Women’s ice hockey is a sport of speed, endurance, and above all, toughness. The knocks, bumps and speed are legendary, and the skill on ice skates that is needed seems impossible if you have just discovered the joys of ice skating. However, a rare breed of females have helped make the sport the peak international competition that it is today – here we look back at where it all began, where it is now, and perhaps, where ice events like hockey are heading.
Governor General of Canada Lord Stanley loved hockey, whether it was on ice or not; however the chilly Canadian climate provided more than enough opportunity for him to hone his skills on the ice. His daughter Isobel inherited this love of the sport, and soon became a fixture on the rink outside Government House in Ottawa. Isobel Stanley’s first organized hockey contest was at the Montreal Winter Carnival in 1889, and soon after she could frequently be seen on the natural ice rink, playing with other women outside Rideau Hall.
In these days it was customary for women to wear long skirts while playing hockey, for decorum…but certainly not for pragmatism! Standard attire also included turtleneck sweaters and hats. A photograph taken in 1890 outside Government House of Isobel is thought to be the first recorded image of women playing ice hockey.
The first peak of women’s ice hockey was around the 1920s and 1930s, by which time there were teams, leagues and tournaments in almost every region of Canada and in a few areas of the US. There was an East-West competition in Canada annually, the winner of which was crowned national champion. Throughout the 1930s, the game was dominated by the Preston Rivulettes, who were the first dynasty in women’s hockey.
Women (as well as men) had other things on their mind throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, as World War II raged. The organized game declined over this period, and hockey again came to be regarded, by default, as the preserve of men and boys. Women’s hockey was struck a blow in 1956, when a court ruled against Abby Hoffman, a nine-year old girl who challenged the policy of only allowing boys to play in minor hockey. This courageous revolutionary of the hockey world had already played most of the season with the boys team, disguising herself by wearing her hair short and dressing at home.
The game grew slowly over the next three decades, worldwide, until in 1990 eight countries contested the first Women’s World Ice Hockey Championship. Following this, hockey made its debut among the other ice events on the ice rink at the Winter Olympics in Japan in 1998.
It seems that presently, the women’s game is more popular than ever. The number of teams and players seems not to have yet peaked, and there have been many first on the ice rink by women recently, with Hayley Wickenheiser the first woman to score a point in men’s professional hockey in 2003. She finished the season with one goal and three assists. She is joined by other women playing on men’s teams, including Manon Rheaume and Erin Whitten.
Women’s ice hockey in Hong Kong is also rising to prominence, at rinks like MegaIce, Cityplaza Ice Palace, and Skyrink Hong Kong, which was the first ice rink to allow women’s ice hockey in the country. Most of these beautiful facilities are located in shopping malls. One of the few freestanding ones, MegaIce, is the only international sized rink in Hong Kong.
Presently, mixed gender teams are more common, and these also look to be the way of the future for many countries. While prejudice and obstruction still frustrates girls and women who love ice hockey the world over, this is becoming less, and in the future should cease altogether.
By tpsdave from Pixabay