There are sacrifices female hockey players make when starting a family. But motherhood doesn’t necessarily deter them from pursuing their hockey careers in the long term.
As the longtime goalie for Team Switzerland, Patricia Elsmore-Sautter is known for achievements like being named a tournament All-Star at the 1997 IIHF World Women’s Championship. However, she’s sitting on the sidelines this year in anticipation of her first-born child.
“It’s hard to watch, especially when you’ve played for so long,” Elsmore-Sautter said. “I’ve been a part of the team for 15 years. It’s the first year that I can’t play.”
As an alternative, the 28-year-old is acting as Team Host for Switzerland during the 2007 tournament in Winnipeg. Even though she won’t be donning her mask and pads, she’s excited to be here with her teammates: “It’s just a part of life. It’s a good way to sit out.”
Born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and now living in Roseau, Minnesota (where she coaches high school hockey, this veteran talent doesn’t plan to be out of action very long. “I’ll be back next year,” said Elsmore-Sautter, who moved to the USA in 1999 and once starred with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.
Preparation will be the key to that quick return. “I hope that having a baby in the spring/summer means I can still be quite active,” said Elsmore-Sautter, whose due date is June 2 this year.
How will her life change after having a baby? “I’ll just have a tag-a-long.”
Another key player in this year’s tournament who’s also a mother is Team USA’s Jenny Potter. She quickly bounced back from giving birth to her second child on January 8. The high-scoring forward’s dedication to training has obviously helped. But still, new hockey moms can’t do it all on their own.
Elsmore-Sautter hopes the Swiss Federation can help her accommodate both her family and hockey responsibilities. Not only is she the lone Swiss player expecting a child right now, but she’s also the only married one.
One major difficulty about traveling with a hockey team is being separated from one’s children. Elsmore-Sautter believes that the future will bring more young female players from various nations who are starting families. The hope is that the national federations will be able to provide some financial aid.
“I’d like to see Sport Canada and some of the other corporate dollars go towards helping them out for nannies and travel,” said Canadian Head Coach Melody Davidson.
Some wonder if players who start having babies could disrupt the cohesiveness of a team. But according to Davidson, that’s not a concern, at least not with Team Canada’s mothers: “They get themselves so organized and ready to go that there is no distraction for us. I admire them for that.”
Team Canada’s new captain, Hayley Wickenheiser, is a great example of someone who skillfully combines her maternal and athletic responsibilities.
“The times away from my son [Noah] at home and the time commitment that it requires to perform and play at the highest level are the most challenging,” said the two-time Olympic Gold medalist, who reaped tournament MVP, Top Forward and All-Star Team honours in Turin.
World Women’s Championships are particularly tough for Wickenheiser: “Every World Championship I miss his birthday [April 5], so that’s the hard thing about it.”
But sacrifices are made in every family.
“I’ve had a lot of support from my parents and my husband, and you can’t do it without the support of people around you,” said the native of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan
Wickenheiser and Elsmore-Sautter both hope to pass along their aptitude and passion for hockey to their children. But they also point out that they’ll support whatever interests their kids happen to pursue.
Like other career women, female hockey stars can successfully juggle family and work. It just takes a little extra practice.