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Why hockey culture needs more women holding top jobs in junior hockey: Paige Martin

When it comes to some of the most important jobs in the Ontario Hockey League, it's still, almost entirely, a no-girls-allowed club. The CBC's OHL contributor Paige Martin explains why the game would benefit from more women in positions of responsibility.

Amy Mausser is the head athletic therapist for the Sarnia Sting

When it comes to some of the most important jobs in the OHL, it's still, almost entirely, a no-girls-allowed club. The CBC's OHL contributor Paige Martin explains why the game would benefit from more women in positions of responsibility. Photo by Natalie Shaver. 10:42

When it comes to some of the most important jobs in the Ontario Hockey League, it's still, almost entirely, a no-girls-allowed club.

While Canadian and American women have dominated international hockey for decade almost all of the people involved as coaches, general managers, trainers and owners are men. 

OHL columnist Paige Martin tells us about two of the few women to break that barrier. Here's her interview with the CBC's Conrad Collaco. You can read an abridged and edited version of the interview or listen to the full audio interview by hitting the play button above. 

Paige Martin, OHL columnist with CBC London
(Paige Martin)

How many women are involved in the OHL? 

This is a league that is really a male dominated environment. The amount of woman, it's slim. You can count a handful but there's more coming in. And you've got to ask, is this a sign of the times? There's a manager in Sudbury. There's the trainers in Guelph and Sarnia and it's growing throughout other areas like team's marketing departments as well. But breaking barriers and getting hired into the league is not easy. Here's an example as to why. The commissioner has sent emails that start with "Hello gentlemen." Why is that assumed? Does he know that there are women that he is sending the e-mail to as well? Does he just assume that it's all men that he's speaking with? There are some underlying issues there.

Which women have you met that have broken this barrier?

There's a woman who has been around the league for a while now. Her name is Amy Mausser and she's the head athletic therapist and registered massage therapist for the Sarnia Sting. She's behind the bench and she's in the thick of it all the time. She started with the Kingston Frontenacs and then went out west for a few years and had worked for a couple university men's hockey teams. Being the only girl around is not foreign to her. But here's the thing. She doesn't think of it like that. I went to Sarnia and hung out with her for the day. I wanted to know, what is this really like? There are barriers. What are they? And she looked at me and she said 'Oh yeah. Well, I can't go in the dressing room. That's the barrier.'  
Amy Mausser of the Sarnia Sting is one of the few women working as the head athletic therapist for an Ontario Hockey League team. (Metcalfe Photography)

Amy Mausser: Maybe there's a misconception that there's more barriers for females but we all have the same education. We're all going the same schools. I think it needs to be told that there isn't that barrier. More females need to know that so that they can actually be interested in this job and start working in the OHL and in a male dominant sport. I think the barrier is actually hurting women's drive to actually work in this industry. I think that's the biggest thing. Even males working in a female sport. I think it's vice versa, right. We should remember that we're there for a purpose and we're there to do a job whether we're male or female. It shouldn't matter. 

PM: What I learned through talking to her, talking to the players, seeing her interact with the boys and the coaches is how driven she is to be the best at her job. Her job is crucial to the team. All trainers are, and to be honest with you she really runs the show.

What did the players think about having a woman as their trainer?

PM: It was cool to see the way that Amy interacts with these guys and how they interact with her.  She told me how much respect she is shown. I didn't really know what that meant until I saw it. These guys really appreciate Amy for who she is and that goes to show the work that she has put into that part of her job.

When I was interviewing Amy, Marko Jakovljevic, a defenceman for the Sarnia Sting, came into the room and right away they joked around with each other and then got to work. I caught up with Marco after to talk about how he and the guys feel about having Amy around and from what you'll hear, they love it. And there's also a couple of ground rules.

Marko Jakovljevic: Personally, I don't really think about it too much just because I think she's one of the best at what she's doing right now and seems to get the job done whenever I'm injured so I don't really care and she seems to not really care either, to be honest. So, it's good and it works. Probably the most obvious one — just watch when you're walking around naked to respect her. She's got an office next to our rooms so you try to keep things P.G. when you're in there but other than that it really isn't too much.

What kind of impact is she having on her team? 

PM: I think that the impact is different and special compared to what other teams might get. I wondered how this makes the players' parents feel, especially their moms knowing that their teenage son, who is away from home, has such a prominent female role model in their life every day. I spoke with Cindy and John Rees. They are the parents of Sarnia's Jamieson Rees and, unfortunately for him, he's had his fair share of injuries in the OHL but that has given his parents the opportunity to get to know Amy quite well.
Here's what Jamieson's mom Cindy told me. 
Hockey parents Cindy and John Rees appreciate the influence of Sarnia Sting head athletic therapist, Amy Mausser, in their son Jamieson's hockey life. (Paige Martin)

Cindy Rees: You know, being surrounded by all men all the time, everybody wants their son to have that motherly female role in their life. So, I would say the same thing goes with having the female trainer. Just that nurturing — and not that men don't have that — but mothers do, right? We're nurturing. We connected with Amy from the get go. You're asking me this question and I'm like, it didn't even really matter that she was female. We just never looked at that, right? She's qualified and she gave us the support we needed and we connected with her. 

PM: His dad, John Rees, emphasized just how much it means to have Amy doing what she's doing and how important it is that other women get involved in the OHL and beyond.

John Rees: I think for a lot of these boys you just add another comfort zone of, maybe, a mother figure or supporting figure from a comfort zone. I think it's very important. It's good for Amy to inspire other young women to realize that they can get involved. It's not just men that are qualified to do these jobs. It's good. You see a lot of in broadcasting today in NHL hockey. Why can't it branch out into behind the bench or behind the scenes?

The last time we spoke we talked about how hockey culture needs to change specifically as it has to do with racism and bullying. How would having more women in management or behind the bench change hockey culture?

I think that it could be one of the answers and now that's a lot to unpack. But if we're talking about the change that everyone is hoping for in terms of a more accepting and inclusive environment then, yeah, it can start with having more women involved behind the bench or in management making decisions. Amy told me there's a lot of women in minor junior hockey. So, just before these players get to the OHL, a lot of these guys have had female equipment managers or female trainers on those teams and they're used to having women around. So, by the time they get to the OHL it's not like 'oh my goodness, all of a sudden there's a girl around our dressing room and on our team on the bus.'

 

It could be one more step forward towards making that change and to have a safe space. Marko mentioned that her office is to the side of the dressing room, and even though she can't go in the dressing room, the guys can come into her office and that really is a safe space for them because she works so hard to build relationships with these guys where they feel comfortable to open up to her. Sometimes hockey players, OHL players specifically, can get a bad rap because everyone thinks they're living the dream of just hockey all day and hanging out with friends and playing games on the weekends, which is obviously cool and that's true but, at the same time, there's a lot that's still going on in their life. There's a lot of pressure. There's a lot of expectations. And if that hockey culture does exist, there's that whole element as well weighing on them. It was really refreshing to hear Amy speak about that kind of space that has been created now and specifically in Sarnia.

If there are many women employed at levels below junior hockey, in minor hockey, that means the people making the hiring decisions about filling these general manager, trainer and coaching positions have women to choose from as they fill job vacancies. Should we expect to see more women in the OHL?

The Guelph Storm also has a female athletic therapist. Her name is Brie Donelson. She's been in the league since 2017 and there's been a couple of others throughout the years and many teams in the OHL have female physicians as well. Yes, we should expect it. That's exactly what Amy is pushing for each day that she goes to work. There are more and more women who are choosing to enter these jobs where there aren't many women. In the OHL it still isn't normal to see a woman behind the bench. Here's what Amy told me.

Amy Mausser: I don't know if we'll ever be normal just because of gender. I am different. So, it won't ever be normal. I think there will always be that little hesitation because I am a female with teams and I don't know if that's just a misconception that we fight with every day a little bit. I think it's something that's becoming the norm now. But I think it's slow. I think at the end of the day I never saw myself working as a woman in a male dominant environment as a barrier. So, I think that's the biggest thing to take from it, is that I never really saw it as a barrier.

P.M.: Amy has been selected to be the trainer of the Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects Game next Thursday in Hamilton, which is huge. That game showcases the top talent in the CHL, guys projected to be drafted to the NHL this June. I know that many, many people would say that they have chosen one of the top trainers in the CHL to stand behind that bench. 
Amy Mausser is one of the few women behind the bench in the Ontario Hockey League. (Metcalfe Photography)

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