Reach for the moon and if you miss, you land among stars.
It’s a saying that stuck in Randi Fogarty’s mind after she attended a Youth Leadership Camps Canada program. The 14-year-old Orillia Hawks player was at the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH) Saturday afternoon for the opening of She Shoots…She Scores, an exhibit focused on women in hockey.
Much like the women before them, Fogarty said she and her friends come up against a lot of negative attitudes from their counterparts in hockey.
“I’ve always had this argument with my brother, who also plays hockey, and says they’re better than girls,” said the Severn resident. “It’s just kind of annoying. We’ve played with a bunch of guys who didn’t treat us fairly. It’s maddening.”
Fogarty said she definitely thinks girls can play equally well, if not better in some cases.
“I watch my brother’s team and one of the girls on his team keeps up with the boys,” she said. “Some teams they play against have girls that are better than guys.”
Given a chance, Forgarty said, she would love to reach for the moon; she would definitely love to play hockey at a professional level.
And that’s exactly the opportunity star players such as Liz Knox and Brianne Jenner are trying to create with the formation of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).
“I think that we are at a pivotal point in women’s hockey,” said Knox. “The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) folded last year. They stated unsustainable business model as the reason. The PWPHA came together last summer to make it a sustainable model.”
She said one reason the previous model did not succeed might be that it was set up as a non-profit.
“We couldn’t have investors at the core of it,” said Knox. “Major corporations weren’t keen on putting dollars into something they couldn’t get anything out of.”
Despite the fact that Canadian women have been playing hockey since at least the late 1800s, the absence of a professional hockey association makes it difficult for women to continue beyond college level hockey, she said.
But like many others who came before her, Knox said, she and her peers continue to play because they’re passionate about the game.
“We have high-level and skilled players in our leagues,” she said, “and at some point, they would like to be compensated for their talent.”
Brianne Jenner, who plays for Calgary Inferno and is also on Team Canada, said it's important to take it one step at a time; she cautions it will take time before women’s hockey reaches National Hockey League status.
“We need equal opportunity to showcase our talent,” she said, adding the PWPHA isn’t necessarily looking for million-dollar contracts to begin with. “We would like support for our players, for them to be healthy, to get training, and the opportunity to be treated at professionals.”
Jenner said what they need to do is attract viewers and supporters because there is endless talent coming up the pipeline, but there is no place for them to claim the stage.
Nathalie Rivard, former Team Canada player, agreed with Knox and Jenner.
“I definitely think there should a level where players can focus on playing professionally,” said Rivard, who lives in Orillia.
“I was raised in Ottawa and none of the universities in Ottawa at that time had women’s hockey teams…they do now,” she said.
In addition, Rivard said she wants to see more professional scholarships being offered to girls playing hockey on college teams.
“I think for most young girls in hockey, I want them to be able to experience the game and continue their studies at the same time,” she said.
“We need the support of the public for the vitality of the sport,” added Rivard.
The exhibit comes about two years after Breakaway, which was focused on men’s hockey, said Heather Price-Jones, co-curator for the show.
“We felt it wouldn’t be complete without women’s hockey and talking about how they have broken barriers in the sport,” she said.
The exhibits includes special items, such as Preston Rivulettes uniforms, Jayna Hefford’s stick, Cassie Campbell’s jersey, and photos of area teams.
“I think (the exhibit) really brings it to the forefront now more than ever,” said Price-Jones, communications coordinator for OMAH. “They’re asking to be respected for the talent that they very clearly have.”
Local artist Tanya Cunnington said she was touched by the exhibit and hearing Knox talk about the dedication women have towards the sport.
“I’ve never been part of organized sports,” she said. “But having played roller derby has been truly empowering. I came here to look at how we can work on women empowerment, because we have to build each other up.”
Knox said it’s as simple as coming out to women’s hockey games.
“It’s now on our shoulders to create something for the girls who want to play hockey,” she said.
Rivard said she had no doubt that PWHPA could make it happen.
“I feel we will overcome this vacuum,” she said. “Women’s hockey is too strong.”
For more information, visit pwhpa.com or follow them on social media using the handle @pwhpa.
The exhibit runs, during OMAH hours, until Saturday, April 11, 2020. For more information, click here.