It's an exciting time for women's hockey
Dream Gap Tour in NHL arenas; world championship coming to Canada
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Women's hockey is getting back on its feet
After a long stretch of inactivity brought on by the pandemic, many of the world's best players are either competing again or preparing to do so. Here's an update on what's going on in women's hockey's three main theatres:
The Canadian national team opened its training camp for the 2021 world championship earlier this week in Halifax. Thirty-five players were invited, including captain Marie-Philip Poulin and forwards Natalie Spooner and Sarah Nurse.
When the players reported to camp, the worlds were still officially scheduled for April 7-17 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., which were supposed to host last year until the pandemic came along. But the International Ice Hockey Federation said it was looking into pushing the tournament back a month, and today it made the move official. The new dates are May 6-16.
The IIHF said that all 10 teams involved have committed to playing, but the tournament has still not been approved by federal or provincial health authorities. Officials with Hockey Canada and the local organizing committee are working with the Canadian and Nova Scotia governments on a plan, according to the IIHF, which even expects a "limited number of fans" will be allowed to attend games. Assuming the tournament goes ahead, it will be the first women's world championship in two years and the last one before the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Dream Gap Tour
This barnstorming series debuted in the fall of 2019 as an alternative for the 125 or so players — including basically the entire Canadian and U.S. national teams — who refused to play in the National Women's Hockey League after the demise of the Canadian Women's Hockey League earlier that year. The group formed the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association, which is demanding the creation of a "single, sustainable" women's pro hockey league — preferably one backed by the NHL.
The 2019-20 Dream Gap Tour consisted of six stops — two in Toronto, four in the U.S. This season, health and travel restrictions have cut it to two. The first, which took place last weekend, was sponsored by the New York Rangers and included a nationally televised Sunday-night game at Madison Square Garden. This weekend's stop in Chicago is also sponsored by the city's NHL team and is being carried by major broadcasters on both sides of the border. NBC Sports Network is showing Saturday's game at the United Center, while Sunday's game will be streamed live in Canada by CBC Sports, which also carried last Saturday's game. You can watch live at 11:30 a.m. ET on CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.
Due to travel restrictions, only American PWHPA players are participating in the New York and Chicago events. But the Toronto Maple Leafs have also signed on as a PWHPA partner, and the plan is to hold a Dream Gap event in Toronto once regulations allow it.
National Women's Hockey League
The PWHPA has all the momentum right now, but a couple of months ago it belonged to the NWHL. The six-team league was welcoming a Toronto expansion team and had arranged for its entire regular season and playoffs to take place over two weeks in Lake Placid, N.Y. NBC Sports Network had agreed to broadcast the Isobel Cup semifinals and final, marking the first time women's pro hockey would be shown live on a major U.S. cable channel.
But it all fell apart. Two teams dropped out before the end of the regular season due to coronavirus infections, and then more positive tests caused the league to pull the plug on everything the day before the semifinals. At the time, the NWHL said that it had "suspended" the remainder of the season, but no plans to complete it have been announced.
The NWHL and the PWHPA may not exactly be competitors, but it does feel like a rivalry at times. The latter was noticeably silent about the NWHL's return in January, which might seem cold but actually makes sense given the PWHPA's mission statement. If you're calling for a "sustainable" women's pro hockey league with better pay and benefits, that implies you don't like the current one. The formation of the kind of league the PWHPA is demanding, should it happen, will be the next big chapter in the history of women's hockey.
Canadian teenager Eliot Grondin won his first World Cup snowboard cross gold medal — and the season title is in reach. Today's victory in Bakuriani, Georgia moved the 19-year-old from Sainte-Marie, Que., within eight points of World Cup leader Alessandro Haemmeler of Austria, who placed fourth. That's essentially a tie under the World Cup points system, and there are only two events left: Friday in Georgia and March 20 in Switzerland. Watch tomorrow's race, along with the women's, live from 2-3:30 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Read more about today's win by Grondin and watch highlights here.
The Beijing Winter Paralympics start exactly one year from today. That seems a long way away, especially considering the Summer Paralympics are next up this August in Tokyo. We've also seen what the coronavirus can do to international sporting-event plans, and several Canadian politicians have called for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics to protest various actions by China. But Canadian chef de mission Josh Dueck, a former Paralympic champion in skiing, is doing his best to help navigate those challenges. Read more about how he's preparing for the 2022 Games in this story by CBC Sports' Myles Dichter.
Five Canadians were named to the NBA Rising Stars game. The all-star-weekend staple won't actually be played this year, but two teams were named anyway to recognize the league's best first- and second-year players. Half the World Team roster is Canadian — RJ Barrett (Knicks), Lu Dort (Thunder), Brandon Clarke (Grizzlies), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Pelicans) and Mychal Mulder (Warriors), all of whom are in their second NBA seasons. The U.S. Team roster is headlined by second-year stars Zion Williamson (Pelicans) and Ja Morant (Grizzlies). Due to the pandemic, the NBA decided to cram all of its more appealing all-star events into one night. The slam-dunk, three-point and skills contests and the game itself will all take place Sunday in Atlanta.
Short track speed skating returns tomorrow. The world championships, which run Friday through Sunday in the Netherlands, are the first competition since the pandemic hit a year ago. It caused the cancellation of the 2020 world championships and the entire 2020-21 World Cup season. Ten Canadians are competing — headlined by three-time Olympic gold medallist Charles Hamelin, who's appearing in his 17th world championships and will try to add to his 13 world titles. Kim Boutin, who led all Canadian short trackers with three medals at the 2018 Olympics, decided to skip the worlds. Sam Girard, who was Canada's only short track gold medallist at the '18 Olympics, retired in 2019 at the age of 22. Read more about the Canadian team here. Watch every race live starting Friday at 4:30 a.m. ET here.
Things to watch on CBC Sports
I was in net for... Steve Smith's Game 7 blunder: In the latest edition of Rob Pizzo's series on famous hockey goals from the goalie's perspective, Grant Fuhr shares his memories of one of the worst gaffes in NHL history. Smith's own-goal off Fuhr's leg cost Wayne Gretzky's Oilers not only their 1986 playoff series vs. rival Calgary, but also possibly the chance to win five straight Stanley Cups. Find out more about what happened before and after Smith's mistake and how the Oilers dealt with it by watching the video here.
North Courts: On the newest episode of their show about Canadian basketball, Vivek Jacob, Jevohn Shepherd and Meghan McPeak talk with CEBL commissioner Mike Morreale about how his league can help shape the future of the sport in this country. Watch it here.
Live Olympic sports: Besides the short track world championships and the snowboard cross World Cup already mentioned, Friday's live streaming menu also includes a World Cup men's downhill and world championship events in cross-country skiing and ski jumping. See the full schedule here.
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