From The Grassroots Growing The Women's Game
Chris Jurewicz
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U18.003.08
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January 9, 2008
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The main difference is in the numbers.

The Finland Ice Hockey Association believes it is taking the necessary steps to compete with the best of the best in female hockey. And that begins with grassroots hockey.

Still, according to Arto Sieppi, the director of female hockey for the FIHA, it will take some time before Finland becomes a main player in female hockey, like Canada and the USA.

“Canada has the numbers,” says Sieppi. “There are 70,000 total female players (in Canada). Finland has approximately 1,900 players who were born in 1990 or later. Canada has a strong hockey culture and a winning history in female hockey. We are copying some parts of Canada’s way of doing the grassroots. But the biggest difference is the numbers.”

The first IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship will be held in Calgary between January 5th and 12th. Canada and the USA, two nations that have focused on young female players for years, are the favourites going in.

But this tournament is as much about increasing the level of interest of hockey for young females as it is about results. And that’s why what the FIHA is doing is exciting.

As part of its overall strategy between 20, the FIHA has established girls-only hockey schools. The association also created a female hockey department in November, which includes Sieppi (director), Tiina Karinen (secretary of sport operations), Johanna Pelkonen (development coordinator) and Sari Salmela (media relations). Add to that the one full-time and six part-time instructors at the grassroots level, and you have the ingredients for success.

“The main difference is that we’re getting more and more young girls to play ice hockey in our clubs,” Sieppi says when asked to compare female hockey in Finland now to what it was in the past. “There are more opportunities for girls.”

And those opportunities extend to other hockey federations around the world. In November, Finland, Germany, Sweden and Russia competed in the 4 Nations Cup women’s Under-18 tournament in Dmitrov, Russia. Sweden won the event with a 2-1 victory over Finland in the gold medal game.

That 4 Nations Cup was just one step of the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation’s buildup toward the 2008 IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship. The preparations began in May, when Sweden held physical tests on eligible players. In July, the federation held a week-long summer camp for 34 players and, in October, four regional camps were held. All of this shows Sweden’s commitment to growing the game at the female Under-18 level.

Terho Nevalainen, manager of Sweden’s National Women’s Under-18 Team, says his staff is confident that Sweden will be a contender in Calgary.

“We are going to Calgary to win the tournament,” Nevalainen says. “That’s the goal. USA and Canada are good teams, of course. But we go there to win.”

Sweden has just over 2,000 female hockey players between the ages of nine and 17. That number has increased over the last few years, thanks in large part to Sweden’s silver medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Sweden upset the USA in a semi-final before losing to Canada in the gold medal game. Still, the result gave female hockey a larger profile in Sweden.

Nevalainen says the world Under-18 championship will give young female players something to shoot for.

“We will have more and more players in the future,” Nevalainen says. “Before, we only had a senior team. Two or three years from now, maybe we will have an Under-20 team.”

All the work that Finland, Sweden and other nations are doing at the women’s Under-18 level is getting noticed.

“The world is working hard to catch up,” says Julie Healy, Hockey Canada’s director of female hockey. “And the first IIHF World Women’s Under-18 Championship is a big step towards other hockey nations building the base of younger players they need to close the gap between themselves and Canada and the USA. Last season 12 different countries had Under-18 teams that competed to earn the right to attend this event. Hockey Canada is thrilled to see the commitment that other nations are making towards the female game and, specifically, the female game at the Under-18 level.”

The world will be watching. And female hockey can only benefit as a result.

For more information:

Lisa Dornan
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4557 / 403-510-7046 (mobile)
ldornan@hockeycanada.ca

 

Francis Dupont
Manager, Media Relations/Communications
Hockey Canada
403-777-4564
fdupont@hockeycanada.ca

 

Morgan Bell
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6427
mbell@hockeycanada.ca

 

Esther Madziya
Coordinator, Media Relations
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
emadziya@hockeycanada.ca

 

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