How I became a fan of women’s hockey: Thank you, Olympics

Build it, and they will come. Or put it on TV, and they will come. Something like that.

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For a lot of women’s hockey fans, I think there’s usually two stories of hockey fandom: how they first found hockey, and how they found women’s hockey.

I know that’s not always the case- there are people who were born and raised women’s hockey fans (that’s a thing now! We’re starting to get draft picks who tell stories about how they went to go watch CWHL teams growing up and how it inspired them to play). But for me, at least, I became a fan of women’s hockey after I became a hockey fan in general.

I didn’t grow up following hockey- never spent my winters at a rink, couldn’t even skate well until I was in college. But during my sophomore year as an undergrad, the Sochi Olympics rolled around, and my life as a women’s hockey fan began.

Let me preface this by saying I’m a bit of an Olympic nut. During the 2014 Winter Olympics, I made an Olympic medal counter outside of my dorm room, a giant bulletin board that took up the entire wall between my dorm room and my neighbors. Every time the US would medal, I’d cut out a little gold, silver, or bronze circle, write the name of whoever won it, and hang it up on the board for all to see.

So uh, yeah. I was pretty invested.

That was my first year watching Olympic hockey- I didn’t become a hockey fan until after the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. So as I soaked in as much hockey as I could, I naturally started watching the women’s hockey coverage, too. It was the first time I’d heard of Julie Chu, Meghan Duggan, and Hilary Knight. It was the first time I’d seen women’s hockey on TV. I learned more about Team USA in the course of two weeks than I had in the four years prior, and it was amazing. I loved the stories, I loved the players, and I Ioved watching the games. I was hooked.

I can’t remember where I heard it, but I remember reading the phrase “If you’re a women’s hockey fan, you have to be really good with Google.” Frankly, that’s the understatement of the century. It’s almost impossible to have casual fans of women’s hockey because it’s really difficult to even be exposed to it unless you actively go searching  for it. Sure, social media has changed the game a little bit, and leagues are getting a little more press on TV and mainstream media, but I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve met in my daily life who know what the NWHL or CWHL is. You can’t be a fan of something if you don’t even know it exists.

But during an Olympic years, the coverage skyrockets. Suddenly, Hilary Knight and Marie-Philip Poulin become household names. Games are shown on TV, not Youtube, and outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated have stories about Shannon Szabados right next to stories about Sidney Crosby. It’s visible.

I found the game because the game found me. I stayed a fan because once I found it, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it before.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with this kind of story, and I hope I’m not the last. With another Olympic year coming up, I hope we have thousands of new fan stories like this.  Because the more people who get to see the game, who start talking about it, the more fans will come. The ceiling is sky-high for whcky right now, and that’s a great thing.

It’s all about visibility, and that’s what the Olympics provides. It’s what first made me a fan, and I’m so, so glad it did. Here’s to many more new fans this year.

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