Friday, 24 January 2014

Acquisition of Bailey Bram by Sweden’s Linkoping a revolutionary step in women’s game

While the world of women’s hockey is dominated in international play by Canada and the United States, the borders in the global game are slowly dissolving. Last season, All-World goaltender Florence Schelling spoiled Canadian hockey fans by competing with the CWHL’s Brampton Thunder. In January 2014, Sweden’s LHC Dam (also known as Linkoping) has reciprocated by bringing Bailey Bram into the fold.

Truly a historic signing, it recognizes the value that women's players from North America mean to the growth of the game globally. Ironically, Bram was Schelling’s teammate with the Thunder for the 2012-13 season.
 
The sojourn to Sweden represents the third country where Bram shall play competitive hockey. In addition to her native Canada, she played four years of collegiate hockey in the United States with Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. Reputed as a great team player and a friendly personality, Bram is the perfect ambassador for the game in Sweden.
  
Having played for the Canadian national women’s team from 2011 to 2013, Bram was one of the last players released from Canada's centralization camp, in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. In 2013, she played in a total of 18 games for the national team, accumulating two goals and four assists. She would earn a silver medal at the 2013 IIHF Worlds along with gold at the Four Nations Cup. 

She certainly left her mark on Canadian women's hockey history by becoming the first player from Manitoba to compete on Canada's Under-18, Under-22/Development and National Women's Teams. With all three teams, her cumulative statistics include 62 games played, 17 goals and 28 assists for 45 points.

No stranger to competition in Europe, she would compete with Canada's Under-22 squad at several MLP Cup tournaments in Germany. The 2012 MLP Cup would see her play with younger sister Shelby. Her IIHF debut at the 2011 Women's Worlds was contested in Switzerland while she grabbed a silver medal at the 2012 Four Nations Cup in Finland.


The migration of Canadian and American players to Europe has started to pick up steam. Switzerland was one of the first countries to establish a competitive league for women, welcoming many Canadian and American stars to its ranks. While Bram is the first Canadian national team alumnae to play in Sweden, other countries have started to welcome North American players.


Jessica Solis, a star with the Guelph Gryphons in Canadian Interuniversity Sport is now competing in Austria. 2013 CWHL draft pick Jess Jones (a teammate of Bram's at Mercyhurst College) spent the 2012-13 season in Belarus. Of note, she would help her squad to become the first Belorussian team to claim a European title. In the autumn of 2013, Clarkson Cup champions Cherie Hendrickson and Kelley Steadman (also a Mercyhurst teammate of Bram) joined Lokomotiv in Russia.

Although Bram certainly raises the level of competition for Sweden’s top female league, it would be unfair to expect her presence to increase attendance or provide Linkoping with a championship. Her January 25 debut will likely show fans the magic that she is capable of, but there are adjustments to the style of play and the culture to consider.


Considering that many players are jumping from leagues throughout the world – Danijela Rundqvist from Sweden has not only played in her homeland, but in Canada and Russia – this is a period in the history of the game where global growth is still taking place. For many of these players, the chance to play elsewhere is not only a time for personal growth, but an opportunity to appreciate the game in other parts of the world. 

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