The CWHL’s all-star weekend is usually one of the most exciting weekends of the year. It’s very different from the NHL’s all-star weekend, in that the players are actually excited to be named as all-stars, and that the game is actually competitive. No one is going to fake an injury so they jet off to Florida for a long weekend with their significant other. The women who are named to the all-star game are honoured to be there, and take it seriously.
I’ve been to Toronto to cover a few all-star weekends now, and it’s always a phenomenal showcase of the talent that the league has to offer. Fans and media alike are given an opportunity to see how the league operates, and interact with the players on an extremely personal level. It’s a must-attend event for anyone and everyone in the women’s hockey world. So, after having no all-star game last year, an Olympic year, you can bet your bottom dollar that this year’s festivities have been circled on my calendar for a while.
I should be focusing on covering the awesome players who will be taking to the ice on Sunday afternoon.
I should be focusing on the important ways that the players will give back to their community this weekend.
I should be focusing on the growth of women’s hockey, something that weekends like these are supposed to be all about.
Instead, I am forced to focus on a few seemingly benign issues that have taken away from the spirit of all-star weekend.
For starters, one of the most fun parts of all-star weekend is the draft. Fans vote for captains, who then draft from the named all-star players to form their rosters. This year, the draft is not open to the media, nor are team photographers or social media staff allowed in. I can’t see any benefit in barring these individuals from an event that does nothing but shine a light on the personalities of these tremendous athletes. In fact, there was no mention of the draft at all in league communications. Very unfortunate, and very disappointing.
Secondly, the press box for the game itself on Sunday is closed to the media. This may have been an MLSE decision, but in previous years, this wasn’t an issue so it’s hard to see why. Credentialed media members were told to “sit anywhere in the arena” but to be aware that you may have to give up your seat to someone who had purchased a ticket. To not have a dedicated, reserved section of the arena for media is disrespectful to anyone covering the game, and is a slap in the face to those of us who have covered the league for several years.
The bulk of the people who cover the CWHL are bloggers and freelancers, most of which are probably too afraid to complain to the league. Events like the all-star game are an opportunity for the mainstream media to showcase the league to a wider audience. Do you honestly think that mainstream sports reporters are going to sit in the stands, without anywhere to plug in their laptops, in a seat they’ll probably have to give up? Do you honestly think they’re going to publish an eloquent story about the game in a timely fashion without a work space to write it in? If I hadn’t already booked my train and hotel, I wouldn’t have even bothered to come.
Listen, I love women’s hockey. Anyone who knows me knows just how passionate about this league I am. I just spent two days home sick with gastro, and managed to get myself up and out of bed to take a 6:42 AM Saturday morning train from Montreal to Toronto. I’ve dedicated much of my career to ensuring that these athletes have a voice, and that their stories are told. I consider it my job to grow the game, not their’s. The product should speak for itself, and I consider myself, and the other incredible bloggers and reporters who cover the game, as their microphone. That the league doesn’t realize that THEY are the ones acting as roadblocks to their own success is incredibly frustrating.
The CWHL wants big-league recognition? Then they need to start acting big-league. Their players are big-league. The calibre of the talent both on the ice and behind the bench is big-league. But you can’t chastise the mainstream media for not treating you like the real deal when you don’t act like the real deal.
It’s time to step it up, CWHL. Give these players a legitimate league to play in. They deserve it.