Keeping the Dream Alive: Toronto Dream Gap Tour 2020

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Jamie-Lee Rattray (Team Larocque) celebrating with the bench. Photo by Courtney Szto.

The PWHPA’s Dream Gap Tour rolled into Toronto for another showcase on January 11th and 12th, this time sponsored by Secret deodorant. This weekend was definitely a more intense version of the first showcase with more teams, games, venues, and peripheral events, all hoping to draw as many spectators and viewers to women’s hockey as possible. Here’s a quick overview of went down this past weekend:

  • Friday January 10th: Closing the Gap event hosted by the NHLPA
  • Saturday January 11th: 3 hockey games at Herbert H. Carnegie Centennial Centre (North York); PWHPA Skills Competitions hosted by Adidas at Nathan Phillips Square (postponed and then cancelled due to inclement weather);  The Dream Gap documentary screening (Paradise on Bloor)
  • Sunday January 12th: 3 hockey games at 3 different venues (Herbert H. Carnegie Centennial Centre, Al Palladini Community Centre, and Mattamy Athletic Centre).

I was unable to attend any of the Sunday games so this re-cap will focus on the Friday and Saturday events.

Closing the Gap presented by the NHLPA

This “exclusive” event took place at Labatt Breweries in downtown Toronto. It was an intimate affair with maybe 100-150 attendees including Tara Slone (co-host of Hometown Hockey), Maria Dennis (Chair of the NHL/NHLPA Female Hockey Advisory Committee), and Mathieu Schneider (former NHL’er and NHLPA rep).

There were three brief panel discussions that took place over the course of the evening. The first was a business industry panel that was very…business-y. It included representatives from Biosteel and Budweiser, Schneider, and Tie Domi. Mathieu Schneider assured the crowd that the PWHPA had the support of the NHL’s players but we have yet to see this really come to fruition in any meaningful and sustained manner. The BioSteel representative talked about how, in the development of the BioSteel All Canadian Basketball Games, it was Biosteel who went to TSN and said [I’m paraphrasing], “If we’re going to do this properly, we need these games to be televised.” I had never heard of this showcase tournament before but it is designed to highlight the top 24 young men and 24 young women Canadian basketball players. In fact, on TSN’s website it states that the Games are “A Canadian Basketball Tradition.” If you read my last post about the shoddy treatment of the U18 Women’s World Championships you can probably guess what I think about TSN’s five year “tradition” in the making with high school basketball players. I thought it was an odd example to bring up in that space because all I could think was: Then why aren’t you telling TSN to put these girls on TV? Why are we even here right now if that’s the kind of power you are admitting to having? I couldn’t have been the only one with those thoughts, but we all politely applauded cuz…#Canada.

Now, Tie Domi. I don’t want to write about Tie Domi but he has taken up a lot of space in women’s hockey as of late, so let’s unpack this man who has become a problematic favourite. It all started with a 30-second clip that went viral of him promoting women’s hockey on Barstool’s Spittin’ Chiclets podcast and most recently has him kind of yelling at NWHL fans on Twitter. First, Barstool is a hugely problematic platform with a history of overt misogyny. When USWNT soccer player, Christen Press, took over Barstool’s Instagram page for the US Women’s World Cup victory parade she had to answer for associating with such a site, given that the USWNT may be the most aggressively feminist force out there right now. She responded that she was unaware of Barstool’s history and that her PR team had simply presented the idea to her. Her PR team should have known better because that was a serious brand misalignment. Second, Tie Domi is something of a questionable figure himself. In 1999, Sandy McCarthy, then with the Philadelphia Flyers, accused Domi of calling him the n-word on the ice. The NHL investigated but could neither confirm nor deny that it happened. Do we condemn a man for something that may or may not have happened over 20 years ago? Not necessarily. But in November 2016, Domi tweeted out a photo of his son, Max Domi, wearing Donald Trump socks with, what looks like a SnapChat caption, “Game day socks. Make America Great Again.” Domi’s tweet stated, “@realdonaldtrump won and so did the Arizona Coyotes.” Just like when people held Press accountable for her actions, it’s not ridiculous for folks to expect someone to clarify their perspectives when they seem to contradict their advocacy efforts.

I understand the desire and excitement to have a player of Domi’s status lend his voice to women’s hockey but if you want the whole world to take notice of what you’re doing then they will take notice of everything and everyone. It’s kind of like when Kobe Bryant shows up to support the WNBA; it is both admirable and cringy given the settlement of his alleged rape case from 2005 that he’s never really addressed. People change and we do not all have to share the same political beliefs but we also shouldn’t pretend like the beliefs held by some don’t actively challenge the very existence of others; those people have the right to ask very pointed questions about where one’s values lie. Domi also made some big promises on the NHL’s behalf. He expressed his confidence in an NHL-backed league sooner than later but the NHL officially remains mum on any plans, if they have any at all. You can’t control who shows up to support your cause and hopefully he proves to be this amazingly intersectional feminist ally, but appearing on Barstool to advocate for women and then blocking folks from the Ice Garden is not a great way to endear oneself to the WoHo base.

Now, back to the women.

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From left to right: Tara Slone, Carmelina Moscato, Diana Matheson, Anastacia Bucsis.

The second panel was hosted by Anastacia Bucsis (former Olympic speed skater and host of CBC Sports: Player’s Own Voice podcast) and featured Carmelina Moscato (former Canadian national soccer team member), and Diana Matheson (current member of the Canadian national soccer team and Utah Royals FC of the NWSL). These women burned. it. down. As a non-soccer fan, I learned a lot from this panel about the league structures, its support systems, and the history of women’s pro soccer. They called everyone out including the Canadian soccer federation for not capitalizing on the opportunity to set up a domestic league as a lead-up or legacy of hosting the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Matheson called out Hockey Canada by name to step up as a federation to lead the way in the creation of a domestic league. Hockey Canada has, however, stood firm that their mandate is not to run a league. Moscato and Matheson also highlighted that every year there is no domestic league the sport loses players before they reach their full potential. In other words, the lack of a domestic league is a talent drain, which inevitably affects the national teams.

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From left to right: Tara Slone, Brianne Jenner, Sarah Nurse, Marie-Philip Poulin, Kendall Coyne-Schofield.

Tara Slone returned to host the third panel with members of the PWHPA: Kendall Coyne-Schofield (introduced as the President of the PWHPA), Brianne Jenner (PWHPA rep), Sarah Nurse, and Marie-Philip Poulin. This was a pretty relaxed panel where they talked about some of the conditions that they have faced and why they believe that the PWHPA is the way forward. They also spoke about how Unifor stepped up as a sponsor before the PWHPA was even formalized, and the Kipling Group was also announced as the association’s newest sponsor. Evidently Billie Jean King was supposed to be in attendance (*gasp*) but could not make it so she donated two tickets to her personal box at the U.S. Open for opening night 2020 along with a meet and greet to be auctioned off. That experience sold for $3,000.

The Hockey

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Kelsey Koelzer winding one up from the blue line for Team Larocque. Photo by Courtney Szto.

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Katie Burt in net for the Kessel Wolves. Brianne Jenner on the forecheck for Team Larocque against Hayley Scamurra. Photo by Courtney Szto.

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Pre-overtime planning with Victoria Bach, Jocelyn Larocque, and Laura Stacey. Photo by Courtney Szto.

It was pouring rain and windy the morning of the first game but I entered the rink to a buzz of activity in my very very wet jeans. If they had been selling pants I likely would have bought them. There were approximately 800-1000 in attendance over the course of the day. Lots of baby blue rally towels and signs peppered the rink, all sponsored by Secret deodorant. They also provided some baby blue swag to the players. At one point, I looked to my left thinking it was a bunch of Secret volunteers on the landing…but it was Jill Saulnier with four others from Team Daoust watching the first game.

The hockey was fast and furious. Team (Jocelyne) Larocque was outplayed for much of their game against the (Amanda) Kessel Wolves but they managed to battle and win the game in overtime with this goal by Jamie Lee-Rattray (her second of the game):

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Jamie-Lee Rattray beats Katie Burt with the assist from Victoria Bach. Photo by Courtney Szto.

In between the first and second games, two young volunteers came up to my friend and I and asked if we had tickets for the second game. We replied that we did and they went on their way to ask other people the same question. We looked at each other and laughed realizing that were the most adorable bouncers we had ever seen and kind of wanted to change our answer to see if they would have actually asked us to leave.

Game 2 between the (Mélodie) Daoust Wildcats and the (Kacey) Bellamy Hornets was a tightly contested affair. Well, it was up until I had to leave mid-way through the third period when the Daoust Wildcats scored 3 goals to win 6-3. Captain Mélodie Daoust scored the clincher and then Hilary Knight (who scored a hat trick) and Emily Clark followed up with empty nets goals.

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Marie-Philip Poulin (Daoust Wildcats) trying to get around Rebecca Johnston (Bellamy Hornets). Photo by Courtney Szto.

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Geneviève Lacasse in net for the Daoust Wildcats. Kaitlin Willoughby in blue for the Bellamy Hornets and Marie-Joelle Allard helping to defend for Team Daoust. Photo by Courtney Szto.

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Mélodie Daoust facing off against Halli Krzyzaniak (Bellamy Hornets), who took the weekend off from her medical school studies at the University of Calgary. Photo by Courtney Szto.

And, because CBC Sports was streaming all of the games, we are able to re-live moments like this from the Daoust Wildcats versus the Spooner Sharks on Day 2 at Ryerson University’s Mattamy Athletic Centre:

The Dream Gap Premiere

I left Herb Carnegie Centre around 5:20pm to bus back downtown so that I could change and get to the premiere of The Dream Gap, a short documentary produced by former Markham Thunder, Ailish Forfar. Forfar had kindly invited me take part in an “Industry” panel along with, Gemini-award winning film maker, Dr. Donna Gall, and former Assistant GM for the Toronto Furies, Katrina Galas. We discussed the media, culture, and business as a lead-in to the film itself. The short doc featured the likes of Liz Knox, Marie-Philip Poulin, Hilary Knight (all of whom would speak after the film on the Players Panel), Jayna Hefford, and Billie Jean King. Check out the trailer below:

It is a beautifully shot and crafted story about the purpose of The Dream Gap Tour and the PWHPA’s hopes for women’s hockey. If you’re looking for any mention of the NWHL you won’t find it here. Forfar explained that this move was intentional, not to slight the NWHL, but more to avoid giving the media fodder to work with regarding any tensions between the two groups. It is meant to be an educational film to help explain the reason for the PWHPA’s existence. In the film, Billie Jean King explained her logic in forming the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), and the ability for women to make a living doing what they love most was integral to her vision. For some reason when BJK says it aloud it sounds even more reasonable than we already know to be.

Dream Gap Players

From left to right: Ailish Forfar, Liz Knox, Marie-Philip Poulin, and Hilary Knight on stage at the Paradis theatre.

The student created film received a swift standing ovation. Knox, Poulin, and Knight commented after the fact that it was nice to be reminded of why they have taken this more drastic course of action because when you’re in the middle of it all, it’s easy to get lost in the scramble. Someone from the audience asked what kind of salaries the players were seeking and Knox used the Canadian Football League (CFL) as a comparison, answering in the $40,000 – $70,000 per season range based on skill level. (Personally, if we look at the type of education women’s hockey players bring to the table, I wouldn’t go any lower than $50,000.) They talked about the conditions they have had to face as players such as Knox needing to borrow a stick from Geneviève Lacasse during a game after her own stick broke, and Knight told us that last year some of her teammates had to urinate in a garbage can because their locker room had no bathroom. I’m going to go on a limb and say that no one in any league, anywhere on this earth, should have to use a garbage can as a bathroom.

The panelists also talked about how vital and supportive Billie Jean King has been to the association. The adjective that came up more than once in reference to BJK was: magical. Knight explained that they have run out of available weekends to partner with interested NHL clubs and alluded to the fact that next year’s calendar should have a lot of NHL club support. Accordingly, Knox highlighted a difference between league support and club support. What became very apparent was that the players know they are years away from the league they are envisioning (which hurt my heart a little to hear it out loud) but there was no wavering of dedication on that stage.

In 2020 it seems stupid that we are even having this discussion about paying women a living wage to play the sport they excel at but, in other ways, I kind of think this was meant to be. Considering that the first Women’s World Championships took place in 1990, players like Hilary Knight (89′), Natalie Spooner (90′), and Marie-Philip Poulin (91′) represent the leading edge of the first generation of women who have grown up with established elite women’s hockey their entire lives. Who more fitting to lead this charge and try their hand at accelerating progress for all women than these folks. What we know for sure is that we haven’t even begun to understand the potential that exists for women’s hockey.

You can find the industry panel discussion recorded in full by Puck Talks [here] and the players panel audio can be found [here].

The next Dream Gap Tour stops are a mystery stop that has yet to be announced and Philadelphia at the end of February.

Dream Gap

The Top Line Productions documentary crew with all of the evening’s panelists.

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