April 24, 2024

Ilfa Sprot

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Women’s ice hockey: The pioneers building the sport for the future

8 min read
Women’s ice hockey: The pioneers building the sport for the future

When you think of prominent women in hockey, names like Manon Rhéaume, Hilary Knight and Marie-Philip Poulin come to mind. 

Rightfully so. It is women like them that have blazed the trail for women in the sport of hockey, bringing female representation to the forefront. 

It’s always important to reflect on the past, but what about the future? There are a number of young, budding stars in the world of women’s ice hockey that have just scraped the surface of helping grow the game. 

Fans had the privilege of seeing a number of those players last month at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, where Canada and the United States battled it out for the gold medal. For two weeks, women’s hockey was in the national spotlight. 

But it’s not enough. It shouldn’t be just every four years that the game is highlighted on the women’s side. The women deserve just as much credit as the men for building up the sport for future participation all around the globe. 

In celebration of International Women’s Day, let’s look at some of the bright stars in women’s ice hockey. 

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Sarah Nurse

Sarah Nurse was instrumental in Team Canada’s gold medal earned at the 2022 Winter Olympics. The 27-year-old forward made a name for herself by breaking the record for most points (18) and assists (13) at a single Olympics, both marks previously held by former Canadian star Hayley Wickenheiser. 

The native of Hamilton, Ont. not only was in the spotlight to highlight women in hockey but also Black women in the sport. 

There’s no denying that hockey is a sport dominated by white men. So to not only have a woman be the talk of the Olympics, but a Black woman at that, certainly helps with expanding the game to reach a broader audience. Nurse has talked extensively about how much representation matters in the game of hockey and how she hopes to be a figure younger girls of all backgrounds can look up to.

“As we go back to saying, representation matters so much. I go back to 20 years ago, the 2022 team won in Salt Lake City and I got to watch that. That’s where my dream started and I really hope that we can be that, that I can be that, for some young girls out there watching us.”

Nurse is also a part of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and recently said the group is hoping for a return of professional women’s hockey to Canada in the next year. She’s following in the footsteps of predecessors like Angela Davis to be the new face of Black women in hockey. 

Abby Roque

Nurse wasn’t the only player making history in representation at the Olympics. 

Abby Roque became the first Ingenious woman to play on the United State’s women’s Olympic hockey team. The 24-year-old is a member of Wahnapitae First Nation, which is part of the Ojibwe First Nation that is based in northern Ontario. 

She grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., where she attended powwows and skated at a rink owned by a local tribe. She was surrounded by other Native Americans kids and it wasn’t until she went to college at Wisconsin that she realized just how uncommon it was to be Native American in the United States, let alone in just the game of hockey. 

With Roque having a platform on the international scale at the Olympics, she wanted to use it to spread awareness of her culture, in addition to female representation in the sport. She spoke about that in an episode of NBC’s My New Favorite Olympian

“I think that’s a big thing is just making sure that everybody knows that there’s a place in the sport for (girls) and that they shouldn’t be intimidated. If you’re good enough to play with the boys, play with the boys. And even if they don’t think you’re good enough to play with them, show them, plain and simple.”

She continues to be a trailblazer for Indigenous hockey players, joining the likes of Team Canada’s Jocelyne Larocque as one of the faces for younger Native Americans in hockey. 

Alina Müller

When it comes to women’s ice hockey, it’s Canada and the United States at the top and then a big drop off to everyone else.

But the gap is getting closer and one of those countries that has emerged as a leading nation for women’s hockey is Switzerland. A large part of that is in thanks to Alina Müller. 

The 23-year-old has quickly risen to be not only the best Swiss player, but one of the best players in the world. Despite the fact that she is still in college, she already has three Olympics and a bronze medal under her belt, helping Switzerland win the medal in 2014, becoming the youngest player ever to medal in Olympic ice hockey.

She led all skaters in points at the 2018 Olympics with 10 in six games. Müller matched that point total in seven games in 2022, as Switzerland fell to Finland in the bronze medal game. 

Müller is in her fourth season at Northeastern University where she is fourth on the team in points with 38 in 19 games, having missed nearly half of the collegiate season due to her international participation. Her 2.0 points per game rate is the best in the nation. She helped the Huskies win the 2021-22 Hockey East title, earning MVP honors as Northeastern eyes a trip back to the national Championship after falling to Wisconsin last season.  

At such a young age and not having yet hit the professional levels, Müller will be the face of women’s hockey in Switzerland for years to come. 

Noora Räty

Räty has been around the game of hockey for a while as a player, but she is not as well known in North America as she should. 

The 32-year-old Finnish goaltender has been an integral part of expanding women’s ice hockey on an international level. She currently plays in the Zhenskaya Khokkeinaya Liga, or Women’s Hockey League, an Eurasian-based league consisting of nine teams from Russia and one from China. Räty plays for the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, the lone team based out of China. 

Like Müller, Räty was an integral part in growing women’s ice hockey in her home country. She helped Finland to two Olympic bronze medals (2010 and 2018), four bronze medals at the IIHF World Women’s Ice Hockey Championships and an historic silver at that tournament as well, where Finland stunned Canada in the semifinals before nearly knocking off the United States in the gold medal game. 

With Räty playing overseas, she is now helping the game of hockey in China, where is able to make a living wage playing competitive hockey.

The goaltender is also a member of the founding board of the PWHPA and the only one to hold citizenship outside the U.S. The group helps advocate the promotion of women’s hockey. Räty hopes that North America can create one professional women’s hockey league for the best players to play in, and wants to be a part of that creation, whether it’s as a player or not. 

“At least I want to be able to be part of creating the league. If I’m going to play in it or not, I’ll decide later, because it all depends what season and what year it’s going to start.”

Sarah Fillier

Like Nurse, Sarah Fillier burst onto the scene of Canada hockey at the Olympics in February. Her eight goals were only second to teammate Brianne Jenner and her 11 points were the sixth-most out of all skaters. 

Are we looking at possibly the future face of Canadian women’s hockey? Many think so. As long as players like Marie-Philip Poulin and Natalie Spooner are still around, Fillier might have to wait, but the 21-year-old has all the makings to be the next greatest Canadian women’s ice hockey player. 

The native of Georgetown, Ont. attended Princeton University for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons before making the jump to the international team. Despite her short time with the Tigers, she earned numerous accolades, including 2019 ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Year and National Rookie of the Year, 2020 ECAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player and top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award for best NCAA women’s hockey player in both seasons. 

Daryl Watts

Speaking of the new wave of Canadian women hockey players, Daryl Watts has made a name for herself especially among the NCAA community. 

The Toronto native played for two seasons at Boston College before transferring to Wisconsin for the last three seasons. She had an insane freshman season with the Eagles, recording 82 points in 38 to become the first freshman to win the Patty Kazmaier Award. 

She is best known for her game-winning goal in the National Championship last season. She banked a shot in off a Northeastern defender in overtime to win Wisconsin’s sixth national title. 

Watts was a surprising snub from Team Canada and therefore, did not participate at the Olympics. But the 22-year-old will conclude her NCAA career this spring with Wisconsin eyeing another National title. She is also in line to be a finalist for another Patty Kazmaier Award. 

Abbey Murphy

What were you doing when you were 19 years old? For Abbey Murphy, she was representing the United States at the 2022 Winter Olympics. 

Murphy was one of just two teenagers on the American team to play in Beijing. In the seven games in February, she managed just one assist, but given her age, there should be many more Olympics to come. 

She’s known to be a little ball of hate, someone that plays a physical style and likes to get under her opponents’ skin. But Murphy also has a scoring touch. She is one of only two players to have scored in three consecutive IIHF World Women’s U18 Championship gold medal games. In 15 games at those tournaments, Murphy has 13 points which have led to two gold medals and a silver. 

She played for one season at the University of Minnesota before electing to leave for the national team. She likely will return to the Golden Gophers next season. 

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