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For James, a women's pioneer, Hall is ultimate honor

by Deborah Francisco
The incredible hockey career of Angela James is set for its most incredible honor.

In a career filled with countless accolades, Monday's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame will trump them all.

That is saying something, considering James' pedigree as one of the greatest female players ever to take the ice.

After all, this is a woman who already calls four halls of fame home, including the Black Hockey and Sports Hall of Fame and the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.

"I would never have thought that women's hockey would be in that class," James told "It's going to be great for hockey, it's going to be great for women's hockey and it's going to be great for women in sports. It's nothing that I expected ever to happen."

"Of players who brought the women's game to the forefront, Angela would be at the top of that list. We see the evolution of the women's hockey game and I'm proud. I know my daughters can benefit from pioneers like Angela."
-- Adam Graves

Rightfully, though, it is James making the breakthrough, as she joins Cammi Granato as the first two women to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, as part of the 2010 Class. They will be joined by NHL legend Dino Ciccarelli in the players' category and Red Wings executive Jimmy Devellano and former Calgary owner Darryl "Doc" Seaman in the builders' category.

And why not blaze a historic trail into the Hockey Hall of Fame after a trailblazing career on the ice?

James is largely responsible for increasing the visibility of women's hockey in Canada and encouraging the rapid growth of the sport.

"Of players who brought the women's game to the forefront, Angela would be at the top of that list," Rangers Stanley Cup champion Adam Graves told "We see the evolution of the women's hockey game and I'm proud. I know my daughters can benefit from pioneers like Angela."

Plus, Graves personally and vividly can attest to James’s on-ice skills. Three decades ago, Graves and James shared the ice regularly at the Seneca College Hockey School in Toronto, where they both coached in the 1980s.

"I'll never forget getting out on the ice and having the opportunity to play with and against Angela," Graves said. "There were a lot of pros and junior players and university players that played in that skate -- it was some good hockey. She was the only woman that came out and skated with us.

"She is just a fantastic hockey player … I feel lucky because I played on the same ice as Angela."

The style of game that the 5-foot-6, 155-pound James played commanded the attention of everyone on the ice -- particularly that of the opposing team -- because of her unique combination of ferocity and goal-scoring ability.

Nowhere was that more evident than in her international performances with Team Canada throughout the 1990s.

"You knew when she was out there she would come down the ice with red in her eyes," Granato, who competed against James for eight years, told "She was just so offensively skilled, so strong, a total leader, and a person that you silently admired; but, at the same time, you were like, 'Oh my god, she's out on the ice again? I'm playing against her?' She was consistently just powerful, dominant."

It was that aggressive level of play that set her apart from other female players of her generation.

"Sometimes they used to nickname me 'The Train,'" James said. "I was aggressive."

James' aggressiveness led the way for Team Canada in international play as Canada won the gold medal in the first four IIHF Women's World Championships, starting with the inaugural tournament in 1990.

"It showed the world that women can play hockey," James said of the early World Championships. "With the exposure that they were getting from the media … it put them on the map."

In the 1990 tournament, Team Canada donned pink jerseys as a gimmick, because it was the first time in history women's hockey was taking the world stage. But James needed no gimmicks to shine brighter than all the rest. She notched 11 goals and 2 assists in five games to fuel her team to a gold-medal victory against the U.S., earning the tournament's top forward honor in the process.

The ripple effects of that showing spread through Canada almost immediately, as girls' minor hockey in Canada rapidly gained popularity.

In fact, prior to 1990, Hockey Canada didn't even keep records of the number of girls registered, even though girls' hockey has been around in Ontario for many years. However, in 1990, 8,146 girls registered to play hockey, and by the start of the 2010-11 season, 85,624 girls were registered with Hockey Canada.

"It just brought a whole other awareness to female hockey and that it was an option for young girls to play," Hockey Canada Manager of Female Development Trina Radcliffe told "From only having 8,000 girls registered in 1990, and then to jump by over 3,000 girls the following year shows that it had a huge impact on the development of the game."

While that 1990 gold medal was a breakthrough event for women's hockey in Canada and throughout the world, it wasn't the first breakthrough of James' career. The Toronto native was already dominant in national tournaments, and was named MVP in eight national championships.

"I loved playing for my country and I loved playing for my province," James said. "Anytime I had an opportunity to compete and to play, I was there."

James got her start in her Toronto neighborhood, playing street hockey with the neighbor kids or shinny on a nearby pond in the winter. She frequently was the only girl, but as the youngest of five children in her family, this never intimidated her.

"We were just kids playing outside, having fun, doing our thing, staying out of trouble," James said.

At age 8, she joined her first organized ice-hockey team -- a boys' team. By age 10, she switched to an all-girls' squad and she never looked back.

James thrived at the college hockey level, where she was recruited to play hockey for Seneca College. She led her team to the Ontario College Athletic Association ice hockey championship from 1983-85 and she received Seneca College's Athlete of the Year Award in 1984 and '85. The college retired her No. 8 jersey in 2008 and she has been employed by the college in some capacity since the late 1980s.

After finishing her playing career at Seneca, James moved to the Ontario Women's Hockey League, where she played for nearly 20 years, earning eight scoring titles and six MVP awards. Today, she coaches in that league.

While the OWHL was the closest thing to a professional hockey league for women, the contrast between playing in it and playing in the NHL was stark.

"The guys in the NHL, they don't have to worry about putting meals on the table or things like that because they are getting paid to play," James said. "The life of a women's hockey player playing competitive hockey is, you go to work, you rush home, you get something to eat, you rush to the rink, try to get there, you warm up, you play and then you do the same thing the next day.

"It was a pretty large commitment on behalf of the players."

Although James' journey to the Hockey Hall of Fame has been different from those undertaken by the other 357 Hall of Fame inductees, hers remains among the most inspiring, leaving thousands of girls to take up their own sticks and blades in her wake.

"It is most deserving when I think about how hard she has worked at her craft and what she has meant to hockey," Graves said. "She is so deserving of this opportunity."
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