By Elio Elia
Jade Maisonneuve says it was “the best feeling I have ever felt in my life” when she got the news that she’d been selected to the Canadian women’s hockey national team program.
The chance to potentially wear the maple leaf for the under-18 women’s world championship was a dream-come-true moment for the Ottawa Senators Provincial Women’s Hockey League player from St-Isidore, but then came the news in September that the 2021 event – the last chance she had to compete in the U-18 category – was cancelled.
“I think it is very unfortunate that I am missing this great experience, to be able to play amongst some of the best players in the world,” says Maisonneuve, who learned to skate shortly after learning to walk, and jumped into hockey at a young age, inspired by older siblings and both parents who played.
“I have worked so hard to achieve this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so it is very disappointing to miss this chance,” adds the 5′ 3” centre. “Hockey is a passion of mine and it is a big part of my life. I had to put aside so many things for it.”
The cancellation of the U-18 women’s worlds came as a footnote to the announcement that the men’s world junior championships would be proceeding in a bubble environment – much like the NHL playoffs – in Edmonton.
“I don’t really understand why their tournament is still on when ours is cancelled,” states Maisonneuve. “COVID doesn’t exactly discriminate, so I believe both should be cancelled as the risk is the same. I understand why the women’s tournament was cancelled, but why both weren’t is a little questionable.”
It was another blow for women’s hockey, which was already reeling from the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folding, and the 2020 senior worlds getting cancelled due to COVID. Maisonneuve also missed out on the finish to her 2019-2020 PWHL season.
Her Senators had put together a strong 22-13-3 regular season, won their first-round playoff series, and were set to take on Toronto for a place in the Final Four when COVID shut the league down. The final fate of the 2020-2021 season hasn’t yet been decided.
“I really hope the PWHL season goes through as it is my last year in junior hockey and I would like to make the best of it,” signals Maisonneuve, who was thankful to have a home gym to utilize during the pandemic. “Playing PWHL was some of my best hockey years, so I’m really wishing to play one last year in the league. I was also really looking forward to playing with the new girls.”
Women’s cancellation comes down to dollars
Backed by sponsorships and TV broadcast rights, money drove the decision to proceed with the men’s event and not to implement similar measures to pull off the women’s competition.
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel told the Canadian Press that the women’s hockey events they run aren’t profitable, and that “we invest between $3 million and $4 million every year in women’s hockey.”
Many observers questioned governing bodies’ commitment to growing the women’s game, and their responsibility to promote gender equity (Hockey Canada recently mandated that its board of directors include at least two female representatives after coming under fire for its composition of only white males).
“I didn’t think there was too much institutional sexism within my sport, but every day I start to realize more and more that it exists – just as much in the professional leagues as it does in the recreational leagues,” highlights Maisonneuve, who was part of Hockey Canada’s U18 summer development program alongside Nepean Wildcats PWHL players Mya Vaslet and Hilary Sterling.
“The world juniors being cancelled for the women and not the men is an example of that in my opinion, and also, the fact that women’s hockey is not broadcasted,” she adds. “It would definitely inspire more girls to play the game if it was.”
Despite this, Maisonneuve is still dreaming big. The Casselman high school student will achieve part 1 of her major career goals when she joins the NCAA’s Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh next season, and farther down the road, “I’m definitely hoping to play in the Olympics and get to represent my country internationally once again.”