While it's always fantastic to see participant and spectator numbers increasing in the world of women's hockey, sometimes it's what we can't record with numbers that are the most significant.
For example, it's awesome to see that female hockey registration has increased to 85,624 in 2009-10 from just 8,146 in 1990-9, from Hockey Canada.
It's also great to see that "The CWHL’s regular season attendance has grown every year since the league’s 2008 inception, from just 2,000 total league-wide fans (not per game) in Year 1 to about 12,000 last season. Viewership, via broadcasting and streaming, exceeded 40,000 last year, almost doubling from two years prior. The CWHL website’s traffic is up. Name the metric and it’s trending the right way", per the Hockey News.
But there's one thing that we can't really measure that potentially has the biggest impact of all, and it's the conversation in the community.
Let's take a look back through time at the continually shifting conversation surrouding the world of women's hockey.
Way back in December of 2011, the National Post publishes an article with a sub-title of, "The girls’ game has grown up. But have parents, coaches, a hockey-obsessed nation, grown with it? Or, at some level, are our hockey expectations and attitudes towards our sons and daughters influenced by their gender?"
Yes, girls were having fun playing hockey and the game was growing ever so slowly. But despite what Cyndi Lauper once said, maybe girls didn't want to just have fun. Maybe they wanted to compete.
In February of 2014, a post-Olympic piece on Maclean's included, "But the stakes were higher in the women’s final for another reason, one less obvious than a short-handed overtime goal and a game-saving post. The stakes were higher because the Olympics are the only event at which mainstream hockey fans think twice about women’s hockey. When Olympic patriotism isn’t at stake, nobody skips work to watch Marie-Philip Poulin play hockey, but the same can’t be said about her male counterparts."
Even though participation and viewership had grown so much to get to this point, the conversation was still solely on addressing that there was in fact huge disparity between the men's game and the women's game, and this was just five years ago.
Publications at this point didn't often address what needed to be done, but simply that there was a problem. A problem that consisted of struggling to get people to indulge in women's hockey on a consistent basis, and that this lead to being unable to pay players, or tream them anywhere close to how their male counterparts were being treated.
Fast forward to December of 2015. The conversation begins to shift from addressing a problem, to planning for solutions. Brenda Andress, the Commiossioner of the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) at the time, states that, "the chief goal of the CWHL is to give women a chance to play professional hockey and get paid, but also create opportunities for women after hockey to have careers in non-traditional jobs in what is often a male-dominated game." (Financial Post)
It was extremely clear to all involved that this would be an incredibly uphill battle, but the conversation and the movement were shifting, and that had real value.
Camps, leagues, teams, tournaments and initiatives were popping up all across Canada and North America, with the community growing faster than ever at this point.
Growth has continued to this day, with The Ice Garden stating in September of 2018 that, "Whether you like it or not, “grow the game” is attached to women’s hockey, and it’s not going anywhere soon."
This was the symbol of a movement. A large community of outspoken individuals who are refusing to settle for women's hockey being second to men's hockey, and will do whatever it takes to level the playing field.
This all of course included the United States Women's National Team's potential boycott of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which eventually concluded with a large increase in pay and treatment of players. But Hilary Knight, the face of women's hockey, felt as though, "We were a success. But we were not seen as equals to the men." (CBC)
And it's a known reality that this may be the case for a while to come, as unfortunate as it may be. All we can do is continue to shift the conversation, talking about the women's game the same way we talk about the men's game, and indulging in women's hockey any way that we can.
We have come a very long way to get to this point, but there's an even longer way to go.
We're here for the fight. Maybe your daughter will be representing the women's hockey world someday, so we're hopeful that you're here for it, too.