Cheryl Pounder has been a pillar of strength on Canada’s blueline for a number of years now, and is logging important minutes in Turin, as Canada looks to repeat as Olympic gold medal champions The native of Mississauga probably appreciates more than most the rise of women’s hockey and women’s sports and can bring a sense of perspective to its history.
After all, Pounder’s maternal grandmother, Dora Wimmer, was a top athlete in her time, to the extent that she was offered a contract in the women’s professional baseball league immortalized by the movie ‘A League of Their Own’. Wimmer, whose husband Phil was a top-level administrator in the Montreal Canadiens’ organization, passed on the offer however, preferring to remain home with her children, including Diane (Cheryl’s mother).
“I’ve seen the actual contract, and when she passed away, I got all of her scrapbooks. It’s pretty funny to read some of the articles. They focus a lot on the image of the women and what they portrayed that way as opposed to all their skill. It’s come so far, women’s sport. I played in the Worlds in 1994, and you can see the evolution and the progress since then. And I’m looking forward to where it’s going to go. I think there are going to be great opportunities out there for female hockey and female athletes in sport.”
Wimmer got the opportunity to see her granddaughter 17 year old Cheryl suit up for Canada at the 1994 IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championship. While women’s sports continues to grow, the advances over the past generation have been substantial. A fact that was not lost on either Dora Wimmer or Cheryl Pounder.
“When she played, it was more, maybe not recreational because it was very important, but then again they knew it wasn’t their job or their career. Whereas now, the focus is that this is what you do, you want to be the best that you can be at it. You practice day in and day out. I think it must have been amazing for her. I had never made an Olympic team. I know that she was really strong in saying that you try and strive for your dreams and go for it in any way that you can.”
“It was pretty amazing for her to see me don the Canadian jersey (at the 1994 Worlds) because my grandfather never got to see me play. My other grandmother did as well, so it was a pretty special moment.”
“I was very close with my grandmother. All my grandparents were great supporters of me as an athlete and my playing hockey. Actually, my sister and I both played fastball. She was always out at the diamond to watch us play. Until the day she passed away, she was a huge Expos’ fan – she would never miss a game. It’s pretty neat to see someone of her generation to be so involved in sports and to love it that much. That carried through to my mother and then to her grandchildren.”
“I remember, sitting on my couch, years ago, with her, sitting beside her actually, and watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, and I said ‘I’m going to be there, Grams’, and she said ‘Then you give it 100 percent’. It was pretty special to walk into the stadium years later and that’s the moment that you think of.”
Did You Know … that Cheryl’s grandfather Phil Wimmer gave legendary NHL coach Scotty Bowman his first coaching job in hockey, as head coach of the Montreal Jr. Canadiens.
Cheryl Pounder on what can be done to assist other countries to improve in women’s hockey and bring competitive balance to the game
“I think Canada does a pretty good job of trying to help, in women’s hockey anyways. Whether it means going over there and coaching, or some of the girls just finishing university going over there to play, I think it’s going to be important. Some of the countries have done a good job this year and coming and seeing what Canada does – to see their model. So they can get a perspective of what we do as a country to get better.”
“It takes time. They have to get the numbers at the grass roots level to really grow the game like we have. I think it will happen over time, as the sport gets more credibility around the World, and it will get pretty close as the years go on.”