The Hockey Hall of Fame is Failing to Recognize Great Women

By Tom Hunter (@PuckDontLie)

In 2010, when Angela James and Cammi Granato were inducted into the Hockey Hall of fame, it looked as though the selection committee was finally taking a step forward.

It had taken a while, but the group that had long been described as an ‘old boys club’ was finally going to make up for lost time and start giving women’s hockey the attention it deserved.

Unfortunately, though, the progress has since been moving at a snail’s pace.

Since the inclusion of James and Granato, there have only been two other women inducted – Angela Ruggeiro and Geraldine Heaney. In that same time, we’ve seen 28 men inducted as both players and builders, far outpacing the inclusion of woman players and personnel.

Of course, it shouldn’t be argued that the numbers should be significantly closer, given the history of both sides, but a 14:1 ratio is ridiculous.

The topic was discussed during the round-table segment of Prime Time Sports on the Fan590 this past Friday. It was a very interesting – and sometimes heated – debate between Damien Cox and John Shannon, with Cox being the advocate for women’s hockey and Shannon once again being the mouthpiece for hockey’s old boys’ club.

Now, anyone who follows hockey in Toronto knows the reputation Damien Cox has – but in this case, he was very poignant and made Shannon look out of touch at best and misogynistic at worst.

Shannon’s argument stemmed from ‘respecting the process’ – that his buddies on the selection committee are ‘trying to get it right’.

(The fact that it took them six years to finally induct Eric Lindros – one of the best players of his generation – would suggest that they’re not.)

The Hall of Fame selection process is one of secrecy. The committee won’t tell us who gets nominated each year or how many votes they get – some years we don’t even know who is doing the voting. One thing that isn’t a secret, though, is that the committee lets politics and personal feelings get in the way of judging who is deserving to be inducted. Eric Lindros was a deserving first ballot Hall of Famer from the time he was deemed eligible, and yet was kept out for years because many on the selection committee simply didn’t like him.

Why is the process so secretive?

Probably because there isn’t much rhyme or reason to it. Rogie Vachon is going to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame tonight, after being eligible for 31 years. What makes him a Hall of Famer today that didn’t for the past three decades? The answer may be nothing more than a broken process.

Make Some Changes

“Maybe the committee isn’t equipped to make judgments on which women deserve to be inducted.”

John Shannon’s point is likely correct – so fix that problem.

Shannon’s solution was a separate selection committee for women. A group that would decide which women are deserving, separate from the normal process.

While he deserves commendation for recommending experts on the women’s game be the ones who determine who deserves a nod, I have to ask – why a separate selection committee altogether? Why does the women’s game have to be that separate from the men’s? Why can’t it be one group that decides on the merits of a player, regardless of gender?

Cox had a better solution; put women on the already existing selection committee.

I don’t know every member of the selection committee, but I’m willing to bet that Cassie Campbell-Pascal, Christine Simpson or Cammi Granato are just as qualified – possibly more so – to judge whether or not Eric Lindros or Pat Quinn deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. Putting qualified women on the committee would only enhance the validity of the inductees – but unfortunately, Shannon’s idea of a segregated committee is far more likely.

Which leads us, of course, to my next suggestion for the committee:

Educate yourself

Shannon’s point about the committee not knowing enough about the women’s hockey is probably correct – so why don’t they try to educate themselves? I’m sure I don’t have to tell you the answer to that.

Don’t get me wrong; I am sure there are those involved in the selection process that feel the same way. I know that Eric Duhatschuk, in particular, is one that’s knowledgeable about the women’s game, and has been an advocate for more recognition among the inductees. The trouble, though, is that it seems the HOF simply doesn’t see a problem, nor do they believe inducting more women should be a priority.

Over recent years, it has been made known that the reputation that they’re the NHL Hall of Fame isn’t one they are proud of. A new-found emphasis on international achievements has been front and center – which is why Sergei Makarov is being inducted tonight.

It’s an initiative that make sense – this is the HOCKEY Hall of Fame after all – but if international achievement is truly a priority, wouldn’t that mean we’d see more women?

Sunohara is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time World Champion; she’s a member of the IIHF Hall of Fame, and yet we don’t know if she’s ever even been nominated for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I’m not going to argue that all of this is intentional. I’d like to believe, to the contrary, that it’s not. The simple fact, though, is that like in most aspects of hockey – and sports in general – one gender takes priority. Whether it’s intentional misogyny or simple blind ignorance, the Hockey Hall of Fame is just another area in which non-male participants have been overlooked.

Who should be in?

It’s time for the old boys’ club to be changed, and it wouldn’t be hard to do so.

When the Hockey Hall of Fame was first created, 25 men were inducted over the first two years to make up for lost time. There are number of women that are more than deserving to be inducted and doing so one at a time doesn’t seem right. It would be great to see multiple women honoured at the same time.

So… who is deserving?

Vicky Sunohara – The Scarborough, Ontario native was once described as ‘the Wayne Gretzky of women’s hockey’. That moniker game about after she scored 51 goals in 25 games as a freshman at North Eastern University. She has three Olympic medals (two golds and a silver) and seven World Championships. She is likely the first great women’s hockey player, and one of the true pioneers of the sport. Sunohara is currently the head coach of the Women’s team at the University of Toronto. Her exclusion is likely the biggest travesty of the group and something that needs to be corrected immediately.

Cassie Campbell-Pascall – A former Team Canada captain, Campbell-Pascall is probably the most visible retired women’s hockey player thanks to her position on Hockey Night in Canada. Like Sunohara, the most impressive part of Campbell-Pascall’s resume is her international play. She captained back-to back Olympic gold medal winning teams and was a part of six world Champions. Averaging a point per game in her World Championship career, the left winger was the face of Team Canada at a time when the sport was starting to take off. Add to her playing career the fact that she made history by being the first woman to do colour commentary for an NHL game, and there is no argument that Campbell-Pascall shouldn’t already be in the Hall of Fame.

Riikka Nieminen-Välilä – The Finnish forward has been playing internationally for her country since 1989. Over her professional career, she averaged almost three points per game and is currently 5th all time in points by a woman in IIHF World Championship competition. At 1.66, her point per game average at the World Championship is higher than legends like Cammi Granato, Jayna Hefford and Hayley Wickenheiser.

Natalie Darwitz – Though it wasn’t as long as some, Natalie Darwitz had one of the most spectacular careers of any woman. She is second all time in points per game for the NCAA and holds the single season scoring record putting up 114 points in only 40 games during the 2004-2005 season. Adding to her incredible college career, Darwitz has the highest point per game average of any American woman in international play.

Guo Hong – If nothing else, the Chinese goaltender should be inducted in the builders category. Representing her country for more than a decade, Guo is widely recognized as brining legitimacy to her national program. For a country that was often overmatched in international competition, Guo constantly stood on her head making for exciting games and helping China gain confidence against the best in the world. The two-time Olympian, led China to a 4th place finish in 1998 and led the 2002 tournament in saves.

Jenny Potter – Sitting behind only Hayley Wickenheiser for most Olympic points of all time, the former captain of Team USA is among the best NCAA players of all time. She sits 7th all time in points and still owns the single game NCAA scoring record (6). With an Olympic gold and four World Championships under her belt, Potter is the most decorated player in Team USA history. She only retired last year, but she deserves to be among the net wave of women inducted to the hall.

Jennifer Botterill – The all-time leading scorer in NCAA history (149 goals, 170 assists, 319 points), Botterill is another from the golden age of Canadian Women’s hockey. She won gold medals in 2002, 2006 and 2010 and is among the highest scoring women ever to play for Canada. Botterill currently holds the highest point per game average of in the CWHL of any retired player.

Gunilla Andersson – With an Olympic silver medal in 2006 to add to her bronze from 2002, Andersson is the female equivalent of Nicolas Lidstrom. She has more points than any other defender in World Championship history and is a key figure in the growth of Swedish hockey through the 90s.

Cherie Piper – Team Canada won every single Olympic hockey game that Piper took part in. The three-time gold medalist has the highest point per game average with 30 points in only 15 Olympic games.

Manon Rhéaume – While maybe not deserving as a player, Rhéaume should definitely be in the Hall of Fame as a builder. While she doesn’t have the type of resume the rest have on the ice, she is the first woman to play in the QMJHL, IHL, ECHL and in an NHL preseason game. She was ahead of her time in terms to blazing a path to show women can be a part of men’s athletics. She isn’t among the best goalies of all time, but the significance of her impact shouldn’t be lost. If nothing else Rhéaume showed a courage to be ‘the first’ in a lot of what she did and that’s something that should be honored.

Fran Rider – Another for the builder category – This time at the grass roots.  Rider is the first ever executive director of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association. Through her guidance in the 80s and 90s, the OWHA grew exponentially and gave young women the opportunity for organized youth hockey that didn’t otherwise exist. Rider was the first woman recipient of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association Award of Merit.


For more on the growth of Women’s Hockey please visit The Ice Garden





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