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Female Hockey :: Mel Davidson on Female Hockey

The following is an article by Jason Gregor that appeared in the Edmonton Journal on September 9, 2013.

Gregor: Where are female hockey players most likely to thrive?

EDMONTON - Hockey season is upon us. NHL main camps open this week, junior hockey leagues have already started playing games, and minor hockey players have started the annual tradition of evaluations and training camps.

It truly is a great time of year for hockey players, parents and fans, especially those kids who are playing for the first time.

Many of those players are now girls.

Ten years ago, approximately 4,000 girls played minor hockey in Alberta, but this year over 10,000 girls will lace up their skates and play. One of the biggest decisions many hockey parents face this time of year is whether to register their daughter on a girls’ team or have them play with the boys.

In many communities, specifically rural, girls only have the option to play with boys due to limited enrolment.

However, for those who have the option, is there a better choice?

Mel Davidson is the matriarch of female hockey, not only in Canada, but around the world. She is the only coach, male or female, in the history of the Olympics to have coached a team to consecutive gold medals; she won in 2006 and 2010.

Davidson is now the general manager for Hockey Canada’s women’s team, and she works for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Ambassador and Mentor program.

Davidson has worked tirelessly for over 25 years helping to grow the women’s game, and she knows the challenges many girls face, but also the successes they can achieve.

“Girls aren’t going to the NHL,” said Davidson. “However, there is a path for women in the game, and there is a career for them as a player, coach or official.”

I asked Davidson which path was a better option for girls; playing with the boys, or on an all-girls team.

“I always tell parents it is a personal choice, I’m not going to tell them how to raise their daughters, but eventually there is a social aspect that comes into it.

“You can pick out the girls that have played with the boys in a heartbeat, as soon as they walk in the dressing room. Unless they are involved in team sports in school or very active in other areas, they do not know how to socialize or be a part of the female culture or environment. Around 80 per cent of girls who played in that setting (with boys) never advance very far in the girl’s game, because they can’t get comfortable within a female dressing room,” said Davidson.

The three-time gold medal winning coach was quick to point out that there is one obvious benefit to playing with the boys.

“Girls have to learn how to compete, and how to battle. The one advantage for girls who play with the boys at a young age is they learn how to compete, and they learn it isn’t personal,” Davidson said.

The key element all hockey parents need to recognize is that the boys play a different style than girls do.

“The girls’ game is very different,” Davidson said. “It’s a puck-possession game; there are a lot more puck touches in our game, at the minor level, than there is at the guy’s level. We see that a lot when girls move over from boys’ hockey, they are not as good with the puck as the girls who played with girls growing up. The girls who played with boys are more physical, and maybe stronger on their skates, but by peewee I believe a parent needs to make a decision.”

The women’s game is growing, especially in Canada and the United States, and more and more girls are getting scholarships. The opportunity to get a paid education for female hockey players is higher than ever, but so is the competition.

Davidson mentioned that hockey dads tend to struggle more with how they interpret and understand their hockey-playing daughter.

“Fathers always try to tell me that their daughter is just like a boy on the ice,” Davidson said. “No matter what you say about your daughter, she is a girl. She sees and thinks things differently, and you might not realize it and she might not tell you, but she does.”

You wouldn’t expect your daughter to act like a boy around the house or in school, so why would you want her to act like one on the ice?

Davidson ended our conversation with a statement that really grabbed my attention.

“If I said to any father, ‘we are going to take your daughter as a 13 year old, a 14 year old, a 15 year old or a 16 year old, and we are going to put them in a closed room with 15 other boys their age who are going to be half-naked at most times, and you’re not going to have any control over what goes on for the most part,’ I don’t know a father that would put their daughter in that situation, yet they fight like hell to put them in a hockey dressing room,” said Davidson.

Hockey is constantly changing every year, from the introduction of new technology to the pros and cons of spring hockey to now trying to recognize what hockey scenario works best for your daughter.

Maybe it as simple as remembering what Davidson said; she is a girl, not a boy.

You can listen to Gregor weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the TEAM 1260, read him at and follow him @jasongregor on Twitter.

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