Rookie Reflections - April 9, 2013

Rookie Reflections:
A 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship Blog

TUESDAY, APRIL9: THE BEAUTY OF HOCKEY

by Tracy Gagnon

Do you have any idea how exciting the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship has been?

Okay, you’ve been at SBP Arena and the Nepean Sportsplex watching the games. You get it. The speed, the athleticism, the sportswomanship. Shivers have run down my spine at an amazing play – and I don’t even know hockey the way most of you do! You must be doing handsprings by now! There’s probably a hospital ward especially for over-excited fans!

But as exciting as it is on the ice, I suspected it was just as exciting off the ice. I was sure there were stories behind the scenes that never got told. I was right. I am so grateful to Kristen, Howie and Brodie for letting me seek them out and embroider them into the fabric of this unequalled event.

The common thread of these stories is people – just like on the ice. Statistics don’t make the game. The fabulous shot on goal by your favourite player is what it’s all about.

You’ve met some of the people through my blogs. The 800 volunteers, for example, who work endlessly behind the scenes to make your experience at the worlds fantastic.

But let me share some other behind the scenes stories with you, that haven’t yet come to light in my blog. Some are exciting. Some are sad. Some are funny. Some are unbelievable. But they are all part of the experience at women’s worlds.

For example, last week at the Nepean Sportplex I met two lovely Swedish women. They were standing in the middle of an empty hall wringing their hands. I must have looked perplexed as I welcomed them to Canada. It turned out they were the anxious moms of Swedish players Fallman and Winberg. They came all the way to Canada to support their daughters but couldn’t watch them play!

The day before I’d interviewed their daughters. It was so clear in that empty hall that as much blood, sweat and tears as the players give, so too do their families.

As for the players, it truly is blood, sweat and tears. I’d noticed while I interviewed several of the players over the last week that that when I asked why they love hockey, tears brimmed in their eyes. I wondered about this.

I truly hadn’t taken what it meant to them seriously enough – until I made the ridiculous comment to a Swedish player after a loss that it was only ONE game. I meant it in the kindest way, but the response was “No. It’s not.” And suddenly, I got it. Tears welled for me as I realized that, as writing is for me, hockey is their passion, their dream, their life. I will never forget that moment.

And I will never forget two other poignant encounters.

I interviewed Luke Richardson, who coaches Ottawa's farm team, the Binghamton Senators, and his wife Stephanie for a Do it For Daron story. If you haven’t noticed all the purple bracelets during the tournament, they signify a movement to bring positive mental health to young hockey players, brought to light after the tragic suicide of the Richardson’s daughter, Daron in 2010. I wept after I spoke to the Richardsons. And I wept again when I met Daron’s grandparents in the stands on D.I.F.D. night. I wept because even though the whole family is heartbroken by Daron’s death, they are determined to turn it into a positive for other young people struggling with mental health issues. They make me want to be a better person.

Such inspiration abounds at the women’s worlds. Like 40-year-old Russian player Yekaterina Pashkevich who, although her team did not win gold at the women’s worlds, she too is determined – to continue to work as hard as she can to be on the Russian team in Sochi next year.

I was inspired again, in a story that I had meant as an opportunity to just have fun. I was writing about the theft of the OWHA’s Honesty Bear and mascot. I was interviewing Fran Rider (president of OWHA and an inspiration in her own right), when I looked over and noticed Hazel McCallion looking on. Hazel McCallion! A celebrity in the hockey world and, at 92 years young, the one and only (ever!) mayor of Mississauga.

How do you top that? Perhaps finding Team Canada’s Lacasse and Labonté in a hallway warming up for the gold medal game by playing ping pong! Or maybe by meeting a lovely girl all the way from Egypt who was volunteering because “Hockey is Canada.”

I could share dozens more stories like these, but, alas, our time together is almost over. What I hope is that as much as the beauty of hockey has been brought to life on the ice by the players, my blog has managed, as least a tiny bit, to bring to life the beauty of hockey off the ice, too. The beauty of hockey, like everything in life, is about the people.

Your Hockey Rookie,

Tracy


About Rookie Reflections: Tracy Gagnon is an Ottawa, Ont., resident and a media volunteer for the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. A self-admitted hockey newbie, Tracy and her fellow volunteers, who are generously giving their energy and time to make this event a success, will take us behind the scenes at SBP Arena in Ottawa, Ont., the Nepean Sportsplex and everywhere in between for the inside scoop on what goes into hosting a major world championship in the nation’s capital – all from the eyes of a total rookie.

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