Wicked Angles: NHLN, you're part of the problem

We're still doing this casual sexism thing in 2024? Okay, then.

Wicked Angles: NHLN, you're part of the problem
Photo by Gabriel Avalos / Unsplash

At this point, anyone who's been paying even peripheral attention to either Worlds or their Twitter feed has seen the clip of NHL Network broadcaster Steve Konroyd talking about how "not a lot of girls play hockey" as he and Jamie Hersch broke down the United States' path to defending their gold medal. If you haven't, I'm incredibly sorry because here it is.

Now, let's be clear: I've never heard of this man before in my life. If you put him in a lineup of Hockey Men Doing the Play-By-Play and told me "choose correctly or one dies," I... wouldn't really be that inclined anyway, but even if I wanted to I still wouldn't be able to pick him out. He was drafted midway in the second round by the Calgary Flames in 1980 and proceeded to play 14 seasons with about six different teams, including the New York Islanders (which is hilarious to me because I was an Isles fan for about 15 years and never once heard his name).

This isn't me saying a stay-at-home defender who achieved some modest success in his hockey career can't be a perfectly good studio analyst. I'm just saying, maybe this one isn't quite cut out to do that if he can't pay attention to all aspects of the game, aside from the ones men are involved in.

The rise of girls' and women's hockey has been demonstrable for the past 15 years in the United States alone, where participation in hockey has increased by 65 percent over that time. NHL Network has been broadcasting Worlds games in the U.S., splitting duties with ESPN+, and Konroyd might be Canadian, but he's lived here long enough that he should know how much the sport has grown over the past few years.

In Canada, Konroyd's birth country, the growth of women's hockey has been steady as well over the past decade. This is likely due in large part to how successful the women's national team has been, as well as how the PWHPA was able to gain a foothold with Canadian audiences prior to the ascent of the Professional Women's Hockey League.

And hell, that's a point – even if he never knew how to spell CWHL, PHF, or PWHPA, the PWHL has gotten enough attention since January that he should be well aware hockey is just as much for the "girls" as it is for the boys. (Don't even get me started on calling grown women in their 20s and 30s, "girls.")

Mike Murphy did a breakdown of just how much women's hockey has grown on a global scale back in 2020, and he's been doing incredible work for years on this. If anyone deserves flowers for preserving women's hockey history on a numbers level, it's Mike, and you should revisit that analysis because it's great.

Sure, in the grand scheme of populations and overall exposure, hockey is not the most well-attended to sport out there. Meredith just went over how the sport can be cost-prohibitive, and it's still mainly regional in a lot of cases. But the point is, Konroyd should know his sport inside and out if he wants to be taken seriously by us as a hockey guy. After all, that's what I and many other women and femmes have been told for the past 20-odd years – it's only fair, right?

It strikes a really irritating chord with me how in the middle of one of the most incredible times to be alive as a women's sports fan, surrounded by incredible athletes in basketball, soccer, and hockey alike, NHL Network as a whole and Steve Konroyd in particular seem to be living on some alternate plane where none of this growth ever happened. It doesn't help that a large part of the marketing around women's hockey lately has played up "not having a professional league," which I've already made plenty of commentary on. I'm not going to beat that zombie horse again, but what I will do is make clear that if Konroyd is that clueless about just how much women have bought into hockey as a sport at every level, then he shouldn't be covering women's hockey.

NHL Network needs to get their heads out of their asses already and find people who know what the hell they're talking about when it comes to the women's game. The league certainly makes enough in revenue these days that they can find someone to do that, and I won't even be picky about the gender.

I will point out how their Canadian counterparts at TSN have one of the best put-together broadcasts I've witnessed in a while, with Kenzie Lalonde and Cheryl Pounder on the call while Sami Jo Small, Tessa Bonhomme, and Megan Bozek break down each period at intermission. It's been a joy to listen to them, not least because it's obvious they take the game and its players seriously. NHL Network should take some notes and quit dragging its feet on hiring people who care about giving fans good coverage.

It might seem nitpicky and "not a big deal" in the eyes of those who don't get just how frustrating listening to this crap can be, and I get that. It must be very gratifying to be able to tune out the offhand remarks and subtle misogyny when it doesn't affect you; however, I and many folks I know don't have that luxury. In a timeline where more people than ever want good exposure for women's sports, we're done ignoring the way broadcasters dredge up every tenuous connection a female athlete has to a man in the sport or talk about how "inspiring" it is to see world-class hockey players skate at a high level. It's time to get on the same page as those of us who have been giving women's hockey a platform since before even The Ice Garden existed.

The casual sexism of the good old hockey boys who peaked in the 80s? That's not gonna cut it anymore. It's 2024, and we're not going anywhere, so come with us or we'll leave you in the dust.