How to develop women’s hockey

Raising visibility and investments and paying a living wage could be the key

Brooke Boquist, a forward for the Toronto Six of the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), works in real estate by day and plays hockey at night and on weekends. She said her lifestyle can be tough.

“If you work and do these trips every weekend or every two weeks, it’s pretty busy. So it’s definitely not easy, but we’re finding a way to make it work,” she added.

Before signing with the Six last season, Boquist played two seasons in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL), where she didn’t need a second job and was able to focus entirely on her game.

“But now here I can’t just play hockey and not work,” the 25-year-old forward said. “You just don’t make enough money to do this. And life-wise, I live in downtown Toronto. It’s like a whole other story, isn’t it? she laughs. Despite the cost of living in the city, she is happy to have found an interest outside of hockey that she can pursue at the same time.

Boquist said his team practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays and plays games on weekends. Each PHF team is expected to play 20 games this season, while in Sweden their team trained every day and played almost every weekend.

Being a professional hockey player in North America is not easy. Unlike professional male hockey players, female players can’t just focus on their passion and train, play and breathe hockey because it just doesn’t earn them a living wage.

The PHF and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) are the two professional women’s hockey leagues in North America. The PHF is made up of six teams and the PWHPA of five. This represents a total of 11 professional women’s hockey teams compared to 108 professional men’s teams in five different leagues in North America, including the National Hockey League (NHL).

Many female players, current and former, want women’s hockey to develop so that these athletes can earn a living playing hockey just like male players.

Julie Chu, head coach of the Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team and four-time U.S. Olympic hockey medalist, said for women’s hockey to succeed, investment must come first.

While it would allow the players to earn a living, it would also allow them to practice full time and “put a product on the ice that will be really solid and top quality,” Chu said.

However, she added that it is really difficult for players to be able to reach this stage, even if they want to, because they have to have a full-time job, as is the case with Boquist and her teammates.

“There are amazing athletes still playing in the PHF and PWHPA, and they are capable of doing that,” Chu said. “But imagine if these athletes have the ability to be professional athletes and the time and investment they can put into becoming a great hockey player, resting, recovering, getting stronger, […] all these resources. It only enhances the product itself. So we need this investment to improve the product.

Chu played in what was once the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) with the Montreal Canadiens (formerly known as the Montreal Stars). Being in different situations, Chu said it really made a difference in understanding that “we can only be as good as we can be, with the resources we have”.

She also strongly believes that increasing visibility would be a big step in making hockey more accessible to women.

“I’m a big believer that if we’re able to see it, if things are visible, then we have the ability to think about wanting to do it,” Chu said.

She said promoting current athletes to the elite level for the women’s game is really important. Chu described the addition of international women’s hockey in the NHL 22 video game as a “significant step” for the visibility of women in the sport. There are several ways to achieve better representation, such as adding player cards to the new Tim Hortons Hockey Card Collection.

“I think we need to make a more conscious effort to make sure that in our grassroots organizations we value each and every one of them equally, rather than letting women be an afterthought,” Chu said. For example, women might not be included on the boards of local hockey organizations, or they might not have the best ice time because they are an afterthought, so a good fit for facilities shared between the men’s and women’s teams would be to alternate good ice time — which usually refers to access to facilities during the day — according to Chu.

She added that we need to make sure women are part of the conversations or solutions if organizations are looking at things that affect both women’s and men’s teams.

Another way to increase visibility would be to widen the PHF. The league announced on January 18 that the plan is to expand to Montreal next season.

“I think the main goal for women’s hockey is to get out there right now and maybe at some point to have the girls earn a living,” Boquist said. “That’s the only goal. And I think expanding the league to get more exposure is all in the right direction. Currently, the average salary of PHF players is $15,000 per season with a team salary cap of $300,000. With the cap rising to $750,000 next season, the average salary is expected to reach $37,500.

“It would be great to expand to Montreal […] and across Canada,” Boquist said.

“Obviously we should focus on one thing at a time, but it would be nice to have another team in Canada.” The other three women’s professional teams in Canada are part of the PWHPA: Team Sonnet from the Toronto area, Team Harvey’s from the Montreal area and Team Scotiabank from the Calgary area.

However, Chu added that more needs to be done before taking this step. She said there is currently a disconnect in the women’s hockey world as the PWHPA and the PHF are separate entities, and the two should find a way to merge or disband separately and then reunite into a new one. league so everyone works together in one. entity.

The most ideal situation for her would be for the PHF and PWHPA to merge and launch right after the Winter Olympics. She said using the momentum and visibility of the global event would make the transition a bit easier.

Boquist believes that the expansion of the PHF will provide Montreal women with the opportunity to be part of the league without having to relocate. She also thinks the league will benefit from a potential rivalry with Toronto.

Along with an expansion to Montreal, the PHF announced the possibility of adding new American teams to the Federation. At this time, the PHF Board of Governors will invest $25 million in players over the next three years, starting with $7.5 million next season. The plan is not only to improve player salaries, but also health care benefits, as well as updating facilities, purchasing new equipment and increasing ice time in terms of training and matches. The plan is to expand the schedule to 28 matches.

“This is great news for the league and for women’s hockey,” Boquist said. “Such a big step in the right direction, not only with the salary cap increase, but also the expansion (…) especially to another Canadian team in Montreal.

Ultimately, the ultimate goal for Chu, Boquist and for women’s hockey in general is to be able to pay players a living wage.

“I believe in everything the PHF is doing right now,” Boquist said. “We get there, we make the right moves and we do what we can so one day, I don’t know how long it will take, but one day hopefully the girls can just focus on hockey. .”

Photograph by Catherine Reynolds

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