Girl Goalies and Guys’ Egos
This article had its start as a (hopefully) humorous first hand account about what it’s like to play in a garage league against a girl goalie every week. A tall, blond, attractive girl goalie with a faster glove, better positioning and a swivel hips flexible enough to flare the pads in a perfectly straight wall along the goal line. To soothe my fragile male ego, at this point I could perhaps throw in an excuse like being 20+ years older than her, or making it to the second round of the TV reality show La Série Québec-Montréal when she didn’t survive the first cut. Nevertheless, though I would never admit in the dressing room, “la fille” (“the girl”, as she is often referred to by the guys) has got me in a sweat more games than not. And that’s before the puck even drops. Man, hope her English isn’t good enough to read this article…
My idea for the story came into sharper focus after reading alast week that the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) will allow girls in high school to try out for and play on any boys team. The decision was made following a formal challenge filed by a 17 year old female soccer player from Waterloo, one which the athletic association felt it would lose if the case went before a human rights tribunal. Rather than risking a divisive public debate, OFSAA pre-emptively put an end to the controversy by changing their own rules. Up until that point, girls had been allowed to try out for boys teams only when a school did not have a girls team in the same sport. Whether or not they made the right move remains to be seen. Already the media has seen a number of articles and editorials defending and condemning both points of view.
Where this all fits into the hockey context is, of course, with regards to goalies. If any sport is likely to see the regular presence and eventual full integration of women into the men’s game, in my estimation it will almost certainly be in goal before anywhere else. Some might even argue that this change has already taken place. Consider: whereas a woman’s smaller size and muscle mass is not likely going to allow her to go toe to toe with Shaq under the boards (although point guard might be another story) or hit a service ace as powerfully as a Roger Federer, in hockey the criteria for a standout goalie are significantly different from those of a star player. Muscle mass is not an issue (Ryan Miller, a Vezina candidate, hangs a mere 175 lbs. on his 6’2” frame) and arguably even size cannot said to be the most critical factor (while average goalie height has increased along with player height, the most successful goalies in any statistical category aren’t necessarily the tallest ones). Moreover, in other critical categories like visual acuity, anticipation, reflexes, balance or flexibility, women are the equals of men or perhaps even superior in some cases.
Over the last several months, Ingoalmag.com has featured a number of articles profiling women goalies, and the interviews given recount how the elite goalies of the women’s game played parts or even the entirety of their goalie careers in boys’ and mens’ leagues. This in spite of the predictable but unfortunate cabal of naysayers that plagued goalies like Shannon Szabados or Charline Labonté almost every step of the way up the ladder. In my own discussions with both of these women, there was a strong suggestion that harassment aside, it was necessary for them to win a place in the men’s game for their level to increase to where it is today.
Going back to my story about playing against “la fille”, I can begrudgingly attest that there isn’t much doubt about this girl keeping up to a bunch of 30 and 40 something garage leaguers (even the ones who used to play AAA or major junior). My particular area of interest, moreso than her play, is how we guys play against her.
Way back in high school I had a trivia buff history teacher who told us that during the two world wars, the Russians created all female combat battalions, mostly out of pure necessity. As it turned out, the problem wasn’t how they fought, since according to reports they did just fine. It was, rather, how men soldiers fought against them. Apparently, when men found out they were fighting against women, their egos made them go way harder, fearful of the loss of face should they lose to a bunch of women (surprised, anyone?).
Maybe my analogy is stretching things a bit, but I am convinced I’ve witnessed this phenomenon on the ice. If I get down a couple of goals to “la fille”, the guys on my team will go like gangbusters to mount a comeback. Conversely, the guys on her side frequently seem to be in awe of her stuff, almost letting her get more action on purpose to see if she can handle it. Then, if they win they seem just as likely to chalk it up to their great goalscoring rather than her goaltending.
This past winter I watched all of the games in the TV reality series “Québec-Montréal” (where non-professional players, including 4 women, were chosen from 10 000 hopefuls to play an 8 game exhibition series in front of a packed-to-the-rafters screaming Colisée full of fans nostalgic for the old Nordiques-Habs rivalry). Montreal’s starting goalie was no more than average and his errors cost at least a game or two. Nevertheless, his female back-up seemed to have the toughest time to get the net, subbing only when he became injured (and subsequently taking the game into overtime and an eventual shootout loss). Meanwhile, Québec’s starting netminder, a former major junior goalie, was simply outstanding. When his female counterpart finally got to play (after allegedly lambasting Quebec coach Michel Bergeron for not playing her), she had her bell rung for 5 goals. However, despite getting pulled she ended up winning the game’s first star (!) Go figure.
In conclusion, I don’t think there is much doubt that mixed gender hockey, at least in the garage league sense, is here to stay. The professional level may be another story, at least for now. You goalscorers just be ready on that next breakaway and try not to lose concentration when you spot those thick Cover Girl lashes and mascara staring you down from behind the goalie mask.