CALGARY — The women’s hockey community is anxiously awaiting the Hockey Hall of Fame’s announcement on its next class of inductees.
On Tuesday, the Hall will say whether women’s faces will be hung alongside those of Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr and Jacques Plante.
For that to happen, the 18-member, all-male selection committee had to nominate women and vote them in.
The Hall made it easier for the induction of women when it established a players’ subcategory for them. Up to two women can be inducted annually starting this year, in addition to a maximum of four men.
Front-runners from the modern era of women’s hockey include American forward Cammi Granato and Canadians Angela James and Geraldine Heaney.
They’ve been standout players since women’s hockey hit the international stage in 1990.
If the Hall, which is located in downtown Toronto, opts to go the route of women’s hockey pioneers, it could be someone like Shirley Cameron or Abby Hoffman.
Cameron founded the Edmonton Chimos and played at the highest level of women’s hockey available to her, while Hoffman pretended she was a boy to play hockey in the 1950s.
“There are a lot of women who have been involved with hockey for a long time, longer than most people really know,” Heaney says.
That means the selection committee has a broad timeline from which to single out the first female inductees.
The women’s hockey community views the prospect with a combination of excitement and nervousness. The first female inductees set the standard for those who enter the Hall after them.
“We’ll have to see what they come up with,” says Canadian team captain Hayley Wickenheiser. “It’s a very momentous occasion. It’s a big deal.”
While Hockey Hall of Fame chairman Bill Hay insists women have been eligible for induction all along, there was no chance of that happening when their careers were compared to the crowd of NHL players eligible for induction every year.
So in addition to the four male players inducted annually, the Hall established a separate women’s category with up to two per year.
“In the past, it was more difficult because you have a certain number and the ladies would be running against Bobby Orr,” says Hay. “None were being nominated and their game was becoming a little more prominent.”
Even though James was nicknamed “the Wayne Gretzky of female hockey” she says comparing her career to The Great One’s is comparing apples to oranges.
“It’s good that they’re not comparing the NHL to the women because the women are only playing at the top of their game that they’re allowed to, what they have and that is the Olympics and international play,” James says. “The guys is the NHL.”
In choosing both men’s and women’s inductees, the selection committee will take into account “playing ability, sportsmanship, character and their contribution to the team or teams and to the game of hockey in general,” according to the Hall’s bylaws.
The female players chosen must be retired for three years, same as the men.
“I think having Olympic experience is important, but there’s also other pioneers that have gone before that don’t have a worlds or an Olympic experience,” Wickenheiser says. “Abby Hoffman or people like that. It’s a tough call, but I think for sure, having the credentials on the ice is what they look at in the men’s game, and the performance and stats and things like that. I think that’s important in the women’s game too.”
A dozen women’s world championships and three Olympic Games since 1998 provide the selection committee with hard statistics to back up selections.
Granato, James and Heaney were the first women inducted into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008, which was the same year Granato became the first woman to enter the U.S Hall of Fame.
The IIHF didn’t induct any women in 2009, but Finland’s Riikka Nieminen-Valila became the fourth woman to enter this year. The Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee includes such hockey luminaries as Scotty Bowman, Pat Quinn, Harry Sinden, Serge Savard and Peter Stastny.
An all-male selection committee making a historical decision for their sport has some female players nervous. Former Canadian team captain Cassie Campbell-Pascall, who is eligible for induction, has faith they’ll do their homework.
“For some of those people that don’t know a lot about women’s hockey, I think it’s going to require a little bit of research and make sure they get the right people,” she says.
“I’ve spoken to a few members on the committee in passing at different events. They’re really doing their due diligence and asking a lot of people who they think should go in and getting a lot of different opinions.
“For some of them it may be the first time they had to ask someone about women’s hockey.”
When they played hockey as youngsters, neither Campbell-Pascall, Heaney or James dreamed they’d see women enter the Hockey Hall of Fame in their lifetime.
“I’m surprised that it’s happening and it’s great that it’s happening and for me to be one, it would be great,” Heaney says. “I don’t even know what I would say.”