Changing the way we watch women’s hockey

Is there any way to keep fuelling the fandom post-Sochi?

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, for a brief moment, hockey fans forgot about the sport’s male millionaires and watched, stunned, as the Canadian women’s hockey team stole the gold-medal game from their American archrivals. With less than a minute on the clock in the third period of the tournament championship, Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin scored a spectacular goal that tied the game 2-2. Six minutes into the game’s first and only overtime period, she’d score another, winning Canada a gold medal in women’s hockey for the second time in her career. (Poulin, who is often compared to Sidney Crosby, also scored the game-winning goal for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics.)

Until that fateful OT period, I hadn’t watched the Sochi Olympics at all, in protest against Russia’s anti-gay laws. But I finally caved and turned on my TV when it became clear that Poulin didn’t merely bear a likeness to Crosby on the ice; she actually rivalled him in popularity. After Canada’s upset win, social media management company HootSuite released data showing that, on Feb. 20, the women’s hockey gold-medal game was mentioned on social media 12,000 more times than the Canadian men’s victory in the semifinals. As a lifelong hockey player, I’m accustomed to a certain hockey status quo, in which girls are given inferior ice times, women’s games are sparsely attended and career prospects are predictably dim: The budget of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League is $1 million (less than a subpar NHLer makes in a year) and its players aren’t paid at all. During the Sochi Olympics, though, women’s hockey was as important as the Stanley Cup playoffs. Men shouted macho barbs of encouragement through TV screens at female athletes: “Let’s go, boys,” and, “Get ’er done.” It was unprecedented.

Yet it made perfect sense. The women’s final was undoubtedly the most exciting and high-risk hockey game at the Winter Olympics. Apart from Crosby’s awesome breakaway goal, the men’s 3-0 gold-medal win over Sweden early Sunday morning was a bit anti-climactic.

But the stakes were higher in the women’s final for another reason, one less obvious than a short-handed overtime goal and a game-saving post. The stakes were higher because the Olympics are the only event at which mainstream hockey fans think twice about women’s hockey. When Olympic patriotism isn’t at stake, nobody skips work to watch Marie-Philip Poulin play hockey, but the same can’t be said about her male counterparts. Team USA forward Patrick Kane may have missed two penalty shots in a 5-0 bronze-medal loss to Finland—but the NHL star has two Stanley Cup championship rings, thousands of fans and an annual salary of $6.5 million. The Olympics are a happy distraction from his true calling. For female hockey players, the Olympics are the only sporting event that really matters. Attendance at non-Olympic women’s hockey games, regardless of league or location, are generally abysmal. Pay is worse. Team Finland’s goaltender Noora Räty told Finnish press in Sochi that she plans to retire shortly after the Games because she can’t make a living wage playing hockey: “I’m done living from hand to mouth, and now it’s time to start building wealth and think[ing] about my future. I’m not the only player having this problem. The majority of female players have the same problem.”

Räty’s solution to this problem? Create a truly competitive league for women in North America and watch as pay and outsider interest rises. Women’s hockey is notoriously uncompetitive. The Canadians and the Americans are usually the only nations to make an impact at the Olympics and the majority of games in which they don’t play each other are boringly unfair. (As a kid, my dad took me to a Canada vs. China women’s exhibition game, at which we both ended up rooting for the Chinese because we felt sorry for them.) Räty believes that if we pay women players a living wage, their game will improve. And she’s probably right. Who, after all, wants to seriously pursue a sport knowing that neither consistent recognition, nor money, is likely in her future? But will outsider interest increase? I’m not so sure. We saw during the Games that mainstream hockey fans—a.k.a. men—can get pretty excited about women’s hockey.

They didn’t watch Canada’s women trounce the Americans and turn off their TVs, bored by the lack of speed and size that only men can offer. They seemed to appreciate women’s hockey, just as it was—just as my dad, Jay Teitel, did in 1997 when he wrote an essay for Saturday Night magazine about why women’s hockey is a refreshing and often superior alternative to its male foil. “In their rudeness, their ego, the unseemly magnitude of their contracts, and their substitution of contempt for sportsmanship,” he writes, “a large percentage of male pro athletes today have become not just physical but emotional misfits. They have burst not just the dimensions of sport, but its spirit. Conversely, women athletes go a long way toward restoring the balance. This, too, may change, but for the moment, they have about them a forgotten scent of something eternally ancient and eternally new, a sense of proportion, an old-fashioned passion for the game well-played.” Maybe women’s hockey doesn’t have to change. Maybe we just need to change the way we watch the game.

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Changing the way we watch women’s hockey

  1. If there is a lack of interest in watching women’s hockey in a hockey nation like Canada then the problem is bigger than you might think.

    How about we just get rid of gender segregation and let men and women compete on an equal playing field? Women would never make it into the NHL or olympics, but that is a small price to pay for being respected as equals.

    • Pssst.. hate to tell you this but men and women *are* different. No really, there’s actual physical differences between them.

      Ignoring this is not the way to make people respect them as equal because they’re not, they would inevitably be seen as “worse” when it comes to those activities where a male’s inherent size and strength advantage comes into play.

      • Why isn’t peewee hockey as popular as NHL? Maybe we should consider them to be equal too.

      • To add a tiny addendum, I really think this only comes into play at an elite level. It’s not like we all keep in tip top condition and train to the best of our abilities. Take random women and men and they would probably be a lot closer in sports than we suspect. It’s only when you are taking the best of the best that natural size differences become a big factor.

    • While it’s true that women’s hockey is not as physical, you’d have to be an idiot not to admit that it was a great display of skill.
      I find that those who do not watch women’s hockey are usually in the same group as those who don’t like watching men’s hockey unless there is blood on the ice. Hockey doesn’t need broken noses or missing teeth to be an exciting game. The women did a great job. They may not have the same speed or power, but the shots were accurate, the moves were skillfully done……….and no one had to get carried off on a stretcher due to a cheap shot.
      The women did a great job, and it was a proud moment when they fought it out for the gold. Well done.

  2. In spite of all the hullabaloo about the Olympics on here, and especially hockey, and especially men’s hockey…..with all the appeals to patriotism and macho…..most Canadians aren’t that interested in hockey.

    I realize that’s shocking to the fans…..but more Canadians go to movies, theatre, concerts, galleries, museums….than ever go to hockey games.

    Fans are trying to flog a culture that no longer exists, if it ever did.

    • It’s a lot cheaper to see a movie than to go to a hockey game. There’s also only seven NHL teams (and arenas) in Canada, compared to thousands of movie theatres. That’s not even remotely a legitimate comparison.

      NHL games for Canadian teams are constantly sold out, and millions watch them on television. That indicates interest pretty clearly.

      • LOL no it’s not cheap to see a movie….and if people wanted to go see hockey games they would do so. It’s not hard.

        In fact, we’d have more teams if it was that popular.

        I’m sorry, but it’s just another sport….it doesn’t define Canada.

        • You may wish that is doesn’t define Canada, but it does. Along with Red Serge, Moose, Maple Syrup and the Maple Leaf, Ice Hockey is a major defining Canadian theme. This is both within Canada and outwith its borders.
          As an immigrant I can attest to the overwhelming Canadianness of Hockey within the country through eyewitness experience. Also before I came here it was one of the few concrete images that the hearing the word Canada brought to mind.
          You may not like it, but I’m afraid Hockey and Canada are inextricably linked at a visceral level.

          • LOL no, that’s 1950s tourist crap.

          • As I arrived in the new millennium I guess not.
            But thanks for trying to tell me what I saw and when I saw it.

          • Well harebell, my family has been 7 generations in Canada….but thanks for trying to tell me what my country is.

          • That wasn’t what I was doing.
            Your country from your perspective is one thing. But how the rest of your country folk present themselves and how foreigners view you are completely different. You are Canadian, you aren’t Canada.

          • And you aren’t the only foreigner coming here either.

            Nobody comes for the maple syrup. Sorry.

          • Indeed I’m not, but I was answering your assertion, “it doesn’t define Canada.”
            It may not do so for a sophisticated 7th generation “real” Canadian like you, but experience has told this one naturalised foreigner it does for many.

            And as for your latest proclamation reference the maple syrup, are you sure?


            You can absolutely guarantee that nobody comes here for the maple syrup?

            Don’t think that you can as that level of certainty is beyond anyone.

          • I find it nervy that a new arrival is busy announcing to a native born what the country is like.

            Sure didn’t take you long to start complaining.

          • Whose complaining?
            Not me. I just disagreed with you insistence that you get to define what is Canadian and what isn’t.
            You find it nervy that someone called you on your assertion, something I reckon that you are not too used to.

          • You are still a tourist. Come back when you know more about the country.

          • I’m a Canadian, as Canadian as you are for that matter.

            But your 7th generation nativist arrogance is starting to show.
            Oh and by the way, unlike the nativists I had to pass an exam on Canada and show I would be an asset to the country prior to coming here and earning my citizenship… you?

          • Everyone is my family is married to a first generation immigrant….so I know about maple syrup.

            You have certainly become a full-fledged Canadian though…..insisting that you know everything, and have the right to tell everyone what to think.

            The culture of complaint….it’s the Canadian way.

            We were hoping immigrants would change that. No such luck with your crowd though.

          • Again where have I complained? Go on identify where I compained about anything… I’ll wait.
            You’re the one who is unsatisfied and whiny and is trying to insist that Canadians don’t identify Ice Hockey with Canada or that others overseas don’t either. When it is quite clear that both groups do in a large part.
            I see you are just like Francien and James in that you love to project your own prejudices onto others.

          • LOL as you go on to complain again….about hockey and me this time.

            Sorry toots…you live in Harpo’s Canada….50’s schlock

          • Pointing out your mistake is not complaining.
            Where did i complain about hockey?
            you need to put more water in whatever you are drinking, or log off when you’re whiffing the floor polish sweetheart

          • “Listen, we live in a culture of complaint. Name me one group of Canadians who don’t think they’re undervalued, overworked, neglected, inadequately appreciated, excessively scorned, or hard done by in relation to others. That’s the Canadian way.”

            Yup, that’s you.

          • Did I say that?

          • Lordy….LOL….talk about floor polish!

            No you ninnie, it’s a quote about the Culture of Complaint that Canadians have.

            A PM of ours said it. You just suit it.

          • You still haven’t shown me where I made a complaint.
            You prattle on about 7 generations, cut and paste quotes that have nothing to do with anything and still can’t point to the egregious level of complaining I’m supposed to have done.

          • LOL yup, you’re a Con alright.

            What province do you live in?

          • So still nothing then… thought not.

          • What province, hon?

          • How about this sugarlips..
            When you identify where I complained, I’ll let you know which province I’m in.

          • ‘As an immigrant I can attest to the overwhelming Canadianness of Hockey
            within the country through eyewitness experience. Also before I came
            here it was one of the few concrete images that the hearing the word
            Canada brought to mind.
            You may not like it, but I’m afraid Hockey and Canada are inextricably linked at a visceral level.’ is what you said.

            Your experience as an immigrant….an apparently superficial one at that.

            Now then….province?

          • You do know what the word – complain means don’t you?
            There is nothing even remotely approaching a complaint in that quote, it’s a statement of observation. It’s like saying the grass is green and is just as much a complaint as that statement is.
            Try again when you are sober.

          • Gosh you lied too…..typical Harper Con

            Musta been one of the refugees he let in.

            Either way, you can be deported as easily. LOL

            Now then….you’re on the list….so off to the dungeon you go


          • Err wow

          • Wow – your going all rednecky now. You must have picked this up when you were part of the Reform movement. It’s pretty obvious why you were attracted to it – they were always anti-immigrant.

          • It’s the patrician class of 7 generations and their belief that their birthright entitles them to redefine words and look down on the lowly in action.
            Wait a minute, she’s a natural old school Conservative who’s projecting her fears onto others.

          • You just described union members, Emily….
            That doesn’t apply to all Canadians. Some of us actually LIKE to work hard.
            Working hard has allowed me to spend money to see a hockey game, buy stuff…..or enjoy my pancakes with extra Maple syrup.

          • Since when did when your ancestors arrive here give you some sort of special status. I’m only third generation, does that make me less entitled to have an opinion? Don’t answer that, I think I know the answer.

          • She’s so precious when she gets all aristocratic in her haughtiness.
            It’s the breeding dahling…. it’s all about the heritage.

          • Except that when she gets worked up she starts sounding like a 50’s diner waitress.

          • It must be that 7 generations of breeding, gotta keep the blood line pure.

          • These are the Canadian Kennel Club rules I believe…

          • ooh do you think they have a show where the impure ones get to run through an obstacle course?

          • They have to run through a series of hoops while they make insulting remarks about who their father might have been. A lot like what’s happening here tonight.

          • Weird
            Words have no meaning but what she thinks the meaning should be and any replies are ignored or completely misinterpreted.

            She makes Francien look coherent in comparison.

          • And things will change from thread to thread. She is constantly telling us she’s the only modernist – it’s all about the future where borders will be meaningless etc. and then she can turn in to a Heritage Moment. Never dull, but usually nasty.

          • In Emily’s, case….it was most likely 7 generations of “in-breeding”

          • Hahaha! If she truly is a 7th generation…she has zero breeding because I am a 4th generation and my ancestors arrived in 1838. The country was primitive then. Just imagine what it was like when Em’s ancestors arrived. Canada has never had an aristocracy so Em can’t claim to have sprung from it. Likely she was born of the starving Irish who crossed the seas in hopes of a better life or she was born of an Englishman outrunning debtor/’s prison.

          • The consensus is that a generation is every 20 years, that’s why it’s possible to have 3 or 4 generations under one roof. By that definition your family has been here 175 years or so, just shy of 9 generations. Perhaps your and Emily’s ancestors came over on the same potato boat. You may even have common ancestors.

          • We all have at least one common ancestor.

          • Imagine that! It is true that my ancestors arrived in Ontario and a few came west some stayed in central Canada. Wouldn’t Emily die a hundred deaths if she found out she was related to a bunch of uncouth Albertans.

          • A generation every 20 years, eh? Hmmm let’s see… first ancestor and 8 children, one of which was a very young son (my great-grandfather) arrived on boat in 1838. The son followed an older brother out west to Alberta where he married twice (his first wife died in childbirth). My grandfather was born in 1885 to the second wife. He was the youngest of five children. His father was in his fifties. My grandfather married twice as his first wife died while delivering their third child which also died. My father was born in 1926 as the first child of his second wife. My grandfather was in his forties. My father had nine children. I was born in 1962. I was number 7. My father was in his mid-thirties. I had a daughter at age 26. She is a 5th generation Canadian.

          • And I find it pathetic, (but not surprising) that someone who claims to be a seventh generation Canadian doesn’t appreciate Canada as much as someone who just recently arrived.
            Just keep nurturing your bitterness Emily…….God forbid you should actually wake up one morning and find an excuse to be happy.

          • This is not a therapy session. It’s not a feel-good seminar. It doesn’t involve candles and soft music.

            We need a realistic look at Canada, not fantasies about how wonderful we are. Wow….talk about arrogance!

          • I would be reluctant to believe that Emily is a 7th generation Canadian…..the number of generations seems to rise at each telling of her history.

          • That just smacks of small town Ontario wasp elitism. Get over your heritage. Hockey is an important part of our culture, like baseball is the U.S. – whether you like it or not. It’s not all about your tastes.

          • I don’t think baseball on an everyday basis is that big a deal in the states.

          • I pretty much agree with Emily. When I was young and innocent I think I could name just about every player in the old 6 team league. Nowadays I can’t even name the teams in the league or even how many there are now. My friends are in the same boat, when we get to together, ostensively to “watch” a game, its’ code for sitting around, drinking beer, smoking a spliff or two and shooting the breeze.
            I had a cousin who was the Head coach of an NHL team, we had good tickets for the asking and nobody in the family asked.
            Too many games, a diluted talent pool, greedy owners gouging the public, the sport is gone, replaced by balance sheets. I now live out east and there isn’t an NHL team east of Montreal, Jr hockey is big, college basketball is big, university hockey is big. More people root for the Boston Bruins than any Canadian team, if they root at all. I don’t see any of my friends grandchildren saying I want to be a Phoenix Roadrunner (or whatever the hell they’re called) when I grow up. I don’t blame them.

          • And you are perfectly entitled to do that.
            But for every one who is like you, how many Canadians (7th Generation ones included) are into hockey in a big way and view it as quintessentially Canadian? Also how many all over the world would also feel likewise about hockey?

            I know when I visit my folks and am down the pub, when those around me find out I’m Canadian it’s either Monty Python’s lumberjack song or hockey that comes out of their mouths first.
            Emily may wish we were all erudite, couth types who kow towed to Canadian aristocracy like her and knew our place, but Hockey is still a Canadian game and Canada is still a hockey country. I take no great pleasure in saying this as I prefer the round ball on the open field, but it is a fact.

          • Canadians & hockey (especially NHL hockey) is an out-moded cliché. Emily’s pretty much nailed it.

          • Are you Emily in disguise?
            You are entitled to say that when you say hockey it doesn’t bring Canada to mind for you. But you cannot generalise that for everyone.
            I’ll wager a penny to a bucket of Maple Syrup that after the Olympics even more people on the globe make that association.

  3. I think this would be a good idea. The quality of women’s hockey, in terms of games between the Americans and Canadians, is already high, but there’s a limit to how much progress it can make if the players don’t have the opportunity to make money in their chosen career.

  4. The same could be said, of course, about Toronto’s defunct lingerie football team.

  5. You are sort of missing the point here.

    Women’s hockey (like women’s basketball) is played at a far lower skill level than men’s hockey. They are playing at a skill level similar to 13-15 year old men.

    The sad fact is, it is sort of boring to watch people with a lower skill level play a sport. During the Olympics, we are rooting for the country to get a lot of medals, so we all sit around and watch speed skating, luge and women’s hockey — not because they are particularly interesting sports, but because they are part of the wider nationalist psychodrama of the Olympic games.

    • I would never say that the skill level is lower, because it isn’t. It might not be at the same speed as the men’s game or involve similar levels or types of physical play, but women’s sports are very skillful events especially at the highest level.
      The reduced power and speed mean that team interplay and reliance on tactics combined with rehearsed plays is much more sophisticated in women’s sports generally. Women’s rugby involves far less kicking and a lot more handling as an example.

      • Well then, there should be no issue with having women compete against men then. Except that they would never make it to the NHL because their skill level is lower.

        • Another person who didn’t read what I wrote before disagreeing with it.
          The skill level in women’s Rugby, Soccer or Hockey is not lower than that of the men. The only differences are to be found in the speed and physicality of play and this is solely due to biological factors regarding an individuals power. Women would rarely make the NHL for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with their ability, but a big factor that would prevent it is that a top class hockey player who is female would rarely match a top class hockey player who is male in terms of power, strength and speed. All of these qualities are important in the corner in the modern NHL, but none of those qualities are skill based except in the most general sense of the word.
          If you want to compare ability in the root skills of the sport try and compare shooting accuracy, passing accuracy, ability to read a play/game. Here you’d find a much greater level of similarity in ability.

          • Here’s an easier test of skill level. Let them play against each other and see who wins.

          • Still not grasping this concept of skill verse power are you?
            Would you put a highly skilled lightweight boxer in the ring with a highly skilled middleweight boxer or even heavyweight boxer? No you wouldn’t . Would the reason be that the lightweight boxer isn’t as skilled as the others? No it wouldn’t be.
            The reason we have different weight classes in sports is because some very small people can box very well and it’s to stop sheer power from overcoming skill.
            The reason why adult sports are separated into separate sexes has nothing to do with skill level, but like weight classes has everything to do with size and power.
            This isn’t hard to understand.

          • At any level, I still would not watch it, as it is boring. NHL is not exactly riveting, bur women’s hockey is dull.
            Your “skill” argument has no merit.

          • Your unsubstantiated statement doesn’t say how so is meaningless.

          • Did I mention dull?

          • And that’s a speed/entertainment matter and doesn’t address skill or ability

          • It takes skill & ability to make hockey watchable.
            It would take LSD to make women’s hockey watchable.

          • Not true I find it very watchable and I’m not on any hallucinogenics

          • That explains the ratings. You must have two friends.

          • I am a meat popsicle and have no friends online that I am aware of, in the strict sense of the word.

          • I was actually referring to TV ratings, but, thanks for the visual.

          • ha okay
            I actually go and watch it live at the local rink when the college are playing.
            It’s great fun and I get to meet the community too.

          • Everything is better live, no question. Even figure skating is tolerable in person.

          • Since you brought up boxing, I’ll chime in on this… and the answer would be yes. If you want to achieve a higher skill level than you have already, then a highly skilled lightweight versus a highly skilled middleweight would be the only way to attain a skill level higher than what you already have.
            Personally, I’d rather limp home for an ice pack after getting my ass kicked and know that my skill level is ever increasing.

          • I didn’t become a black belt by sparring with middle-weights.
            True, I have a bit of a limp in the mornings, but…

          • Well, your already at a high skill level. For you the light or middle weight wouldn’t cut it or add anything to your skills…. for me, fighting them has made me a more skilled fighter, since I have to adjust my skill for their weight.
            Well, fighting the ones that didn’t get eaten, anyway. :) lol

          • You do realise light and middle weights are weight classes and have nothing to do with ability either?
            Marvin Hagler was a very accomplished middleweight, Mike Tyson did well at Heavy weight. Both were extremely competent boxers but one was 72kg in weight while the other was 109kg. Power production in the one was an order of magnitude higher than that in the other. Hence the reason for separating people out by weight not ability – both were world champions after all.

          • Yes, I do realize that. You do realize that if you fight outside your comfort zone regardless of weight or class, you will gain knowledge of something other that what you already know, right?
            I don’t understand your meat popsicle reference however. You are frozen road kill?

          • Road kill? Now there’s a good example of why sports have weight classes

            Or maybe those dead animals were just trying to spar outside of their weight class in order to gain something other than what they knew.

          • Sports have weight classes because you won’t explain a reference to yourself? Interesting, but doubtful.
            Silly popsicle… dead animals don’t spar… they just lie there and take what is given to them :p

          • It wasn’t dead when it tried to improve itself by fighting above its weight class. The point is we have weight classes to prevent sheer brute force from overcoming skill and reducing sport to just power.

          • An excellent reference and I agree totally, but I’m on the opposite side.
            I have no brute force, but I gots some skills. If I wasn’t allowed to fight above my weight class with the sheer brute force team (who have skills too) I’d be fighting 18 year old Metro’s and overweight chicks.
            Soooo…. if we only allow for weight, skill and gender, so one gets anywhere and we all just stay in the same class.

          • I’m all for training in that manner and have trained women against u16 boys for that matter; but competition is competition because one side doesn’t have an innate advantage that stack the odds in their favour.
            It would be like going to duel and one party has a knife and the other a single-shot gun. Sure the knife-fighter might win one out of 100, but the shooter has a huge advantage at the start and the outcome has nothing to do with ability or skill of the knife-fighter.

          • But, being a trainer then, you must agree that if a hockey team of women trained with the NHL, they would in fact be better players. Yes?

          • Joint camps and training events do work, but you have to careful about what you were trying to achieve and the parameters you set for the event. If the joint training session is all about skill development and improving speed of reaction then if carefully controlled it will be developmental for the women. If it involves maximum intensity and realistic NHL match conditions then no, you would end up with a lot of injuries and two frustrated teams.
            There is a reason why women play u16 boys in some team sports and that is because the skill/tactics of the boys has developed to a sufficient level to offer a challenge while the physical/power side of their development is not yet complete.
            Ideally in training you want your opponent to offer a challenge, not blow you off the ice because they are twice your size.

          • I would say yes, but the average woman (especially in sports) is no longer 5.2 and 110 lbs.

          • Averages are interesting.
            Average wt: Men – 206lbs , Women – ~168lbs
            Average ht: Men – 6’1.5″ , Women – ~ 5’9″
            Every game played by men: many and full contact
            Every game played by women: much fewer and not full contact

            People drug with male steroids for a reason and if you add the effects of male hormones into the above inequality in terms of mass and size, you see you really have to be careful when conducting joint training,

          • So let’s do away with lightweight/middleweight championships and just have on boxing world champion for everyone. 21 stone behemoths get to fight against 11 stone terriers and winning is winning.

          • That is why I loved the original UFC, not the rule-addled money-fest that it is now. At first, it was an anything goes, no rules anarchists dream. I miss those days…

        • It is like women’s tennis.

  6. Would the NHL view a WNHL as a competitor for the hockey buck or an adjunct to the sport? Could a professional WNHL make it financially? There certainly is the money out there, but is anyone willing to spend it?

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