Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Time to officially recognize the Triple Gold Club for Women

With the Montreal Stars winning their third Clarkson Cup in four years, Stars skater Meghan Agosta became the fifth member of the Triple Gold Club for Women. To gain entry into said club, the feat is gained by winning a Gold Medal in the Winter Games, gold in the IIHF Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships, and the Clarkson Cup. Personally, my first exposure to such an idea was presented by renowned ice hockey author Andrew Podnieks in his book Canadian Gold 2010. The IIHF recognizes a Triple Gold club for men, which encompasses Winter Games gold, IIHF gold, and a Stanley Cup (which can be accomplished by players and coaches).
To this day, a Triple Gold Club for Women is not yet officially recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation. Although the Clarkson Cup finds its home in the still growing (and financially beleaguered) Canadian Women’s Hockey League, it is the only championship for women outside of Winter Games, IIHF sanctioned tournaments, and the NCAA.
Although the Clarkson Cup is still on its way to try and become part of Canadian lore such as the Stanley Cup, it is a safe bet that the Clarkson will still exist, even if the CWHL collapses. Should the National Hockey League one day subsidize a professional women’s league, the Clarkson Cup would have to be the title that teams strive for.
Just like its male counterpart, the Stanley Cup, the Clarkson also holds a unique history (born out of  a direct rebuttal to the NHL lockout of 2004-05), that will continue to produce stories of wonder and amazement. The fact that an American team (the Minnesota Whitecaps) has already won the Cup adds a unique aspect to its history. If women’s ice hockey can continue to find a home at the Winter Games, it will be more momentum to help recognize the Triple Gold Club.
Without question, the credibility of the Triple Gold Club falls to the CWHL. If the league can survive by being profitable and/or growing its fan base, the Clarkson Cup will hold greater importance. This in turn will make the Triple Gold Club a prestigious accomplishment. The credibility of the CWHL will only rise substantially if there is a higher level of talent. This is imperative to help meet the IIHF halfway and prove that the Clarkson Cup is a worthy hockey trophy.
Welcoming the Minnesota Whitecaps would be a significant addition to the league (and help build a rivalry with the Boston Blades). With more NCAA talent emanating from Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the future of the Manitoba Maple Leafs suggests entry into the CWHL. With a small number of Europeans having competed in the NCAA and CWHL, a European player winning the Clarkson Cup would give it added value.
Although the Montreal Stars make winning the Clarkson Cup look easy, all one has to do is look at the legends competing for the Toronto Furies (Tessa Bonhomme, Sami Jo Small) and Brampton Thunder (Gillian Apps, Jayna Hefford, Cherie Piper), and see how frustratingly close they are to the Triple Gold Club (all five of these legends need the Clarkson Cup to gain entry).
If one aspect of the Triple Gold Club is guaranteed, it is that the membership will only grow. If Canada can obtain gold at the 2012 IIHF Women’s Worlds, Marie-Philip Poulin and Catherine Ward will be the sixth and seventh members. If Charline Labonte joins the Montreal Stars and wins the 2013 Clarkson Cup, she will also gain membership. In addition, Julie Chu (the only CWHL player to win the Clarkson Cup with two different teams) can find her way in the club if she can win the gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Even if the IIHF is not ready to acknowledge a Triple Gold Club for Women, accomplishing the three is very difficult. (Of note, Triple Gold Club members Caroline Ouellette and Jenny Potter achieved a rare grand slam, by also winning an NCAA title, respectively). It is symbolic of the hard work and sacrifices women go through just to participate in ice hockey. As the New York Times reported, life for women in the CWHL is pay for play. In years past, players incurred expenses of at least $1000 just for the right to play in the league. For those players who never reached the Triple Gold Club, they have proven to have hearts of gold.

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