By Alex E.
Historically, women’s professional hockey has been a clash of the Titans between the United States and Canada, the two powerhouse countries in the sport. Virtually every Olympic and World Championship final since the commencement of international play has featured these two teams with each besting the other on multiple occasions. Furthermore, it is a rarity for these programs to experience defeat by any other country. With this type of rivalry, one would assume that members of these organizations would want nothing to do with the opposing country’s program. Surprisingly, this is false, as we are experiencing an ongoing epidemic of players crossing the border according to a study by Locke and Karlis (2014). Since 2014, there has been an exodus of Canada’s best and brightest up and coming hockey players to College and University programs south of the border. The decision to enter the United States is influenced by the funding of the programs themselves, the financial aid these schools provide, and the elitism of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA; The Globe and Mail, 2017). An exodus, defined as a departure or immigration of a large number of people by Merriam-Webster, is not an exaggeration as the number of Canadian female players who left the country was approximately 400 in 2014, and that number has been growing every year since. With several arguments placing the birth of ice hockey in this great nation, and with Canada known internationally as THE hockey nation, it seems very strange that our players are required to leave the country to further their hockey careers (Locke & Karlis, 2015).
It should be noted that as of 2016, around 30% of the NCAA Division 1 men’s hockey players were Canadian, but this is due to personal choice and not lack of opportunity (CBC Sports, 2018). There are a plethora of opportunities for male hockey players to take them on the path to professional hockey. Elite leagues start at a young age and are available to the players until they are of the age to join professional associations if they are skilled enough to do so. In most cases, male university hockey players have come up through these leagues and have made the conscious decision to delay an education for a couple of years with the possibility of becoming a professional. When this does not occur, they enrol in an institution that allows them to continue playing while they earn a degree. The female experience is very different from the male experience. Although the elite leagues at younger ages are open to both males and females, there comes the point in time, usually near the end of high school, where these leagues are no longer a viable option, and the female players are left without an elite league to play in. Consequently, female hockey players join university hockey programs straight out of high school, being comparable to men’s Major Junior or even a semi-professional league. This can also be said of several other Collegiate sports, as National programs hand pick athletes directly from NCAA and U-Sport teams. If university hockey serves as their ticket to the Canadian National Program, it would be expected that these athletes would choose the program or school that would give them the best chance of success. Unfortunately, the NCAA appears to be the avenue for success for these women. To demonstrate the difference between men’s and women’s avenues, the rosters for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics for both men’s and women’s hockey were analyzed to see where players resided before becoming professionals. Of the 23-player roster for the men’s team, only four players were from NCAA programs; the rest were spread out across Canada in the QMJHL, OHL and WHL before being drafted to the NHL (IOC, 2010). The women’s team however only had 3 of 19 players who were not playing in the NCAA. Furthermore, 6 of the top 10 scorers in the tournament were Canadians playing in the NCAA (Locke and Karlis, 2015). This is just another example of how little women have compared to men in the Canadian sporting context at not only the elite level but at every level.
The relevance of all of this has increased in the past year, especially here at the University of New Brunswick for a couple of reasons. First, it is an Olympic year, meaning that all the issues that come with women’s hockey, not only in Canada, are put in the spotlight more so than in non-Olympic years. Second, our university is in preparation for the return of our women’s varsity hockey program, raising the question of if we will be able to be competitive and even increase the level of competition in Canada. Increasing competition is a critical concept as raising the level of play in the country is essential for keeping our best players north of the order which creates massive benefits for the nation, as outlined by Locke and Karlis (2005). First and foremost, operation budgets for university programs are comprised of both funds from the university, but also from alumni donations. If our best players are alumni of American schools, their contributions will be to another country and not our own. An exodus of players also eliminates role models for the younger players as instead of being able to watch them play every weekend like what occurs with Canada’s best male players; there is no opportunity to view the best female players. Finally, there is nationalism and enhancement of the sport lost. Now it is clear that the problem is systematic, and there is no easy fix, but something must be done. It does not seem just that our male players can thrive in the country that they grew up in and represent on the international and Olympic stage, but our female players are not given the same resources and opportunity. Even with this vast difference in development within the country, excellence and gold medals are expected of both the men’s and women’s programs. It will be interesting to see how the UNB women’s hockey team does in upcoming years as well as U-Sport women’s hockey as a collective.
Canadians in Frozen Four happy to have chosen U.S. for hockey | CBC Sports. (2018). CBC. Retrieved from
Canadian universities have a game plan for wooing top athletes. (2017). The Globe and Mail. Retrieved
Exodus. (2018). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from
IOC (2010) Men’s Ice Hockey: Team Canada Tournament Standings and Statistics.
Locke, M., & Karlis, G. (2015). Canadian Women’s Hockey: Concerns and Concerns. The Sport Journal.