Next week, two female hockey players will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame — a first for the 49-year-old museum — and a Brock professor who studies the history and culture of women’s hockey is asking if this is a good or bad thing for the sport.
“The women’s game is very different from the men’s game,” says Julie Stevens, associate professor of Sport Management. “Women might have completely different criteria as to what constitutes a builder, a star player or a good coach in our game.
“Adjudicators have a criteria, either formally on a sheet of paper or informally in the back of their minds, of what they are looking for. But then along comes an application that has a completely different character to it, so it’s a lot like comparing apples to oranges.”
Angela James will be the first Canadian woman inducted into the Hall of Fame, receiving the honour alongside American Cammi Granato. James was a four-time gold medallist for Canada at the first women’s world championships in the 1990s.
Stevens played varsity hockey at Queen’s University from 1985 to 1992. According to Ontario University Athletics records, she is tied for second for most career points, second in most career goals, and fifth in most career assists. She has coached Midget AAA girls, provincial championships, Western Shield Championships and the Canada Games. She is the author of Too Many Men on The Ice: Women’s hockey in North America.
Stevens shared some of her thoughts about the induction with The Brock News.
What does this recognition for Angela mean for the sport of women’s hockey?
Angela is a pioneer of the sport. Her career started well before the women’s world championships were created in 1990. So here’s an exceptional player who never had many national and international championships to compete in.
It was kind of like having a Rocket Richard out there without an NHL to play in, which is unheard of in men’s hockey. There’s always been a forum for skilled male hockey players to compete in — the NHL, amateur leagues, world championships and the Olympics.
You can imagine how hard it is to document the achievements of a player like Angela. Stats and point totals in women’s hockey haven’t been accurately accumulated over time, and there wasn’t always a centralized forum to house career totals on female players. This didn’t happen until the national team competition started in the 90s.
I think its great that they are inducting Angela, given she never played on an Olympic team. This means they’re recognizing her for all of her other accomplishments. Let’s face it, being a leader in the game back in the 80s meant a lot, especially since stats and achievements weren’t as well documented back then compared to now.
Is this recognition a good thing for the sport?
Angela and Cammi are tremendous athletes and there’s no question that they’ve played key roles in popularizing competitive elite women’s hockey.
There have been many stepping-stones for women’s hockey on the international sports scene over the years. And since 1990 in Canada, there has been a massive expansion of high-performance and elite women’s hockey programs. We now have a national team, an under-22 national team, and so on.
But it took 49 years to get a woman in the Hockey Hall of Fame, when the game of women’s hockey has been played since 1891.
These recognitions are a good thing because you’re putting the sport on the map in a male-dominated forum like the Hockey Hall of Fame, but it is going to be difficult for women to crack this line-up. We don’t have professional hockey and we don’t have the types of forums and opportunities that are used in the criteria to nominate and vote in the men that are in the Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame was created in 1961. And when they were first inducting all of their original members they would have gone back to Howie Morenz’s era in the 1920s and 30s, Rocket Richard’s career would have just ended and you would have had players from the current era and then the expansion years of the NHL that grew out of the original six. During those early years of inductions, the Hall of Fame would have been dealing with the same issues in men’s hockey — how to compare a guy that played in the 20s in the NHL to someone who is playing in the 60s expansion era NHL.
But they’re done with that now. It’s pretty much all apples to apples now when a guy comes onto the table as a nominee.
Women’s hockey, however, now faces the same dilemma of going back in time and understanding the context of the accomplishment of players in different eras of the game. My hope is that the Hall of Fame recognizes that they are not comparing apples to apples and that they take this into consideration as they think through nominations.