Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in Lockroom Logic are solely those of Dan Bauer and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners. Dan presents his opinions based upon his lifetime of teaching and coaching experience and we present them unedited.
As I stood on the bench and watched the puck drop at the Alliant Energy Center for the WIAA girl’s championship game, some 900 miles east, my daughter Elizabeth was jumping the boards for her first shift in a professional women’s game in Washington D.C. A minute and 22 seconds into her game she won a race to a loose puck and banked in a goal off the goaltender from behind the net. It was a bitter sweet moment for a father and daughter as we both would have loved to have been watching each other achieve a dream.
A couple of hours later I was able to celebrate my first WIAA championship trophy in a tear filled lockeroom, while my daughter sat exhausted in a lockeroom, in another time zone. In the days that have followed congratulations poured in to me for achieving a lifetime dream. Unsurprisingly the attention this small town, Division III athlete was receiving was non-existent. The former Central Wisconsin Storm and UW-Eau Claire alumni is one of only four Division III athletes currently playing in the PWHPA.
The PWHPA (Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association) has struggled to play games this season, some due to Covid restrictions and some due to their on-going conflict with the Premier Hockey Federation (formerly NWHL). The PWHPA has only played weekend showcase tournaments mostly in Canadian cities. The PHF currently has six teams while the PWHPA has four. Neither league has the financial ability to effectively market their product. The NHL is again meeting with both leagues to discuss their future, but at some point the survival and growth of professional women’s hockey will require a merger.
I have witnessed first hand the inequities that still exist between male and female sports. I began to wonder what the local coverage would look like if a former Wausau player had scored his first NHL goal. Actually I knew, Cole Caufield, and rightfully so, is showcased almost every time he scores a goal for the Canadiens. With that burr under my saddle, I decided to inform the media of this event. The interest was minimal and only after getting on my soap box, was I able to persuade a female reporter Addison Van Patten of WAOW to run with the story. Thank you Addison!
If you are a young girl you don’t have the same opportunities that young boys do when it comes to hockey. Only recently were you able to dream about playing professional women’s hockey and I bet if you asked many youth girls if they could name any of the current teams, they would be unable to do so. If you are graduating high school and need a year or two to develop there is no junior league for you or if you graduate college and need time to improve your game there is no minor league for you to grow your game, unless you are willing to go across the ocean. And if you are good enough to play in one of the professional leagues, you may not get paid or will have to keep your full-time job to make it work. Simply stated, because of the relative youth of girl’s hockey, the opportunities are not the same. However, those facts do not excuse the inequities that plague youth and high school girl’s programs.
If I didn’t truly believe that this is a story that young girls in Wisconsin need to see I wouldn’t be stepping in to promote it. I want all those young girls to see that there is a dream out there and it doesn’t have to end with college. And maybe even more importantly I want them to see that it can happen without leaving home for prep school, or spending thousands to play AAA or pre-post hockey, or pay a recruiting service to find you a place to play. Despite the efforts to make Team Wisconsin and Wisconsin Selects more affordable, the fact remains they are not an option for many deserving players. It is a financial burden some families simply can’t afford. I want those wide-eyed youngsters to know it can happen simply by learning to love the game and using that love to cultivate your game. You can even be a modest five foot two inches tall and start skating at age eight. If no one is calling your senior year, don’t panic, you can promote yourself and find a college coach out there that will see your passion for the game and take a chance on you. And finally if you don’t play at a Division I program that doesn’t mean you can never play beyond college and no matter what anybody tries to sell you, there is more than a single path to this destination. The American hockey dream is alive and well.
With covid concerns fading away and both professional leagues re-evaluating and re-organizing for next year, there is a chance that Elizabeth might never see another professional game. Admittedly, being in the right place at the right time played a big part of her getting this chance. I also know she will not take that for granted and will use the same formula that got her this opportunity to try and ensure she can continue this dream next season. She will channel her passion into getting on the ice whenever she can and continue to improve herself as a player.
There are a lot of great female athlete stories in this great game of hockey. The fact that they are females and it is hockey puts them behind the eight ball because neither is at the top of the sports food chain. As Title IX celebrates its fiftieth anniversary it is clear there is still a lot of work to be done. The growth of women’s sports in general is subject to time, nothing happens overnight. Those of us involved in amateur female athletics are the stewards and it is our job to continue to promote and grow the games we are passionate about.
Elizabeth may end up being the “Moonlight” Graham of hockey, but for one weekend in the nation’s capital she got to live out a dream that reluctantly started many years ago at Marathon Park. As both a proud father and advocate for girl’s athletics, I just couldn’t stand by and allow that to fly under the radar.
Dan Bauer is a free-lance writer, retired teacher & hockey coach in Wausau, WI. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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