For the Love of the Game.

This weekend is the Hayley Wickenheiser tournament, taking place at the Burnaby 8 Rinks. It started on Friday morning with a game against the Czech Republic. This was the first time I've played a team outside of Canada and the United States. We were all extremely excited for this amazing opportunity, and we'd heard that their players ranged from age 14-30, but we really had no idea how they'd be. What we really weren't expecting was that their smallest girl (or lady, I should say) was probably 5'9, and they had 4 players on the Czech National team. The day before, some of our team had said they'd seen the Czechs and it looked as if some of their girls were young: after playing all the 30 year-olds we're thinking we might have seen their children. So as you could imagine, the game was a blow-out. The score keeper stopped putting goals up after they were up by 10 but I believe they got up to 17. A happy ending though, we scored in the last 30 seconds making it 17-1! Although we were destroyed, we didn't get down, and the sportsmanship was admirable- that is what international hockey is all about. Canada is known for being good sports and I think we demonstrated that for the Czechs.

Also as a part of this Wickenheiser tournament, there has been many different workshops for the athletes. I've been to two of them, and they were both quite something. On Friday night was the "Hot Stove" where they were discussing the future of women's hockey. Haley along with teammate Carla McLeod, and two other influential people in the female hockey world were leading the discussion. It all started on February 25th, literally moments after the Canadian Women defeated the Americans 2-0. After what had been the most intense year of training in their lives, and after a long stretch of rivalry between the two teams. Jacques Rogge made a statement that women's hockey might not be seen in the next Olympic Games; and from that moment on, there has been much discussion over the topic and lots of activism to be sure that that doesn't happen. At the "hot stove", we got to hear the issue being discussed from the perspective of many different roles in women's hockey. It was almost surreal to be sitting
in front of Hayley, this woman I've watched for so many years, and looked up to since I was young. She has been a huge spokesperson for women's hockey, and listening to her speak was something special. My favourite quote by her was when a young peewee girl asked her what her favourite Olympic memory was and she said "champagne and cigars after the gold medal game." very sarcastically. The Canadian women got in lots of trouble with the media for having champagne and cigars after winning their gold, but when the men did it, it's not problem. Another young girl asked why there's no women's NHL and women don't get paid 6 million dollars a year like the men do, and Carla MacLeod replied "because it's a mans world." And in the hockey world it really is. Canada has the most girls playing hockey in the world with 85 000 girls enrolled but many other countries have enrollment numbers in the low hundreds. Although there is no longer a threat about the sport not being in the next Games, these women are still working hard to try to bring the sport to the next level and help it grow around the world. I was sitting right next to Hayley's parents, and I had a giggle when her father asked a question about if a women will ever be inducted into the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame, because although a great question, we all know that when is does happen, it will without a doubt be his daughter we see in it.

The second session I attended was one of Carla Macleod speaking about her Olympic experience, and more importantly the long journey she took to get there. She couldn't emphasize enough, that although the Olympics are the most incredible event to be a part of, they are only 2 weeks of a very long road taken to get there. I loved that people used to tell her "Carla, you're just too small.", and at 5'4 she is fairly tiny, but she didn't let that get in the way of her dreams (not the one she dreamed when she was 4, of playing on the Oilers, but her 12 year-old dream of representing Canada on the International stage.) We got a sense of hell that the boot camps are that the national team goes through, burning 4 000 calories a day. We got some inside scoop on the slogan "Mile 0... to Mile 25 500" which represented from the time the team started their first boot-camp of the season in Dawson Creek (a.k.a. Mile 0), to the time they hit the ice in Vancouver, they will have traveled 25 500 km. You could see it in Carla's eyes that although she has recently retired from the National Team, that her passion for the game continues to grow stronger, and her dedication to get more girls involved in inspirational. Since announcing her retirement, Carla has been coaching a college team in her hometown of Calgary, running all sorts of camps, and traveling to tournaments to speak and tell her wonderful story.

Hearing Carla's memories were like reliving the Winter Games all over again. I felt like I was back in the rink when Canada beat Slovakia 18-0, but at the end of the game, the fans gave Slovakia a standing ovation. That was the sense of sportsmanship and respect everybody had for each other. Carla had played college hockey with many of the girls on the American team, but she said when you're on the ice, you don't see faces and friendships, you just see the maple leaf or those stripes and stars. Give it your all on the ice, and as soon as you're off the ice, you can suddenly see those opponents as your friends again.

Tomorrow we play Kelowna. Us Avalanche have had a long-time rivalry with them, much like that of the Canada-US. Pretty well every year we meet Kelowna in the provincial finals, and every year it's a close game, but we've seem to alternate who takes home the gold each time. Last year though, the Avalanche didn't even go to provincials, so we haven't seen them in a while. Lets hope we will play the role of team Canada tomorrow, they can be the Americans.


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