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Hockey’s a game of sacrifice and dedication, and goalie Florence Schnelling’s dedicated to her craft

Hockey's not an easy sport to play. It's expensive, it involves learning how to master playing a game and learning how to master said game while playing on ice, and it involves physical, mental and financial sacrifices--and serious-ass dedication to the sport--even for the average beer-league player.

But I don't believe that there's any doubt that female players attempting to maintain a high level of skill between competing for spots on Olympic teams place "sacrificing to play hockey" on a professional level, and the Globe and Mail's Rachel Brady reveals that Swiss national team goalie Florence Schnelling's dedication to hockey involves finishing her college degree in Boston and flying to Ontario to play hockey because there's simply nowhere else for someone who's used up their NCAA eligibility to play at a professional level:

Schelling was inspired to take her play even further, and accomplish more success in international play by training with the best. She had just used up her four years of NCAA eligibility, but she had a fifth year of studies to finish toward her business degree at Northeastern. The Montreal Stars of the CWHL drafted her last spring, but she lost out for playing time to Canadian Olympic goalies such as Kim St-Pierre and Charline Labonté. Schelling refused to sit on the bench, despite having already started a business internship in Montreal. She agreed to be traded to Brampton, determined to earn meaningful hockey experience to take home to Switzerland.

Schelling, 23, decided to fly back and forth between Brampton and her studies and work obligations in Boston and Montreal for the remainder of the season. She kept two sets of hockey equipment – one in Boston, and one in Brampton, jetting to and fro every Thursday in time for a practice and two or three weekend games in the five-team CWHL.

“She desperately wanted to play hockey here, and you have to admire what she’s been willing to do,” said CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress. “She’s been facing shots from the same top-level players she’s about to play against at worlds in Ottawa in April. Brampton and Florence both benefited greatly from that trade.”

Schelling stayed each weekend at the family home of Brampton teammate Courtney Birchard, a Team Canada defenceman and a rival of Schelling’s internationally.

“I knew the Canadian and American players only from playing against them but hadn’t met any of them personally,” Schelling said. “To me, they were all heroes who had won Olympic gold and silver medals. I always looked up to them, so meeting them and developing friendships here has been incredible for me. I feel like I have developed as a goalie and learned so much from the way they train.”

Are CWHL players paid? Nope. Are they able to work and play? Not most of the time--though the Home Depot tries to help Canadian Olympic-hopeful athletes in every sport work while accommodating their training schedules. And what happens when Schnelling finishes her degree? Brady reveals that Schnelling will have to play with the guys because there's nowhere else for her to play:

She is one of two European players in the CWHL this year. Katka Mrazova of the Czech Republic national team plays for the Boston Blades. Andress hopes to enlist more international players to the CWHL after the next Olympics, hoping to get sponsors involved in helping the players find work in Canada and the United States while they are playing.

“If more are interested after the Olympics, I hope we can put things in place so it’s easier for them to come,” Andress said. “Florence has certainly been a great ambassador for our league internationally.”

Rock on, Florence...And no, I didn't put this in the wrong blog. I'm amazed at the dedication and fortitude displayed by athletes of every gender, and female hockey players grind it out with the best of 'em.

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MsRedWinger's avatar

The lack of professional sports opportunities for talented and dedicated players like this young woman continues to sadden me.  What male athlete has to go through that kind of hardship to play a sport?

We’ve made progress in women’s sport, without a doubt.  When I was in high school, there were no girls’ sports. None. So cheerleading was the only remotely athletic thing that was available to me, even though I’d been raised an avid sports fan. Title IX was a huge help for college athletes, but as someone who follows several women’s college sports and the women’s national soccer and hockey teams, I am so frustrated that young women still don’t have the same opportunities as young men after they leave college. I don’t understand why the audience isn’t there.  Are we still a totally male-centric society? I guess so. And it’s so unfair to girls.

Thanks for this post, George, and sorry for the rant.  But this is something I think about a lot.

Posted by MsRedWinger from the State where Tigers roam in the Spring on 03/22/13 at 09:55 AM ET

Crater's avatar

I don’t understand why the audience isn’t there. 

Posted by MsRedWinger from Flori-duh on 03/22/13 at 09:55 AM ET

I’ll give you a hint. The average woman is not as athletic as the average man.  That isn’t to say a woman can’t be as good if not better than the men, but in general, the men are better built for this stuff. Women’s sports as massively boring to watch. the WNBA is an example, no one wants to watch it and like 98% of the teams loose money every year. I tried to watch the Women’s hockey during the olympics. It was boring. There were no exciting plays, no real hits or hockey plays. I heard something on the Jason Ellis show on SiriusXM recently. Some women’s soccer team, on the professional level, scrimmaged against the better boy’s high school teams as practice.

We watch sports for competition, and the women just don’t bring the same level of compete as the men. That said everyone(women included) should do whatever they want to do, but they’ll have an uphill battle when doing so, making money etc.

Posted by Crater from SoCal on 03/22/13 at 12:28 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

In terms of women’s hockey, it’s just a different game. Most forms of bodychecking are illegal, and less size and strength (as opposed to “less athleticism,” I think it’s more like, “Women aren’t as big and bulky as guys are”) playing on generally Olympic-sized rinks yields even more of a soccer-like pace than men’s hockey played on 200’x100’ ice (and teams of both genders playing trap games on those big rinks make the Minnesota Wild, circa 2004 look exciting).

In my opinion, the skill level in women’s hockey has risen dramatically since I started watching it back in the 98 Olympics in Nagano. These days, when the U.S., Canada, Finland or Sweden play each other, it’s more or less equivalent to watching Major Junior hockey, and that wasn’t the case even in the 2002 Olympics…

But the level of competition is a sticky and tricky wicket because, aside from NCAA programs and the CWHL, there aren’t any places for women to play hockey at an elite level, and in countries outside of “the big four,” women’s hockey is something of a novelty act. Hell, in Russia, ahead of the 2014 Olympics, Russia’s dumped a ton of $ into women’s hockey, and it’s the first time *ever* that they’ve gotten funding.

So the sport is a work in progress, and no, it’s not as fast-paced, hard-hitting or high-skilled as men’s hockey because the talent pool is so small and the level of competition isn’t fantastic everywhere, but I enjoy watching women’s hockey, and I hope that the sport continues to improve.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 03/22/13 at 01:53 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.