Some criticize the women's game for a lack of parity, but few question the players' enthusiasm. (Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images) This story is part of CBCSports.ca's retrospective on the one-year
anniversary of the Vancouver Olympics. To access all the articles, click here.
A year ago, just prior to the 2010 Olympics, I was so excited for my sport of women's hockey.
It was my first trip to the Olympics as an observer and I must admit I was nervous. I even had to have a little talk with myself to make sure I was ready to go as a retired athlete.
I was also hopeful it was going to be the best Games ever for women's hockey, especially in regards to our most pressing issue: parity. To be honest, when it ended I was frightened for the future of women's hockey, but at the same time so proud of it!
Much like the 2006 Olympics it was a dominant performance for the Canadian team as they brought home a third consecutive gold medal
at the Olympic Games. What made it sweeter was that they performed under the great pressure of playing on home soil.
However, the parity was just not there. In the 1998 and 2002 Olympics Finland, Sweden and even China had a chance for medals higher than the typical bronze. In 2006 Team Canada's dominance was overshadowed when Sweden upset Team USA to move on to the gold medal game. That hid the reality that the other international teams were far from competing for medals. That story never really got told as it did post 2010. Even Finland's play, which usually is equal to that of USA and Canada, took a step back with the loss of some key veterans in 2006.
In Vancouver the women's game, both leading up to and during the Olympics, encountered unprecedented coverage. Even in 1998 when the sport was introduced to the Olympics and the coverage was constant and in our faces, it did not compare to the attention that the 2010 team had on it throughout the season.
As expected the attention brought with it some controversy. The lack of parity in our sport became an issue, as did the "awesome and well deserved" celebration after the victory. In speaking with my friends and former teammates, the reception they have received since winning that gold medal has been outstanding. People were laughing at how the celebration story played out. The message was simple, Canadians were proud that the women won again.
But more important than the opportunities these girls now have, which they completely deserve, is the fact that the 2010 Olympic Games has had more of an impact on the female game than any other Olympics to date. Let me explain the legacy.
The 2010 Games can't take all the responsibility for what is happening in the international game today, but it can take a lot of the credit for what is now happening. The increased attention has resulted in the IIHF doing more than ever for women's hockey and as well, the NHL (although discussions started prior to the Games) has jumped on board to see how it can help develop a long-term plan for the game. This help will no doubt keep us at the Olympics.
Our leagues like the CIS, NCAA, CWHL and WWHL have all seen parity over the last year or two. No longer do these leagues have one or two dominating teams vying for Championships trophies, but 6 or 7 teams are all capable of winning.
Recently in Wisconsin a crowd of more than 10,000 people watched an NCAA women's hockey game. That crowd was greater than the pre-Olympic contest in Calgary where Team Canada faced team USA. Sponsorship for our leagues, although far from perfect, has become a viable option for many companies across Canada.
There was the Molson World Hockey Summit. It undoubtedly was going to include women's hockey regardless of what took place in Vancouver, but the focus on the women's side of the game probably wouldn't have been as big if the negativity coming out of the Games wasn't on such a large scale.
Despite the fact that we are growing faster and stronger than the men's game did at the Olympic level, we still have to prove ourselves.
Go ahead and question our sport but don't ever question the dedication by the players, coaches and volunteers who've continued their passion through thick and thin!
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