2020 isn’t even a month old and women’s hockey has already made great strides towards a better future. A year after Kendall Coyne-Schofield, Renata Fast, Rebecca Johnston and Brianna Decker made history appearing at the 2019 All-Star Game, the spotlight will once again shine on women’s hockey at the 2020 festivities.
When St. Louis hosts All-Star weekend January 24th and 25th, the regular competitions will once again take place; marking the unofficial halfway point of the NHL season. However, along with the Bridgestone Fastest Skater, the Enterprise Hardest Shot and the Bud Light Save Streak, women’s hockey will have their own three-on-three tournament to showcase their skills. Being dubbed the “Elite Women’s 3 on 3”, teams hailing from the United States and Canada will play in a brand new, never before seen tournament.
Loaded with a combination of Olympians and professional players, the talent from both Canada and the United States are unlike anyone has ever seen before; which should add yet another exciting aspect of hockey to the 2020 edition of the All-Star Skills Competition. Both teams will consist of nine skaters and one goalie; putting together a staggering 39 Olympic and 109 World Championship medals between the twenty players. Many of the players travelling to St. Louis were included in the PWHPA’s Dream Gap Tour which made its first stop of 2020 in Toronto. Drawing over four thousand fans to take in exhibition games was a big step in the right direction for women’s hockey. Something that has been noticed at the NHL level.
Here’s what you need to watch out for as the talented women hit the ice.
U Sports will be represented
Among the Canadians heading to St. Louis are 2010 and 2014 Olympic hero Marie Philip-Poulin, 2019 All-Star Game attendee Renata Fast and former CWHL superstar Natalie Spooner. However, Canadian U Sports will also be represented when former McGill Martlet Mélodie Daoust hits the ice at the Enterprise Center. As much as women’s hockey has burst onto the scene at the professional level, Canadian U Sports has quietly established its presence as an ideal destination for development; especially for women’s hockey.
Without an established junior league such as the OHL, QMHJL or WHL, women, aspiring to one day play professionally, target American or Canadian universities to continue their playing career. Most of the time, schools such as Yale, Boston College or Harvard beat out their Canadian counterparts. But, for Mélodie Daoust, her career path was different than most.
Following her dazzling performances on both the Canadian Junior National Team and her brief stint on the former CWHL’s Montreal Stars, Daoust rejected offers from Cornell, Dartmouth and even a full ride to Boston College; an elite hockey program for both men and women. Instead, Daoust elected to stay home and play at McGill. A Québec native herself, Daoust stayed put and chose to continue her studies in physical health and education.
Her time at McGill was nothing short of outstanding. Racking up forty-six points in thirty-nine games during the 2012 season earned her a spot on the 2014 Olympic team which eventually led to a gold medal in Sochi. Later, when she registered fifty-nine points in just thirty-six games during the 2016-17 season, she once again earned a berth on the 2018 Olympic squad; helping Canada capture silver in Pyeongchang.
Nothing but Positivity
With women’s hockey taking centre stage this month, coaches and players have their own opinions of what’s going on in their beloved game.
“I know I’ll be tuned in and cheering for Team Canada” said Ryerson head coach Lisa Haley. “[It’s] a great opportunity to showcase our great game and I’m thrilled that the NHL has given our players that opportunity.” When asked about the NWHL being excluded from the All-Star festivities, Haley was quick to look at the positive; “I think at the end of the day everyone wants the same thing which is one unified league. The NWHL has done a pretty darn good job finding their niche and at the end of the day, I do hope that there’s some chance at unity.”
Canadian Olympic medallist Brianne Jenner was quick to point out the strides being made; “I feel like we’ve built some momentum. Just to see the excitement in the stands and the media coverage is just fantastic and I think we have a product that a lot of people want to watch.” Reporters were quick to jump on what the future of women’s hockey looks like as well. “Obviously we want to see a sustainable, viable league and we want that as soon as possible,” Jenner responded. “We recognize that we’re in it for the long haul, whatever it may be, but we want to make it happen no matter what and we’re sticking with this.”
“That’s the question that everyone wants an answer to and I don’t think we have one just yet,” said Annie Pankowski, one of the skaters selected to go to St. Louis and represent the United States. “I think [the Dream Gap Tour] is great for showcasing women’s hockey and the world is understanding what we’re trying to do so I think we’re doing a great job”.
Yes, women’s hockey has been doing an admirable job establishing its presence in the world of professional sports. Having showcases such as the Dream Gap Tour has shone a much-needed spotlight on women’s hockey and receiving support from the NHL and its teams have been a big help towards establishing a sustainable league. While the future is still unclear regarding the plan of a unified league, the 2020 All-Star Game will be yet another step in the right direction.