I spent my Saturday night at First Niagara Center with a friend of mine, watching USA Hockey’s best prospects carve up the ice. In between periods, of course, we couldn’t help but look at the Twitter, and I came across an article written by former Team USA defender Angela Ruggiero.
Admittedly, Ruggiero has always been a favorite of mine. She had an incredible career, and her work to help keep women’s hockey alive in the Olympics is inspiring. There’s just a teeny tiny baby thing that bothers me about what she’s written here about whether or not a girl should play with the boys.
For the most part, I agree with her assessment. Boys’ hockey is a lot more competitive, but by virtue of its structure, not because boys have some predestined desire to win more than girls do. I played lacrosse for five years, and I can tell you straight away that although the difference between men’s and women’s lacrosse is pretty great, the women I played with and against were every bit as determined to win as any man I might have scrimmaged against.
It’s just that our sport, and women’s hockey as well, is perceived to be “less competitive” since the rules make it less overtly physical. No hitting, clutching or grabbing, on account of we’re “delicate females.” (Tell that to the permanent bruises on my shins.) It’s also partially the long-standing sexist undertones (benevolent or otherwise) that have kept women’s hockey development in countries not named the U.S. or Canada at a near-standstill, not to mention a professional women’s league stateside. There’s not much for girls to play for other than pride and love of the game, which for many is more than enough, but not so much that they can continue playing the game competitively long after they’ve left school.
That doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the finesse and skill of women’s players in either sport (or the sneakiness — many of my teammates have gotten bruises from a well-placed stick or elbow while the refs’ backs are turned). I’m sure what’s true for lacrosse is just as true for hockey, and for Ruggiero to say the women’s game is “naturally less competitive” is, well, not correct. As for the ice time issue Ruggiero addresses… if the female player in question is being pushed harder on a boys’ team, thus becoming a stronger player, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t have a crack at making top-six if she ultimately plays well enough for it. It should depend on the player’s ability, not his or her gender.
There is also not “naturally” more camaraderie within a girls’ team than within a boys’ team, unless you mean to say girls and women would be more accepting to their own. That might be correct, except — oh, wait, it’s still not that natural. Sure, there might be some talk that a female player might be excluded from in the locker room, simply because there’s some stuff guys and gals talk about in their separate groups. But altogether, that’s mostly the product of social conditioning, not some inherent magnet that repels boys and girls from getting along with each other. (Oh, and Angie? I’ve seen plenty of dancing, singing, and cheering from boys’ teams, just sayin’.)
My take? As I said before, I agree with most of what Ruggiero has to say here. If you find your daughter is intimidated by playing on a boys’ team, don’t make her. If she feels she can handle it, and she wants to handle it, then let her go for as long as she can and fight to keep her there if she’s got the skill. Either way, she should do what she wants to do. But don’t for one second think that any of these differences in the girls’ and guys’ games are because of anything “natural.” Nope. Not true, and if it is, it probably didn’t start that way.
Just a side note: of all the youth hockey players my friend and I saw on the ice between periods during the prospects game, one stood out. She wore #77 and had a shock of blonde hair poking out from under her helmet — and scored two goals for her team. You best believe we cheered her on. Go ahead, girl.