Friday, 13 April 2012

Whitecaps Invitational, Why Not?

In the aftermath of the 2012 Clarkson Cup, the absence of the Whitecaps from competing is visceral. As a direct rebuttal for not being part of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, it is time for the Whitecaps to raise the stakes and create a competition where teams will want to compete. A Whitecaps Invitational Tournament would give players something to compete for while providing a high quality of women’s ice hockey.
With all the hockey that goes in March and April (NCAA Frozen Four, Clarkson Cup, Esso Cup, PWHL playoffs, IIHF worlds, Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships, and the Minnesota High School title), there is a severe hockey hangover for fans of women’s ice hockey. An autumn tournament hosted by the Whitecaps would be a great way to start the season. A four team tournament that could feature the Whitecaps battle the CIS champion, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association champ, and a fourth club (either from Minnesota High School, NCAA Division III, or a CWHL club that did not qualify for the Clarkson Cup) that would bring a unique level of competition.
The University of Calgary Dinos won their first ever CIS championship and feature two participants from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games (Iya Gavrilova, Hayley Wickenheiser). In addition, two members of the coaching staff (Kelly Bechard, Danielle Goyette) have Winter Games gold, while goaltender Amanda Tapp once played for the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. Any team that boasts the world’s greatest women’s player (Wickenheiser) is guaranteed to generate interest.
Of note, Team Alberta of the CWHL (although the Alberta Clippers would be a better nickname) shares some facilities with the Dinos. Both teams were the beneficiaries of a significant donation made by Calgary philanthropist Joan Snyder to help improve the women’s game. Team Alberta features Winter Games gold medalist Meaghan Mikkelson and if the two teams were willing to participate, it could keep the travel costs lower. With devoted media attention in Calgary for women’s hockey, interest would be high.
If a CWHL squad would not participate, a team of all-stars from Minnesota high school, or a top ranked high school team (such as Hill-Murray or Roseville) would add a different flavor. Although it would be likely that a high school team would lose (due to the higher level of competition), an all-star team (if one could be agreed upon) would be an ideal compromise. An all-star team would give the players confidence and provide them with an experience upon which to further develop their skills. Rather than be portrayed as a sacrificial lamb, players from the Minnesota high school system would generate interest throughout the state and help give the tournament more exposure.
Throughout the years, the Whitecaps have played exhibition games against teams from the WCHA. Including a WCHA team in a tournament helps give the games more meaning. As the Minnesota Golden Gophers claimed the WCHA and NCAA tournament titles, to see Calgary (with Wickenheiser) take on Noora Raty and her Gopher teammates would add a whole new dimension to the game. Wickenheiser and Raty have only competed against each other at the IIHF and Winter Games level. On another note, if a team such as the Wisconsin Badgers would be willing to participate, to see a living legend such as Jenny Potter try to score on Alex Rigsby (the most talented American netminder in the NCAA) would be one of those rare, unique moments that would find its way into hockey lore.
Such a tournament (regardless where the teams come from), with its diverse selection of teams would provide a celebration of women’s ice hockey talent at all levels. A Whitecaps Invitational would be a true friendship festival where all players would share a mutual love for hockey.

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