The earliest I heard of Women's Hockey was back when I was in 2nd grade, in 1998. The Olympics happened, and Team USA lost--the men's team that is. So when I was in gym class, the kids we're like, "Ehhh USA lost." But then, our gym teacher said, "But the WOMEN's Team USA won the Gold Medal!" And I thought, "Wow, the men may have lost, but USA won Gold!" I remember seeing the newspaper article on the Gold Medal win. Remember newspapers? Though the women winning Gold had an impact on me as a young kid, I still didn't follow women's hockey or any Olympic events for a long time, and I continued to be solely a Blues fan. The only other knowledge I had since was that Manon Rheaume played for the Lightning in the preseason in '92, and it was against the Blues too! My brother actually has a ticket stub saved from one of those games I believe. I also remember the Blues had her brother, Pascal Rheaume, when I was a kid too.
Anyway, it was 2010 when I really started paying attention to the Winter Olympics. I followed along with the women's hockey events, but not as much as the men's. I only remember Hayley Wickenheiser, because I figured she was related to Mr. Monday Night Miracle, Doug Wickenheiser (okay, that's the last Blues reference, I promise!)
Then 2014 came along: I was psyched for the Sochi Olympics, and I'm thinking, "Holy heck I'm definitely gonna start watching the women's games now!" And then a year and a half after the heartbreak for USA and becoming a huge fan of Team Japan, I saw on NHL.com that there was a new ‘paid women's hockey league’ being formed.
Now this is big right here: the moment I read "paid hockey league," I thought, "You know what? That's right. Women don't get paid, do they? So why haven't I followed this stuff much before?" And that's just the question now isn't it? Why did it take me till 2015 to be a full-fledged women's hockey fan?
Growing up I always loved strong women characters in movies and TV shows (Buffy, Cardcaptor Sakura, etc.). I always played as girl characters in video games when given the option (shout out to the barrier-breaking Samus Aran, anyone??). Another big thing is, I always root for underdogs. And women's sports are underdogs. Even if it's Knighter, or the Terminator MP Poulin, they're all underdogs right now. Crazy that there can is so much sports worship going on, while women’s get little attention. Somethin’ just ain’t right.
So with that being said, seems like I should have liked WHKY sooner. But it took the 4 words: "Paid Women's Hockey League" are the words it took to fully get me on board as a fan. That's why, with a sport that is growing, I believe there are a lot of would-be WHKY fans that simply don't know about the game yet. Internet trolls aside, there honestly still may be people that don't know there is women's hockey and need to experience the game in some form or another, whether it's going to a game for the first time, or a great idea--women being paid to play.
College Hockey is another example of my previous 'would-be fan-ness.' Never in my life did I follow college hockey of any kind. And then, in 2016, after the NWHL and CWHL wrapped up their seasons, I turned my focus to the Women's World Championships in Kamloops. I decided to take a look at the USA roster. The first player I see played hockey at Lindenwood University. Wait...WHAT?! LINDENWOOD?!! You mean that school in my hometown?! There's a girl that went there and she's playing on the top tier USWNT?? That's right. I always knew Lindenwood had hockey, but again, I didn't realize that the women's team played D1, which meant teams like Minnesota Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers come to town to play. What a HUGE privilege it is to have a D1 team right in our backyard. And to think I had no idea, until I saw this girl named Nicole Hensley playing on the USWNT. And this was USWNT roster filled with players who, at the time, (and probably currently too) were playing either in the Northeast, Minnesota, or Wisconsin areas. I suppose that’s why sports need star players: to draw fans in.
And now I know there's a women's hockey team in the St. Louis area, and I've been to several games since finding out. And although I missed out on seeing Nicole play in the Lion uniform, I'll now get to see great players play there from now on. And guess what? When I attended this tournament called IIHF Women’s World Championships this year, I actually did get to see Nicole become the starting goalie when Robb Stauber decided to give her the big test of facing Canada in Women's Worlds in Plymouth. And boy did Nicole pass that test or what?! I was there to see her get two shutouts and help USA win the Gold, so hopefully that makes up for not seeing her play during her Lady Lion days a bit!
Speaking of Women's Worlds: that was my vacation plan this year, and it was easily the best vacay ever, hands down. I was lucky to have family and friends to stay with, and I was basically in Heaven for a week. If you're a WHKY fan, this event is a MUST. When one comes near you, go! Just drop everything and go when it comes. Or plan ahead, whatever works! It’s good to be able to get away and to see other women’s hockey fans, as I am the only one I know around here. The players were great people, and the families…the FAMILIES of the players were amazing! Hockey families are just the absolute best. I never experienced hanging out with any players’ families as far as men’s hockey is concerned, so this year provided such experiences to me. Also, I hung out with this guy that plays for the Denver Broncos a few times who dates a USA player, and he was just a cool, down-to-Earth guy for having a Super Bowl Ring and such--great people, great venue, perfect event (even though Japan wasn’t there). I became a women’s hockey fan in the nick of time too because not only did I get to go to the Winter Classic in my hometown this year (I actually worked it for TV and still got to see the game!), but the Frozen Four was in town too, and then just 7 hours north was Women’s Worlds. All this events were just within a few months of each other too. Best year of my life as a hockey fan by far. And hopefully more people will discover the sport like I did, so they can also have amazing fan experiences as well. It’s time for the world to discover some women’s hockey!!