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Let women get physical

Outlawing physicality in women’s hockey is sexist and makes for a boring game

Justin Bell
Gateway (University of Alberta)

EDMONTON (CUP) — In a late-January match between the University of Calgary Dinos and the Alberta Pandas, fifth-year Panda captain Leah Copeland, streaking into the offensive zone to recover the puck, body-checked Erin Rennison of the Dinos hard into the boards.

It was a clean check that, in any other league, would elicit a loud cheer, with a loose puck squirting free to continue the Pandas’ rush. But instead of creating an opportunity, Copeland would serve two minutes in the penalty box, forcing her team to play short-handed at a critical point of an inter-provincial match with playoff implications on the line.

In women’s hockey, body checking results in a two-minute minor penalty and is one of the few things separating the female game from the men’s games.

It’s an outdated regulation the CIS should change in order to create more equality for the players who take to the ice every weekend.

Hockey is a physical sport. Hefty players use their bodies to dominate puck possession or force turnovers, while smaller players are forced to use their speed in order to make up for their lack of physical dominance – it’s the great détente of the hockey world.

But in women’s hockey, no such balance exists. Fast players are rewarded for their speed, while larger players are forced to try to keep up, unable to cash in on their imposing presence.

Body checking is part of the game, and to deny it on the women’s side seems, at the very least, puzzling and sexist.

And it isn’t as though the physical side effects don’t apply to both men and women. While those effects may differ between the sexes, it’s ridiculous to disallow one side but not the other.

If we’re going to protect student athletes, let’s protect them all equally. If we’re going to allow rough physical contact, let’s open it up to everyone.

Officials from the CIS claim they are simply following the regulations put forward by Hockey Canada, who in turn cite the disparity between hockey nations as some sort of explanation for the ban on body checking. The argument goes that Canada and the U.S. would dominate competitions even more than they currently do if more physical contact were allowed.

Hockey Canada also cites a lack of pressure from its member associations as a sort of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” situation to keep the current body-checking ban on the books.

That’s not to say there’s no physical contact in women’s hockey. Incidental bumps are not frowned upon, and a variation of basketball’s pick-and-roll is often employed.

However, it’s time the CIS take a second look at the body-checking rule. Allowing the men’s teams to throw hip checks, while protecting the female players from physical danger seems very quaint – almost 19th century quaint.

I want to see Copeland throwing big hits at centre ice on top of potting game-winning goals. Pandas forward Alana Cabana has been on a scoring streak in the second half of the season, but would be an even bigger force on the ice if she could stand up opponents in the neutral zone and make them think twice about skating up with the puck.

The difference in regulations is maintained throughout every level of hockey in Canada. But this is the university level, where progressive attitudes are supposed to triumph. Let’s see some forward thinking prevail and shake the hell out of the boards all across the country.

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