Ladies’ choice

The Ice for Kids Arena and the ’52 Canadians Arena will be the display area to showcase the latest evidence that points to women’s hockey continuing its rise into the collective sports consciousness.
The fifth-annual Fort Frances Girls’/Women’s house league tournament boasts an all-time best field of 26 teams this year, plus two senior teams involved in their own head-to-head series.
There was a time not so long ago that any girl wanting to play hockey was either ridiculed or recommended to try figure skating, instead. At best, the puck-loving petites automatically would be shoved in goal because popular belief had it they could never keep up with the boys.
But the passing of time has seen an amazing evolution occur, where female hockey is no longer an oddity but a regular part of the recreational scene of most North American communities.
You have to tip your helmet to any young lass who laces up the blades.
It’s not like they grow up expecting to one day be first-round draft picks with multi-million dollar contracts in the NHL. Their lot in hockey life is a simpler one—yet they embrace it wholeheartedly.
Of course, I was thrilled the Canadian men’s hockey team finally erased a half-century of heartache by winning the gold medal at last year’s Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City (has it been a year already?).
But once the gates to the athletes’ village closed behind them, Martin Brodeur, Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic, and the rest of the squad had extremely well-paying jobs waiting for them to return to, as well as the opportunity to chase hockey’s sacred trophy, Lord Stanley’s Cup.
For the women, their magical triumph over their U.S. hosts was their Holy Grail. Heck, blueliner Therése Brisson couldn’t get permission for time off to go play on the team—and ending up quitting her job just to don the Maple Leaf sweater.
Another of those Olympians—gritty forward Hayley Wickenheiser from Shaunavon, Sask.—is now furthering the women’s game after having made the roster of Kirkkonummi Salamat, a second division men’s team in the Finnish Elite League.
Sure, with three points in her first six games, she’s not looking like Wayne Gretzky, or even Mats Sundin. But the ripple effect of the accomplishment of her making a men’s team in a recognized professional league could have positive implications for generations of young female players.
Now when they get told by ignorant nay-sayers that girls don’t belong in hockey, they can point to Wickenheiser or to Team Canada or to the thousands of females picking up the sport every winter as proof that it’s time to do away with a mindset better suited for the Dark Ages than the 21st century.
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Speaking of inspirational people, former NHL Coach of the Year Ted Nolan is headed back to Fort Frances to both revisit his playing days and revitalize the aboriginal youth of the community.
The native of Garden River First Nations, just outside Sault Ste. Marie, will be in town as part of a fundraising event being staged by the local United Native Friendship Centre.
Nolan will suit up on a UNFC team composed of younger relatives of centre employees and other aboriginal youths from the area to take on the “O.P.P. Hitmen” on Feb. 21 from 7-8 p.m. at the ’52 Canadians Arena.
The public only needs to bring along a non-perishable food item or monetary contribution to get into the game, with all food and money collected going to the UNFC food bank.
Various items will be raffled off at the game, including a jersey and two sticks signed by Nolan, as well as three aboriginal paintings.
The following evening, an invitation-only banquet will take place at La Place Rendez-Vous, with Nolan delivering the keynote speech to an audience that will consist mainly of aboriginal youth.
It’s yet another fine gesture on the part of a man who has rebounded from the disappointment of being fired by the Buffalo Sabres a month after winning the league’s top coaching honour in 1997 to do what he can to give native youth in Canada hope and belief in their future.
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The golden anniversary of the premiere ladies’ curling event in the area takes place next weekend (Feb. 21-23) as the 50th Fort Frances women’s bonspiel gets underway at the local curling club.
An expected 32 teams will take part in the cashspiel tournament, with opening ceremonies slated for the Friday at 6:30 p.m. A banquet also will be held on the Saturday night at the club, beginning at 6:30.
The entry fee is $180 per team. Those interested in registering can contact Nettie Monasterski at 274-8606 (work) or 274-2169 (home).
It will truly be a rocking good time.
• • •
Fort Frances native Chris Lindberg and the Canadian men’s national hockey team couldn’t make it three-for-three last weekend.
Team Canada finished third at the Swiss Cup in Basel, Switzerland, posting a 1-1-1 record. The red-and-white tied Germany 2-2, lost to the eventual tournament champions from Slovakia 4-3, and defeated the host Swiss team 5-3.
The international squad had won the Swiss Challenge back in November and the Spengler Cup in late December.
Lindberg, who had no points in the three games last weekend, returns to his HC Ajoie team in the Swiss ‘B’ League, which starts its post-season this week.
If you are planning any sporting events, or have some sports-related information or scores, feel free to call me at 274-5373 ext. 237 or by e-mail at jpayeur@fortfrances.com
All statistical and story information, with the exception of events held Monday night or Tuesday, must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Monday to ensure publication for that week’s edition of the Times.

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