Monday, 5 November 2012

Open letter to the AHL: give women’s players a chance when the lockout ends

While the theme of the 2012-13 AHL season is to help provide young superstars like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Cody Hodgson, Jake Gardiner and Sean Couturier an opportunity to mature and develop their skills, what shall the league do once Lockout 3.0 comes to an end? While said lockout has created an opportunity for the AHL franchises and their fans to benefit from this sudden embarrassment of riches, there is another drawing card that warrants serious consideration.

As the AHL has always served as a buffer to experiment with rules changes and other ideas that the big league ponders, perhaps it is time for the AHL to be proactive on another front. It may be considered revolutionary yet ground breaking; what if the league were to have one female ice hockey player on every roster? With Manon Rheaume recently celebrating the 20th Anniversary of breaking the NHL’s gender barrier, now would be the most opportune time to pay tribute to that remarkable event by pushing the boundaries of hockey like they have never been before.

Several years ago, a television network in Quebec had a reality show based on hockey. The premise was that two teams (one representing Montreal and the other Quebec City) would compete against each other in a series of contests. In paying tribute to the classic Montreal Canadiens and Quebec Nordiques rivalry, the key difference was that each team had at least one woman on their roster.

Former Connecticut Huskies legend and Clarkson Cup champion Dominique Thibault played forward for Team Quebec. Jenny Lavigne, a police officer and teammate of Thibault in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League stood between the pipes for Team Montreal. Of note, the matches were full contact hockey and Thibault was not immune to being on the receiving end of physical play (just like Angela Ruggiero endured in her one game with the Tulsa Oilers).

There is no question that many women today are more than good enough to play on the same ice as their male counterparts. Gillian Apps (whose father and grandfather both played in the NHL) would be perfect as a player for the Toronto Marlies. She could wear the number 10 like her grandfather did when he led the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Stanley Cup many generations ago.

The hockey hotbed of Montreal features several female residents that could be productive members of the Canadiens farm team, the Hamilton Bulldogs. Jesse Scanzano is a 6 foot tall power forward and a member of the NCAA 200 point club that. In addition, Caroline Ouellette, one of the greatest women’s hockey players in modern history is another Montreal resident that could hold her own with the Bulldogs.

Of course, there are a plethora of goaltenders that could easily add a new dimension to the way the game is contested at the AHL level. Noora Raty, the greatest goaltender in the history of the Minnesota Golden Gophers would be a suitable member for the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate. Jessie Vetter, the Babe Ruth of NCAA women’s hockey set so many remarkable records with the Wisconsin Badgers that she would be an ideal choice to guard the Milwaukee Admirals net.

Shannon Szabados has all the tools to be the next Manon Rheuame. She has played with men’s teams in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League, and with Grant McEwan College. In 2010, many in the Edmonton media believed Szabados should have been used by the Oilers when the struggling franchise required an emergency goaltender. Szabados has the poise and endurance to stand between the pipes for the Oklahoma City Barons.

While fans may argue that it may take a man’s job away, the same concerns existed when European players joined the National Hockey League. Canadians still comprise the majority of NHL players, and men would still be the overwhelming majority in the AHL. In today’s world of sport (like all other areas of business), a key component of survival is innovate or fall behind. Women’s ice hockey players would draw remarkable media interest, while bringing new female fans to the gate. Even if the league were to do this for one season and fail miserably, the newfound respect and admiration that the AHL would gain from so many would put the league in a better position than it ever had.

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