Nothing brings out camaraderie in a Canadian quite like hockey.
On Saturday, Oct. 11, that solidarity will stretch from coast to coast to coast with The Long Game, a 15-hour event that will have Atom players in Pownal, P.E.I., Midget players in Hay River, N.W.T., and Senior players in Duncan, B.C., suiting up for the same side.
The day starts at 9:30 a.m. NT in Stephenville, N.L., and when the final horn sounds at 8 p.m. PT in Whitehorse, Yukon, more than 2,000 players on 98 teams will have played 49 games across five divisions.
This year marks the fourth annual World Girls’ Hockey Weekend, an initiative of the International Ice Hockey Federation to introduce the sport to women around the world.
And this is the second year Hockey Canada has hosted The Long Game. It not only benefits women’s hockey, says Joanne Hughes, chair of Hockey Canada’s Female Council, but also celebrates its cross-country connection.
“We are one game and one country,” she says. “It’s showing that we’re united, we’re together and we work together for the benefit of female hockey. This gives us a real voice to say we help each other out no matter where we are.”
The seed for the day was planted by Fran Rider, who chairs the promotion committee for Female Council. Rider, who’s also the president of the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, brought the idea to council in fall 2012 as a new way to grow the game.
Nobody could have anticipated its immediate success.
After watching some games at home in Nova Scotia, Hughes took to Twitter to follow the rest of the day.
“You had players tweeting: best game ever,” she says. Girls who had finished their games were wishing those farther west good luck. “They took ownership of that game,” says Hughes. “It was their game and it was going right across the country.”
“It became more about the red and white and everybody being a teammate across the country than it did about individual games,” says Mandi Duhamel, who as the manager of female development for Hockey Canada was charged with coordinating The Long Game from her desk in Calgary.
Nobody could have anticipated the worldwide reach the event would have either, thanks to social media. The event reached more than one million people last year, and fans and participants can join the conversation again using #LongGame and #WGHWCanada.
Parents tweeted play-by-play of their daughter doing everything from arriving at the arena to warming up to coming off the ice. And people shared photos of their celebrations. One group, says Duhamel, watched a game while enjoying a cake they’d made for the occasion, complete with WGHW logo.
“That was a small touch, but so cool just to have that idea going forward.”
Last year’s Long Game saw Team Red defeat Team White by a 44-game cumulative score of 147-141. After players got off the ice they’d immediately be offering 140 characters of encouragement to teammates they’d never met, says Duhamel.
“(You’d see something like) ‘Here in Manitoba we got a huge comeback and we set it up for Team Red going forward, so Alberta, you’re welcome and continue,’” she says.
Partly because of the fan and participant reaction and partly because of the response from those who wished they’d been involved – “We had people volunteering to give us ice if we would host the event in their arena,” says Hughes – Female Council decided shortly after last year’s game to do it again.
This year, most branches will host games for five divisions: Atom, Peewee, Bantam, Midget and Senior.
Perhaps no branch represents the growth of the women’s game more than Hockey North. It was only three years ago that Nunavut and the Northwest Territories saw the formation of its first all-female team. The branch will host four games and eight teams as part of this year’s Long Game.
World Girls’ Hockey Weekend, which runs from Oct. 10-12, will allow even more girls and women across the country to try the game, whether it’s Esso Fun Days, skills camps and bring-a-buddy-to-practice. It allows the women’s game to be at the forefront, says Hughes.
“World Girls’ Hockey Weekend gives recognition to the female game and the people involved.”
To find The Long Game near you or for live updates as the day goes on, visit www.hockeycanada.ca/wghw.