The NHL's best are gathering in Ottawa this weekend for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game, and while the festivities will feature some of the best hockey players in the world, four of the most decorated players present won't be playing in Sunday's game.
Canadians Jennifer Botterill, Caroline Ouellette and Meaghan Mikkelson Reid and American Jessie Vetter have nine Olympic medals, 11 World Championship gold medals and seven NCAA National Championships among them. Few are more qualified to represent and promote the sport of women's hockey. The foursome will be doing just that at various events in Ottawa this weekend as part of the NHL's growing effort to help promote and grow the women's game from the grass-roots level on up.
"As we embark on this initiative to engage and support the women's game, one of the priorities for us is using our promotional capabilities -- including our large-scale events -- to be able to have a platform to introduce and engage these tremendous athletes with our fans," said Susan Cohig, the NHL's Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing.
CATCH THE ACTION
Hockey fans can catch elite women's hockey action for the next two IIHF Women's World Championship. For tickets to the 2012 championships in Burlington, Vermont, April 7 to 10, at the University of Vermont Gutterson Fieldhouse and in the Cairns Arena, call 802-656-4410 or visit Burlington2012.com.
The 2013 Women's World Championship will be held in Ottawa April 2 to 9, 2013, at Scotiabank Place and Nepean Sportsplex. To secure your ticket package, visit HockeyCanada.com.
Botterill, Ouellette, Mikkelson Reid and Vetter will be participating in or attending several events throughout the weekend, including fan Q&As at the Sirius XM Stage at the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fair, the Energizer Night Skate at the Rideau Canal on Friday night and the Molson Canadian NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday night.
Among the priorities for those four players will be promoting the upcoming 2012 IIHF Women's World Championships, which will be held from April 7 to 14 in Burlington, Vt. The competition will feature the top eight women's national teams in the world, pitting the United States, Canada, Finland and Russia in Group A along with Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia and Germany in Group B. Fans can buy tickets to the 2012 Women's World Championships at the University of Vermont's Gutterson Fieldhouse and in the Cairns Arena by calling 802-656-4410 or visiting Burlington2012.com.
This weekend's All-Star celebration also provides a golden opportunity not just to promote the 2012 tournament in Vermont, but also the 2013 IIHF Women's World Championship, which will be played at the scene of this weekend's main event at Scotiabank Place plus the Nepean Sportsplex in Ottawa. To secure a ticket package for the 2013 Women's World Championships, visit HockeyCanada.ca.
It will be the first time the competition returns to Ottawa since the Canadian capital hosted the inaugural IIHF Women's World Championship in 1990.
"What they're really doing is using the stage and the platform of our event to talk about their game and in particular talk about what's going to be happening at the Women's World Championships in Burlington," Cohig told NHL.com Wednesday. "These athletes will talk about their experiences and their participation for the current players.
"We want to enable them to use our platform to talk about their game. Obviously it's a nice fit looking ahead to Ottawa in 2013, but knowing that we do have the World Championships in Burlington in April, it's a great and immediate opportunity."
Inviting a collection of superior women's players like Botterill, Ouellette, Mikkelson Reid and Vetter to partake in the NHL's All-Star Weekend is just part of the League's growing initiative to help support and promote women's hockey. The League is aggressively looking to use its media outlets, such as NHL Network and NHL.com, as well as its major tent-pole events like All-Star Weekend and the Winter Classic, as an opportunity to spotlight the women's game.
While the NHL has no immediate plans to subsidize a women's professional league, the League is immersing itself in women's hockey to look for other avenues to grow the sport.
To help develop a plan for supporting the growth of the women's game, the NHL has called on Val Ackerman, a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, who brings significant experience to the table in both development and administration of women's and men's sports. Her noteworthy career achievements include being the first president of the WNBA from 1996-2005 and serving as the first female president of USA Basketball, a role in which she served from 2005-08. That type of unique experience has been, in Cohig's words, "invaluable" as the NHL begins to introduce more initiatives targeted to grow women's hockey.
With the input of voices like Ackerman's, the League efforts can build on growth of participation in women's hockey in North America and around the world. While participation of women's hockey at the youth level has been increasing since the first IIHF Women's World Championship in 1990, the women's game could potentially expand even more as the NHL brings its weight to bear for the sport.
As four of the best women's players in the world promote the game this weekend in Ottawa, fans will start to notice those efforts have begun in earnest.
"What's good for women's hockey is good for the NHL," Cohig said. "These are tremendous athletes, and to be able to use our resources to provide a platform to promote their experience and the women's game to our fans is the right thing to do."