Should the NHL Open it's Doors to Women?

Nowhere in the NHL rulebook does it say that women cannot play in the National Hockey League. It has always been just understood that women do not play with men when it comes to hockey. Manon Rheaume became the first woman to play in the NHL on September twenty-third, 1992 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Manon, sister of NHL forward Pascal Rheaume, did not do so good, giving up two goals in nine shots against the St. Louis Blues. Recently, Canadian Women’s Gold-Medal Winning Hockey team captain Hayley Wickenheiser joined the Finnish league in Europe. She came in with high expectations, but went down in flames. Can women really compete with men in hockey, or are these two instances just a fluke?
An internet poll was recently conducted on unofficial NHL team sites. BluesNet (http://www.bluesnet.brick.net), Calgary Puck (http://www.calgarypuck.com), and Outside the Garden (http://www.outsidethegarden.com), were the websites involved in this poll. A total of fifty people were polled and thirty-nine NHL hockey fans said that women should not be allowed to play in the NHL, while eleven hockey fans said that women should be able to participate in the male-dominated sport. In other words, 78% of these self-selected people believe that the NHL should be just for men. Of course the problem with this statistic is that most of the people who post on these sites are male hockey fans.

But the biggest argument against women playing amongst men in the NHL is that women have their own leagues, why should they be able to join the men’s leagues too? People would say that the men’s leagues are much more competitive and women who can rise above the rest (like Hayley Wickenheiser and Manon Rheaume) should be able to hone their skills against the world’s biggest and best. But if a woman can join in the men’s leagues, then how come a man cannot join the women’s leagues?

It is true that men’s leagues are much more competitive and the players are just plain better, but how come someone, who has her own set of leagues with the best and brightest of her kind, just skip to a different kind of game? Now if a decent skating, not very hard-nosed player wanted to join Karen Bye and Therese Brisson in their league, how come that cannot be possible? People who replied in the survey’s biggest argument was “equal rights,” but it is not very equal if a man wanted to join a woman’s league.

Hayley Wickenheiser, the supposed best woman hockey player in the entire world, joined a men’s Finnish team. She played for Salamat, a team that recently advanced to the second highest division in the Finnish league. Her first ever game in a men’s league was played on January eleventh, 2003. Wickenheiser won a face-off in the offensive zone just approximately thirteen minutes into the game, and defenseman Matti Tevanen shot it into the net for Wickenheiser’s first point. She looked like maybe she could fit in and there was a hope for women one day to play in the NHL. But she only ended up playing in twenty-three games for Salamat that season, recording just two goals and nine assists. The last ten games of the season, HC Salamat coach Matt Hagman moved her to the team’s fourth line, due to her lack of productivity. She recorded no points in those ten games, and she became furious at the team coach. She did not feel that playing in the first-tier of the league was beyond her capabilities, but Coach Hagman thought otherwise. So Wickenheiser went to the press.

“It became really clear, I knew the coach didn’t trust my abilities,” said Hayley, “I knew that probably at the start of the season.”

The truth is that just like with any kind of player in any kind of league, if you are highly regarded and do not produce points, you will be punished for it. The punishment usually is sitting a couple of games, but Wickenheiser was given a better shot at still skating with the team. The teams in that league are mostly made up of semi-professional players mostly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four. Wickenheiser then decided after this spat with her head coach, that she would head home to her family, who she says she dearly missed while away.

The plain fact was that Wickenheiser was just not good enough. If the best woman in this sport cannot make it in a league that hardly hits and is mostly fast-paced hockey, then how can you expect them to make in a tough league with a lot of hits and a larger probability of an injury?

“The idea of women playing professional hockey in men’s leagues is utterly ridiculous,” says ‘Jonathane,’ who wrote “Woman to Play in Mens Professional League” on Hockey Trade Rumors.com (http://www.hockeytraderumors.com) on January ninth, 2003. He goes on to say that, “The plain biological fact is that women are not as strong as men are and as such, they do not have what it takes to be a professional player.”

The truth is also that men would frown upon a woman in their league. Each player would allow one of two things to happen: They would either try to prove to her that she does not belong, or they would be afraid to hurt her and let her skate all over them. Either way it is an unfair advantage (or disadvantage) to the game.

A woman in the NHL may boost the horribly-low NHL economy, but the game itself would be scarred. And as a hockey fan, I do not want to see that happen. If the “Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey” cannot make it in a men’s league, then what woman can?

~Jeff Ponder

DoYouBleedBlue.Com