Hockey honchos hope to fix women's game

International summit will look at ways to get women outside North America playing

The big wheels of international hockey gathered at the Olympics today to announce a global summit on the sport next summer. And while the mandate of the gathering remains a bit nebulous, boosting the women’s game outside North America will definitely be on the agenda.

The backdrop to the announcement, of course, was Canada’s 18-0 obliteration of Slovakia in the tournament opener—an ugly reminder of how shallow the pool of female players is, and fodder for those who question whether the event belongs in the Games.

“I must say, I was not so happy,” said René Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, which oversees the men’s and women’s Olympic tournaments. “But it may be part of the [game’s] development. Remember that in the ’30s Switzerland was beaten 22-0 by Canada, and don’t forget the Canadian team wasn’t even a team of professionals.

“In Torino, Switzerland beat Canada 2-0. It took nearly 70 years for them to reach the same level. Now the federations have to sit down together and figure out how to help the development of women’s hockey.”

In other words: everyone calm down.

(Fasel resisted the urge to mention that Slovakia got into the tournament by completely and utterly destroying an opponent of its own; its 82-0 win over Bulgaria set records for the most lopsided result and highest scoring game in IIHF history. Not surprisingly, it devolved into a brawl.)

The summer summit will be held in late August in Toronto and will explore a range of hockey issues, from improving safety to better co-ordinating IIHF and NHL rules. It will be styled on a 1999 confab held by Hockey Canada, which resulted in a new player development model, skills academies and a mentorship program.

But the meeting, which is sponsored by Molson Coors Canada, is unlikely to resolve long-standing differences between the two organizations on issues like player transfer fees and whether the NHL will keep participating in the Olympics.

Indeed, there was an awkward moment after Fasel raised the prospect of discussing the NHL’s future at the Games at the summit—only to have Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, throw cold water on the idea in a nearby media scrum.

“I don’t necessarily view it as a place to resolve those issues. I’m not even sure I view it as a place to discuss those issues,” said Daly. “That’ll be something we’ll have to play by ear when we sit down and put together an agenda.”