Future of the Game Series - Julie Healy

Julie Healy, Director of Female Hockey for Hockey Canada spoke with Winih.com on the future of the international game. (December 2009)

Q. What did wms hky learn in the last 20 years?

A.That we are going to have the same issues as male side, not enough coaches, officials and declining group of volunteers. We are years behind mens game, infra structure and space to play.

Q. What has been the biggest change in game?

A. Talk to young players from 1991/94,  they don’t think there were struggles. They have a completely different mind set. They feel it is their right to play. In early years players had to fight for right to play. The struggles the young ones have are; lack of facilities, minor hockey still struggles in rural parts,  boys or girls. Boys and girls are dependent on each other in rural areas. In urban settings there is a fight for ice time…

The game needs to develop officials.. there aren’t as many opportunies at higher levels…tough for them to officiate, to get enough game experience.

Q. How would you describe the game's progress to date?

A. In 1993 there were 15,000 registered players in Canada. In 2009, there were about 86,000 registered and climbing. Men’s hockey levelled out. Last year was a big jump. In 2008 the new Under 18 World Championship for was launchd. We now have a feeder system. Midget national club team championship is new. Midget numbers 2002/03 bypassed senior…when the game first started it was largely senior… now 16 -17 year olds in midget 12000 in midget and 12000 in bantam.

Q. Challenges?

A. Bodychecking keeps coming up. If it was brought back it would destroy the game for countries starting to play. In the top 8 the numbers are growing. If you added body checking, parents might not put kids in game. Different reality in other countries re girls playing hockey. In centralized years (Olympics) people need to stop talking about body checking. Anybody who has watched the female game between Canada/ USA,  Finland and Sweden know that it is very physical. Skill and speed, it is the right mix of both.

Q. Why does it come up?

A. Entertainment value of body checking. In the NHL when do you here loudest cheer ? When a player is hammered into boards or when they fight… I don’t want to slam NHL, but it is business of hockey. Women’s hockey is still the sport. If there was a women’s pro  league, it would look different... even men’s international hockey is different, it is a sport.

Q. How important are the Olympics?

A. I believe the Olympics televised audience grows the game worldwide especially in countries where girls don’t play. When Sweden won a medal it was huge for their country to grow game. It is the one time when everybody is watching. The world wide stage is the place to grow the game. World championships are different. In the rest of world, it doesn’t’ fill arenas.

The European club championship has now gone on for a couple years. Their domestic club system is better than ours. Sweden has 6 teams. Kind of professional; winners go to the European Champions Cup, alive and well over in Europe. The Canadian regional leagues; CWHL and WWHL struggle to survive. Geography of our country makes it difficult. Sweden and Finland, it is easy to travel and cheaper. CWHL and WWHL are struggling and CWHL is player driven now; it is a ton of work. Russia’s women’s teams are attached to men’s pro team. You are part of men’s club structure. Same in Finland, Helsinki has a women's program. In Canada the CWHL took their teams to provincial women's hockey association.

Q. Which countries have made the most progress?

A. Sweden and Finland are working hard. Unfortunately qualifying for worlds and Olympics impact their support. Countries lose some funding if they do not qualify.

Switzerland is getting stronger and the Czech Republic won a bronze medal in the under 18 world championship. Slovakia is new to the Olympics but it is always a question of resources. There will be a change in world championships which are going back to 8 teams instead of 10 in 2010

And there will be a new format for Under 18 World Championship; two pools of 4 teams. Under 22 will continue to roll along with the MLP Cup in Ravensburg, Germany from Jan 5-9, 2010 with Sweden, Finland, Russia, Canada, Switzerland and Germany. USA don’t run an Under 22 program. It was pretty cool in Germany for the Under 18 and Under 22 championships; the arena was filled with crazy screaming fans. The game is becoming part of the hockey fabric in different parts of world.

Q. What else has to be done?

A. I think the next step for us, all of us work harder at developing officials who have limited opportunities to work at pace of international game. We need to find creative ways to invest and develop officials.

Sweden and Finland barnstorm their countries to create opportunities, to grow their game.They learned it from us. The Under 18 World Championship is building a base in other countries.

I would send people back to look at the stats for Olympics in men’s hockey. Women have only had 3 Olympics.

Also the International Ice Hockey Federation recently held a development camp with mentor coaches, 17 athletes from 17 countries like Ireland and Spain. When you  take a group of players to learn the game.. to create a competitive environment, it speaks volumes. It will happen every second year. It is set for the summer in 2010 for one week, 6 teams from  38 different countries. It is the second year for program.

Q. Has coaching changed?

A. Lots more full time coaches now in Canada. That is biggest change; more opportunities expanding with Canadian Interuniversity Sport leagues offering coaches more full time jobs. It is growing along with Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence and coupled with events like the Under 18 National Championship and women’s hockey in the Canada games. There are great opportunities here.

Q. Should womens hockey go pro?

A. International players are a challenge; everybody wants import restrictions for teams to be lifted… to add more players. It is very limited now. All teams could use new players and it would be helpful to allow 2 international and 4 US players across every team. In the Western provinces in Canada, there were 3 Alberta teams, each had 2 Chinese players and British Columbia had one American player.

Q. What is your background in the game?

A. I have been coaching women’s hockey since 1985 at Concordia, full time here at Hockey Canada since 2002.

I played from 74-83 at John Abbot College and Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.This is my first year working on the IIHF Women's Committee

Q. Describe your dream list for the next decade.

A. My dream list would be when top 8 teams got together for worlds it would be as unpredictable as the mens game. I would like to see the countries investing in sport and really try to grow the game and have their registration numbers triple.And I would like to see more females involved in admininstration and coaching around the world.This kind of change requires a short term and a long term plan.