Canada’s game changed

More female hockey players, visible leagues since 1990

In Canada, the amount of female hockey players has grown from 11,000 in 1990 to 85,000 today.
In Canada, the amount of female hockey players has grown from 11,000 in 1990 to 85,000 today.

There was a time that the janitor’s closet served as a changing room for Shawna Griffin.

The Gaels third-year centre recalls the logistical issues that came with playing in a boys league growing up, highlighted by the solitude of being the only female on an all-boys team.

“When I was playing with the boys I was never able to change in their dressing rooms,” Griffin said. “I either had to change in the janitor’s closet or a spare dressing room — if they had it — or a washroom.”

For her, the transition to women’s bantam-level hockey only happened at age 14.

“There were more perks that came with actually playing with females — they were a lot more fun,” she said.

This transition represents the recent boost in female hockey players — up to 85,000 today compared to 11,000 back in 1990.

On the international stage, the sport completes a full circle this winter. The Women’s World Hockey Championships are returning to Ottawa for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1990.

Griffin said the non-contact style in women’s hockey can offer more excitement at the highest levels.

“They’re able to move the puck a lot faster, able to deke around people easier, so it was fun to watch women play like that and go ‘that’s the way I can actually play.’”

Beyond international play, there’s the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). Griffin feels that the pro league offers up Canada’s best and most competitive games, outside of Canada vs.

the US.

“Not enough people know about it,” Griffin said. “And I think once [broadcasts] start getting going, more people will go out to see those [games] and more people will be engaged in women’s hockey.”

Graduating Gaels captain Kristin Smith shares the same backstory of playing boys hockey, years ago when the women’s sport wasn’t as developed.

“Girls’ hockey wasn’t as big in Toronto,” Smith said. “Women’s hockey got bigger and bigger in Toronto, so that’s when I switched over because it was a lot more developed.”

Smith notes that while things are improving for girls in hockey, there are still gender obstacles.

“Maybe [there’s] a bit of that stigma ‘only boys play hockey,’ but it is getting better,” she said.

Second-year centre Chelsey Verbeek agrees that there are still stigmas attached to the game, due to its perceived “roughness.”

“A big part of it is that it is still seen as a boys’ sport,” she said. “A lot of people find it too rough.”

Growing up, Verbeek was personally inspired by her own coach, Dawn McGuire.

The former Team Canada defenceman was MVP of the first women’s world championships in 1990.

“She always made it that you played for the love of the game,” Verbeek said. “She really encouraged that. So I’ve looked up to her ever since.”

Locally, the interest exists in the Greater Kingston Girls’ Hockey Association. President Marianne McGuire said that the organization expects an increase in registration after international tournaments.

“I would say there is maybe a five per cent increase in the younger divisions for sign-up after these events,” she said.

“It seems like the girls and the parents are really keen for the girls to play after seeing the Olympics.”

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