Renaissance Women of the CWHL

06-05-2019 15:05

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Photo from The CWHL.

Co-Authored by Brett Pardy and Courtney Szto.

Women’s sports, on the whole, is far more interesting than men’s sports. That’s right, we said it. We make this assertion based on the fact that women athletes have to cultivate a life outside of the playing field, even if only to make ends meet. But subsistence purposes aside, women athletes tend to be more well-rounded human beings because, again, we (generally) socialize girls and women this way: to put the needs of others ahead of their own and to know that sports is not a viable career for women. The ability to live a one dimensional life in the name of dedication to one’s craft continues to be a “privilege” only accessible to men. Even WNBA athletes, who have a salary cap of $115,000 per season (a number that seems a pipe dream for women’s hockey right now), often have side hustles, suggesting that perhaps, as much as sport gives us, there is something in the soul that cannot be soothed by sport alone:

  • Jessica Breland, Atlanta Dream, opened BR3 spa.
  • Rebekkah Brunson, Atlanta Dream, opened the Sweet Gypsy Waffles food truck.
  • Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta Dream and 2-time Olympic gold medalist, owns McCoughtry’s ice cream shop.
  • Elena Della Donne, Washington Mystics, makes (incredible) custom furniture under Della Donne Designs.

Della Donne, in particular, has been an outspoken advocate for pay equity and women’s sports stating:

It’s hard to fall in love with a sport or a team or a player if you’ve never seen them and don’t know much about them…I wish I could just play basketball and have that be my thing. But if I have to give some media knowledge or PR ideas, then fine.

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Elen Della Donne with one of her custom tables. Photo from Ranker.

In other words, women do not have the luxury of being just athletes — they have to be more than athletes in order to be recognized as athletes. As sports producer and broadcaster, Robyn Flynn commented on a recent episode of the Changing on the Fly podcast, if you are nostalgic for the days of the “Original Six” when players worked full time jobs and then showed up at the rink to play a game, this is exactly where the CWHL is today.

The ironic thing about sports is that we constantly trumpet how it teaches character and prepares boys for life after sport. Yet, once boys and young men are in the high performance pipeline, the sporting system does a really good job of making children out of men: This is when you eat. This is when you sleep. This is when you need to be on the bus. Wear this, don’t wear that. Interests outside of the rink are actively discouraged (see the debacle surrounding the Vancouver Canucks and Fortnite as a recent example). Former NHL defender Andrew Ference recalls, “if you’re getting involved in other things outside of the game itself, you open yourself up to criticism, even if it had nothing to do with the game that you play.” The result is we are left with retired athletes who have a difficult time transitioning into “civilian” life because they have been coddled into a narrow lifestyle for decades of their lives. Many players take on coaching and management roles, which is understandable, but at the same time it could be read as a retreat to the familiar where these patterns are repeated and passed onto the next generation of players. For too many athletes the practice/game day or in-season/off-season cycle is the only life they know.

With the CWHL only able to offer stipends between $2,000 to $10,000 per year, the league’s non-national team or China Sports Ambassador players have to have secondary jobs. University hockey is the gateway to the CWHL and that step is crucial to broadening horizons for these women. We also see that pattern mirrored for the 30’ish percent of NHL’ers who go the university route. Andrew Copp of the Winnipeg Jets offered this reflection to the Toronto Star:

It’s funny that this interview is happening because I kind of had a little bit of a meltdown yesterday. Not like an actual meltdown, but kind of about rounding out myself as a person. I was a very successful student. My parents spent a lot of money on my education when I was younger – I went to a private elementary and middle school – and I’m very confident in my abilities to do a lot of different things in the world, not just play hockey.

We’re so sheltered here, you know? And I don’t want to say I’ve been sheltered my whole life, but I’ve been very privileged. So, kind of rounding out myself as a person is really important to me, and I feel like education really does that for you. Hockey doesn’t last forever.

Taking it one step further, many CWHL players have graduate degrees and have parlayed them into pretty cool jobs. As two people who have been through and/or are currently running the grad school gauntlet, there aren’t enough stick taps in the world to show how impressed we are with their ability to juggle pro hockey and grad/professional school. Thus, in an attempt to help you and the media fall (more) in love with the CWHL and its players, we’d like to highlight 10 current CWHLers who might not be household names but seem like pretty awesome human beings who personify what it means to be a more than an athlete.

Catherine Daoust, 22, Les Canadiennes de Montreal, Defence

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Photo from Les Canadiennes.

Daoust is a rookie member of Les Canadiennes. She was part of the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Rocketry Club during her mechanical engineering degree. She combined her engineering and hockey skills during her time interning with CCM, where she helped develop test protocols for equipment durability and safety. (Instagram @cathdaoust12)

Melanie Deroschers, 26, Les Canadiennes de Montreal, Defence

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Photo by Courtney Szto.

Melanie Deroschers, a member of the 2017 Clarkson Cup championship Les Canadiennes, has a Master’s in neuroscience and a full time job, but she has managed to carve out some time to create a sports podcast in between practices. Her thirst for knowledge is super apparent in The Last Stretch, co-hosted with Safia Ahmad (Media Relations for Les Canadiennes). It offers insight into everything and everyone that goes into making elite athletes possible. They have interviewed coaches, scouts, researchers, and media in the first few episodes and in episode 10 we get to hear about Mel’s recent trip to China with Les Canadiennes. Check it out! (Instagram @djmellyd @thelaststretchpodcast)

Ailish Forfar, 24, Markham Thunder, Forward

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Photo from PensionPlanPuppets

Many athletes go into media post-careers, but Forfar is simultaneously carving out space on the ice and in the production booths. She was one of three bloggers selected by the International Paralympic Committee to cover this year’s Paralympics in PyeongChang. This season, Forfar started an online women’s hockey “CWHL All-Access” in collaboration with other Ryerson Sport Media students. It also helps that she is an Assistant Coach for the Ryerson Rams women’s team. Most recently, it was announced that she will be doing some video work for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Instagram @ailishforfar)

Anissa Gamble, 25, Toronto Furies, Forward

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Gamble promoting the Contour Diabetes app on her Instagram. Photo by Chris Tanouye.

Gamble returned this season from three years away from hockey. What was she doing those 3 years, you ask? She was working on her Masters in Science (MSc) in Experimental Surgery. Gamble, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a child, was part of a team working on transplanting islet cells, which produce insulin. Gamble intends on returning to further medical education after hockey and in the meantime is a holistic diabetes management coach. (Instagram @anissa.gamble)

Melanie Jue, 30, Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, Defence

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Photo from the Montreal Journal.

The Cornell graduate came out of retirement to join the Kunlun Red Star for the 2017-2018 season. This year she is part of the newly amalgamated Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays. If living and working in a foreign country wasn’t enough of a challenge, Jue recently enrolled in the University of British Columbia’s Master’s in High Performance Coaching & Technical Leadership Program, which means she has to juggle online classes from across the Pacific. She decided to boost her coaching credentials in order “to be as educated and prepared to take on growing and developing the sport off the ice.” She also stresses:

Coaches generally don’t get taught how to run their sport like a business and I want to return to coaching with not only playing and tactical experience but also a managerial perspective. Additionally, I felt like taking this course would add to my credibility as a coach. As a female coach, we have more hurdles we need to jump through versus our male counterparts and the more knowledge I can possess the more opportunities I will have. (Personal communication)

(Instagram @Jue216)

(Dani)Ella Matteucci, 25, Markham Thunder, Defence

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Photo from Markham Thunder Instagram.

Matteucci is a multi-sport athlete. The Clarkson University grad has also been a member of the Canadian Women’s National Baseball team for a number of years now. In 2015, she helped the team win a silver medal at the Pan American Games. As a senior in high school, she was the only girl on the field and pitched a no-hitter against a “midget” AA boys team (see Courtney’s recent post on the problematic use of “midget” for sports categories).

Alexis Miller, 24, Worcester Blades Defense

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Photo from Worcester Blades

Like Gamble, Miller returned to hockey this year after completing a Master’s degree, hers in urban affairs. Miller is currently an Assignment Manager at Barton Associates, a healthcare staffing company. And, in 2017, she cycled across the United States with her Dad raising over $30,000 for her hometown children’s hospital. (Instagram @alexis_miller).

Carolyne Prevost, 28, Toronto Furies, Forward

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Photo from Women’s Hockey Life.

Prevost appears to be good at every sport – she has competed for Canada internationally in both hockey and taekwando, plays elite level soccer, and is currently ranked 3rd in the world at the Crossfit Games. She is perhaps the world’s most talented high school PE teacher. Her Crossfit Games bio sums it up pretty well:

Carolyne is a high school math, science and physical education/health teacher. She plays professional hockey for the Toronto Furies in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. She also plays soccer for a women’s premier team in Toronto. Carolyne has won 11 National Championships in 4 different sports in her athletic career. She has represented Canada on different National teams in both taekwondo and in hockey. She found Crossfit in 2013 at the age of 23 after being released from the Hockey Canada National Program.

(Instagram @cprevost27 – check out her December 27th post…)

Jetta (Plakhotnyi) Rackleff, 27, Worcester Blades, Goaltender

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Photo from Twitter @JettaRackleff.

Rackleff was the first woman to graduate from the Rochester Institute of Technology’s engineering program while also playing a NCAA sport.  Currently, she works for the US Air Force’s weather department as a chemical engineer on risk mitigation efforts. Before she landed a full-time gig with the Air Force, she worked part-time at Pure Hockey in the goaltending department. (Instagram @jettarackleff)

Kaitlin Spurling, 27, Worcester Blades Forward

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Photo: BDZ Sports

Spurling is a Harvard political science (Department of Government) grad who has returned to North America after several years playing semi-pro hockey and teaching in Austria. While playing for the Blades, she is juggling work as a paralegal and attending New England Law school. Back in high school she also rowed crew as Varsity captain.

Honourable Mention: Kacey Bellamy, 31, Calgary Inferno, Defence

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Photo from the NHL.

Bellamy, with 7 World Championship Gold Medals, is undoubtedly already a well-known star in the world of women’s hockey. Still, any national team stalwart who writes poetry makes the cut as a renaissance woman. She just published a book of poetry titled, “Unbroken Heart of Gold: A collection of poems,” and at the time of publishing this post she has nothing but 5 star reviews on Amazon! (Instagram @kaybells22)

* * *

Now that we all feel like chronic underachievers, what do we do with this knowledge? Personally, as authors, we find ourselves in a paradox. We know that these women deserve better. They deserve better pay, better media attention, better facilities, better league infrastructure, better fan support. Yet, it is because they lack these things that we have interesting women to talk about. So how do we professionalize the sport while also ensuring that we don’t end up with the bland but wealthy professional male athletes to whom we have become accustomed? Simply implementing rules designed to encourage going to university before professional sports would not work, given that the NCAA system has shown itself to prioritize more play and less study, especially from its revenue earning athletes. For example, NFL star Michael Bennett wrote in his book, Things That Make White People Uncomfortable, that he wanted to major in sociology, but the football team encouraged him to do something less demanding. Nor is university the only path to becoming an interesting, well-rounded, and empathetic person.

Instead, a culture of learning and developing interests beyond competition has to become a priority. The professionalization of sport has, across the board, been financially beneficial for sponsors and executives; yet, increasingly offers a disconnected and (arguably) unhealthy environment for fans and athletes alike. If sport is supposed to create well-rounded athletes who enhance the societies around them then the CWHL has something aspirational to offer the hockey world.

Don’t forget to support the CWHL by:

  • Watching them on Sportsnet this weekend, January 5 & 6, 2019! [CWHL Weekend]
  • Getting your tickets for the CWHL All-Star Game, January 20th at Scotiabank Arena (and say Hi to Courtney who will be attendance!)
  • Getting your Clarkson Cup tickets for March 24th in Toronto.
  • Make sure you are following the CWHL teams to learn more about these formidable women.

Know of other players who should get a little signal boost for their awesomeness? Let us know in the comments, tweet us, or if you are a player keep your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles updated 😂. We are researchers by trade, we’ll find ya!

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