“I remember just being so frustrated because I wanted to play”: Former youth hockey player Brianna Thicke speaks about being a girl playing boys’ hockey and the prospects for an elite women’s hockey league

Image is copyright of Brianna Thicke

Brianna Thicke is an 18 year-old from Montreal, Quebec. Brianna has been an active athlete her entire life and participated in youth hockey from the age of 5 until she quit the sport as a teenager. She is currently studying Communications at the post-secondary level, and recently completed a project on the state of elite women’s hockey. Her project questions to Cassie Campbell were featured on the Hockey Night in Canada website.

Brianna recently contacted me after reading my post about media coverage of women’s hockey, given her passion and academic interest in the subject. I answered some questions for Brianna, and she kindly agreed to speak with me about her experiences playing Montreal youth hockey and about her research project. We spoke last week, and the interview is presented below.

While I certainly do not want to suggest that one person’s story can be used to draw broad generalizations, many of Brianna’s experiences certainly support the established body of research that shows that females can face unique barriers to participation in sporting cultures that have historically been dominated by males and expectations of masculinity. My interview with Brianna is transcribed here verbatim so that readers can get a sense of Brianna’s experience in her own words.

Mark: Thank you for speaking with me about this, and for contacting me. Maybe you could start by explaining your experiences in youth hockey? Where you were playing, the levels you went through, and everything.

Brianna: Okay, well I started when I was five. I’ve always played with guys. I’ve only played with four girls total. . . . I’ve only played with guys. In 2003-04 season, I played at an intercity level, that was in net. I played goalie, I think for I think three or four years, and I played 10 years total of hockey. So I switched. I went from player to goalie then back to forward again. And then I quit four years ago, basically when I figured out the game was getting more physical for me, I didn’t want to get hurt. And there was no other options. It was either I get out of hockey or I go and play with girls. And where I am in Quebec, in Montreal, there are no girls’ leagues. There’s nothing in my region.

Mark: Is that why you played with boys your whole life? Because there’s no options for girls hockey?

Brianna: Yeah, definitely, definitely there’s no options around here in general. And I don’t want to travel and I can’t commute, because I do other sports too and school, so it’s not possible. At the same time, I think it also comes from the fact that my dad plays hockey, all the males in my family played hockey. So there’s no female influence around me [in hockey], so you just kind of have to build on that. That’s kind of where it’s come from unfortunately? I play a male’s game, definitely, I’ve never played with girls but I would like to eventually. It would be a nice thing if that could happen.

Mark: Has that changed at all, since you were younger, that there are more girls’ options? Or is it still the same?

Brianna: It’s hard to say. I would say it’s probably still the same, unfortunately. There just really isn’t much. I mean, off in the West End not that from my area there’s a lot of hockey in that concentrated area, but ringette is being pushed more [as a sport for girls]. So it’s not easy.

Mark: Right.

Brianna: I then wanted to play for a Double A team, and I said ‘no’ because I couldn’t commit, because it’s always you’d have to go outside Montreal, to the middle of Quebec, just to play people and I don’t want to have to be part of that. And that’s the problem, there’s nothing. And all the [women’s teams] that were around me have disbanded or are they’re just some kind of recreational team. I kind of want to be competitive, but still have fun with it, so there’s really nothing for me.

Mark: You mentioned [in email correspondence] that playing with boys you faced discrimination because of being female. Without getting too personal, if you don’t want to, but what sort of issues did you face?

Brianna: Yeah. I mean, obviously you’re going to always recognize the fact that you’re different on a guys’ team. And being a woman always means I’m going to be the only girl, and that was fine, I got over it after a while. But, I think, I remember starting to hear stuff in the locker room. I can’t remember specifically in that year, but my last year of hockey was the worst year of my life in terms of hockey. I wasn’t allowed to play on any of the top lines. I remember, the three girls I was playing with, I was only allowed to play on their line, not with any of the guys. And when I did [play on a line with boys] I wasn’t passed to, so I [was made to feel] definitely inferior to them. And that was it. I consider myself fairly good, I’m not like you know cocky or the best player ever by any means, but I can carry myself well enough, I would not play guys’ hockey if I didn’t think I could. So, it was frustrating to have to sit back on the bench and just watch. I remember the last game specifically. The coach knew that us three [girls] were not going to be able to play eventually again, especially with guys, and he didn’t play us. And I remember just being so frustrated because I wanted to play.

Mark: Wow, he didn’t play you the whole game?

Brianna: I played literally five, ten minutes the whole game. It was unfortunately done. And that’s okay, because there’s other players that are going to play over you, I get that and that’s fine too. But at the same time I knew exactly why I wasn’t being played, it was so obvious and up front and in my face. It was a bit frustrating for sure. It sucks, because it turned me off of hockey for a solid two, three years after that. I didn’t want to touch it, or go back to it.

Mark: What do you think could change [for women in hockey]? Because obviously you’ve gone through it and now you’re writing about it for school. In terms of making women’s hockey more accessible or making it less discriminatory if you have to play with boys.

Brianna: For my project I spoke to Hockey Quebec and they’re a huge problem. I mean I don’t want to blame it all on them, but they’re a huge component in why female hockey, particularly in Quebec, is so bad. But I agree with them, we need more teams in closer regions, so forming divisions is what’s really going to push it. Because, like I said, it was mostly the travelling factor. I’m not going to spend like an hour going to a game or coming back and I think that’s also an issue too. Because parents are not going to enroll their daughters in something that they know in Quebec there’s no teams in this region. So that might be a start, I would suggest that.

Image is copyright of Brianna Thicke

Brianna: I also think marketing is a key issue too. For instance, I can’t even remember the last time – or anytime, really – where I’ve seen a female marketed in any kind of sports. And I think to myself  “okay, yeah I’m sure the game of hockey is marketed, it’s always kind of been known, for guys” and that’s fine, I get that. But for instance [hockey gear manufacturer] Bauer, that’s one of the main companies that I wear, they don’t market anything, there’s no equipment for me. Like I said, I’ve had no female influences and I think that just speaks for itself. I haven’t seen [female role models] and because of that, we live in such an image-based society, I think that so many girls are not seeing it, so they don’t know it. And that’s such a huge problem.

Mark: Yeah.

Brianna: And that’s the way it’s probably going to be until they can start marketing properly. Maybe girls’ equipment, but I don’t know how much that is going to fly either. So I think probably those are the main, key points. I think more than anything, we just have to get the numbers up. I know the Quebec numbers are horrible.

Mark: I know. Hopefully it starts to change. I know a few people who are on the same page as you and I in terms of wanting to see more women’s hockey, but it’s definitely an uphill battle.

Brianna: It’s just brutal. And it’s too bad. For me too, I was a bit hesitant with this project because, I’ve never come from any kind of female game, I’ve only known a guy’s game. I buy into the NHL and all that stuff, and I wouldn’t say I know much else about female hockey, and obviously there’s a reason behind that.  But it’s kind of sad that I’m this hesitant about going to games, but it’s been nice to kind of be accountable within [women’s hockey]. . . . it has so much potential. The game itself is so much different than the guy’s game. So much more sellable too, which is unbelievable, I don’t understand why someone doesn’t capitalize on it. There’s money to be made there, but there’s no money going into it.  That’s the way I see it. It’s unfortunate.

Mark: Yeah, well I guess one of the good things is that when I did write that article is that quite a few people responded, similar to you, in terms of being behind it. So hopefully… it seems like there are some people out there [who would support professional women’s hockey].

Brianna: Definitely, I think it’s a good thing too. I’ve been talking a lot with the [Canadian Women’s Hockey League], because we have a team here in Montreal and … they definitely became an influence on my own work. My piece ended up being written in on Hockey Night in Canada, with Cassie Campbell. . . . And that kind of became, well not really viral, but provoked a few questions. And I think sharing those kinds of opinions is only going to get things moving in the game. But I think also too the National Hockey League (NHL) needs to start talking also, and even the Russian Kontinental Hockey League too, they need too. Because they’re the main [leagues] and they don’t really talk about women’s hockey. I was talking to the CWHL, and they said too, I asked them because, everyone knows the Montreal Canadiens are huge here, they take the attention – obviously they have my full attention! That is no secret– but that too is kind of a problem. And I asked [the CWHL], do they support you guys or do anything? And they said no. Because the Canadiens don’t really want to, because it kind of takes away from their own money and their own game. It’s unfortunate that this happening.

Mark: Okay, well thanks very much for speaking with me Brianna, I really appreciate your time.

[Edit: Nov. 24, 6:16 PM – Minor grammatical changes made to interview for purposes of accuracy and clarity]


One thought on ““I remember just being so frustrated because I wanted to play”: Former youth hockey player Brianna Thicke speaks about being a girl playing boys’ hockey and the prospects for an elite women’s hockey league

  1. Pingback: IIHF’s “Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend”: A Chance to Reflect on Barriers and Opportunities for Women in Hockey Culture | Hockey in Society

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