continue to linger, on both the Lamoureux and Knight penalties. It’s hard to argue that Tottman was out of her element, given her history refereeing women’s hockey. And she was assigned the gold medal game, not because she’s from a neutral country, but because she earned it with her work in previous games in the tournament. But it does beg the question of whether the officiating at the highest level must improve.

“The game is growing in leaps and bounds,” Stone said. “The speed and pace of the game is tremendous and it’s a great, great product. We have to make sure that every part of the game operations and game management is developing at as a fast a rate as it possibly can.”

“Look at it from their shoes,” Dineen said. “I don’t know how much in-game preparation they get. You look on the men’s side…and they’re seeing 80, 100 games a year and they see a lot of scenarios play out. They get exposed to that, but on the women’s side, they don’t see all the things that play out. At the end of it, I think the game was decided on the ice.”

THN in Sochi: From Wickenheiser to Poulin, the torch is passed

Ken Campbell
Marie-Philip Poulin

SOCHI – Over the next little while, Marie-Philip Poulin might want to brush up on her Canadian hockey history, you know, acquaint herself a little better with the likes of Paul Henderson in 1972, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky in 1987, John Slaney in 1991 and Sidney Crosby in 2010. Because on this wild, magical night in Russia, Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., took her rightful place beside them.

To recap: With four minutes left in the women’s gold medal game in the Sochi Olympics, Canada looks deader than road kill. It looks as though Team USA is finally, 16 years and three days after their gold medal in Nagano, going to take its rightful place at the top of the podium. Then a fluke goal off somebody’s knee, then the tying goal from Poulin, then a host of controversial penalties in overtime and Poulin having the puck on her stick with an open net. Read more

THN in Sochi: Swiss women craft own Miracle on Ice

Ken Campbell
Lutz scores

SOCHI – In the history of women’s hockey at the international level, including the medals in these Olympics, there will have been a total of 78 medals awarded in the Olympics, World Championships and Under-18 World Championships. Canada, USA, Finland and Sweden have won all but five of them.

So it’s not often that a team such as Switzerland manages to crash the party. But if these Olympics have taught us anything, at least when it comes to the hockey tournaments, it’s to never, ever be surprised. Despite falling behind 2-0 after two periods, the Swiss women scored four straight goals in the third period to defeat Sweden 4-3 and win the bronze medal. It represents the first time ever that a team other than Canada, USA, Finland or Sweden has won a medal. Read more

IIHF president Fasel’s defense of women’s Olympic hockey a welcome sight

Adam Proteau
Natalie Spooner

Questions about the future of women’s hockey at the Olympics were answered directly by International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel Tuesday at the Sochi Games. And to the delight of fans of the women’s game, he delivered some heartening news by stating definitively that women’s hockey would never be removed as an Olympics sport.

“That will never happen,” Fasel said at a news conference in regard to dropping women’s hockey. “I can guarantee that.”

In 2010, then-International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge caused consternation by suggesting women’s hockey had to improve its competitive parity or face the possibility of being removed from the Games. But Fasel’s strong statement should put any worries to rest. While it’s true he isn’t the one ultimately making the decisions – that’s the I.O.C.’s job – the 64-year-old has been an I.O.C. member since 1995 and sits on its executive board as their winter sports delegate. If there was a serious move afoot to take the women’s game away, I suspect he wouldn’t be so confident in his choice of words Tuesday. But he was. Read more