Didn’t they say hockey is for everyone?

Unpacking the NHL’s blatant sexism on International Women’s Day

Maybe one day we will shatter the glass ceiling of the NHL by inviting a woman behind the glass of the boards. Photo Courtesy NHL

It’s wild to think that last year, even a few months ago, I didn’t know anything about hockey. I remember when my guy friends would bring it up, I would tune them out because I just didn’t understand or care enough to participate. Now, I’m the one leading the conversations, and it’s a really powerful feeling. Still, to the astonishment of absolutely no one, women continue to represent a drastic minority in the sports industry—in terms of reporters, staff, and fans. I’m thinking, if I could change, then maybe the NHL could too?

It always makes me so happy to see women in the sports industry but I want to see more of them. My first thought is always how amazing it is that they’re pushing back against gender norms and my second thought is always how unfortunate it is that those gender norms exist to begin with. Just by calling them “women in the sports industry,” I feel like I’m playing into the anomaly of it all—I’d never describe their male counterparts as “men in the sports industry.” Although, I might start doing that just to give them a taste of what it’s like to have their gender at the forefront of their career. 

I think the differentiated language results from the disproportionate number of women in the field—if there were more female commentators, then their gender wouldn’t be something worth commenting on. It’s true that their influence is growing, but there’s still tremendous work to be done to break down the barriers that these women face. 

It’s not only about hiring more women—something that should definitely be done anyway, but it’s also about being more respectful to the women already in the field. For example, despite being a staff writer for The Athletic, men continue to question Sara Civian’s ability to do her job. In 2017, she tweeted, “men acting shocked that I ‘actually’ know sports is my favorite party game.” And it’s funny, but it’s also really sad because it’s true. It’s the kind of thing that you want to laugh about just to deal with its sheer absurdity. This tweet’s pretty old, and I only found it because it was embedded in an article completely discrediting Civian’s career simply because she’s a woman. This points to a larger issue, that men don’t expect women to “actually know sports,” and when they do, men don’t know how to act. There’s no reason for men to be so surprised that a woman is knowledgeable about hockey and that she could even form meaningful opinions about it—that’s literally Civian’s profession and she thrives in it. 

Apart from broadcasters and journalists, women aren’t really present in the NHL. In 2019, Kendall Coyne Schofield became the first woman to ever compete in the NHL All-Stars skills competition—truly a star, she boasts an impressive career as a member of the United States women’s national ice hockey team and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players association. In the Bridgestone NHL Fastest Skater™ race, she managed to beat out many of her male competitors and finished only a second behind the winner, Connor McDavid. 

A year later, Coyne Schofield made headlines again when the Chicago Blackhawks hired her as a player development coach for their American Hockey League affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. When interviewed about her new position, she spoke confidently about taking on this role.

“While I may be the first female coach a lot of these players have worked with, I don't see it being an issue. Through my hockey career, I've been on the ice with so many players and I've earned the respect of those players through my skill, through my merit, and that's what they're going to see me as when I walk through the door as a coach.”

Her response was perfect because she made it clear that the fact that she’s a woman should never be an issue—she deserves her job because she’s more than qualified for it. She’s not just a ‘female coach,’ she’s a coach. That’s all anyone needs to know.

A few months later, Angela Ruggiero, a former member of the United States women’s national ice hockey team and Hockey Hall of Famer, was appointed to be one of the eight coaches for 3ICE—an innovative 3-on-3 hockey league scheduled to begin in 2022. When interviewed, she also made comments about the lack of women in executive positions.

“I think it’s time to have more women in the front office, more women on the GM side. Hockey’s hockey. It’s shocking, to be honest, that we haven’t had more.” — Angela Ruggiero

Once again, she’s absolutely right because when trying to find women to reference for this article, Coyne Schofield and Ruggiero were some of the only ones to come up. 

As hockey players themselves, these women know the intricacies of the sport in the same ways that any man could or would. The talent pool exists, it’s just being grossly overlooked. There are so many qualified women out there, hire them already! To compare, the NBA and the NFL have 11 and eight female coaches, respectively. It’s great that Coyne Schofield and Ruggiero are heading these initiatives, and I hope the rest of the league takes notice. 

Over the past few weeks, the Montreal Canadiens made many changes to their coaching staff. This would’ve been an ideal time to recruit a woman, and yet. The most recent change being Sean Burke to replace Stéphane Waite as director of goaltending. No offence to Burke, I’m sure he’s a lovely man, but I would have loved for Manon Rhéaume to be offered the job instead. She’s also an incredible woman in hockey who merits mention as she was the first woman to play in an NHL game—she played goaltender for Tampa Bay Lightning during an exhibition game in 1992. En plus, she’s from Quebec! I guess it’s just one of those things that sounds too good to be true, but it could’ve been. Maybe one day the Habs will shatter the glass ceiling of the NHL by inviting a woman behind the glass of the boards, on va voir

Once upon a time, I didn’t understand or care about hockey. I’m not ashamed to admit that—I’m really proud of the strides that I’ve made so far, and I’m excited to see where I go from here. Marc Bergevin, if you’re reading this, I’m ready to be signed on as a consultant for the Canadiens. I have some solid ideas for the team—first and foremost, let’s get Mete back on the ice, and get rid of those cursed blue jerseys. 

All jokes aside, it’s amazing what people can learn when they open themselves up to it. In the same way that I learned to understand and care about hockey, hockey can learn to understand and care about women. With that, I wish all the women in the sports industry a very happy International Women’s Day.