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From pretty in pink to power in pink: How women’s hockey helped shatter shades of gender stereotypes

By Rhonda Leeman Taylor & Kristen Lipscombe

Whenever a true Team Canada hockey fan thinks about the talented, skilled players they cheer for at international ice competitions such as the world championships or Olympics, they think of what comes most naturally to them.

They think of red, white and of course – the maple leaf.

So when Canada’s National Women’s Team stepped onto the ice wearing white jerseys, pants and socks, adorned with pink numbers, name plates and, yes – even maple leaves – at the first-ever IIHF-sanctioned Women’s World Championship in 1990, it’s needless to say that the bold, but undoubtedly bright move, baffled, confused and perhaps even angered some onlookers.

Some strong-minded female national players questioned the decision made by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA, now Hockey Canada). Wasn’t this a bit sexist or gender stereotypical? After all, these women were elite, national-level athletes, not princesses looking to be handed their perfect glass slipper, er um, skate(s)?

Many of the top CAHA representatives even questioned this risky public relations move. There were heated debates among top executives such as then-president Murray Costello, vice-president Pat Reid and then vice-president of domestic hockey Bob Nicholson. But as Lorna Schultz Nicholson describes in her young adult book, entitled appropriately Pink Power, it was actually Reid that grabbed the reins on the creative colour coordination.

He argued that an equipment company called Tackla would sponsor this inaugural world championship Team Canada roster by outfitting with them with pink and white track suits, pink hats and all of the colourful gear they would need to step out – and stand out – on that world championship ice at the Civic Centre in Ottawa, Ont.

Despite the concerns and questions, the hesitations and hoopla, the girl-powered, pink-inspired movement to put the spotlight on Team Canada and the fairly new-to-fans female game ended up working like, well, a golden charm.

When the Canadian players weren’t even sure if anyone would show up at the rink to watch them, they skated out onto the ice for their first world championship game against Sweden on March 19, 1990, to see fans proudly sport pink to support their favourite Canadian girls.

The publicity stunt drew local, national and international media attention, and much to the excitement of Team Canada players and staff members, even national broadcaster The Sports Network (TSN) wanted to cover the first-ever official world championship (and they have ever since!).

By the time the Canadian women faced off against rivals the United States in the first-ever gold medal game on March 25, 1990, “pink power” had taken off in full force, with even the Zamboni driver decorating his ice-resurfacer with pink flamingos – and even dressing up as one himself!

The passion behind the pink movement, and of course, the talent and skill of Canada’s National Women’s Team, lead to a 5-2 win over the U.S. to snag the first-ever gold medals and world championship cup handed out to a National Women’s Team by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).

We now usually see Canada’s National Women’s Team suited up in the traditional red and white our country is accustomed to seeing on the ice, sometimes with some stylish black accents that look sharp on the ice.

Yet sometimes national team jerseys still vary, with some re-designed specific to special events, from the First Nations symbols – a thunderbird and eagle – incorporated into the maple leaf for the Team Canada jerseys worn at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C., to the black and yellow jerseys worn by Team Canada at the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Ottawa, Ont., in support of Live Strong, to raise cancer awareness and research.

Sometimes, it’s okay to mix the traditional with the untraditional, especially for a good cause, including promoting the growth of women’s sport. After all, women’s hockey has never really been that traditional, has it? It’s still a fairly new game with much growth and a bright future ahead.

So what has happened to “pink power” since that monumental first IIHF women’s worlds?

Canada’s National Women’s Team actually brought it back retro ’90s style by wearing bright pink jerseys for one game at the 2007 IIHF Women’s World Championship at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., once again beating rivals the United States 5-4 in a shootout April 7 while wearing the hard-not-to-notice hue. They went on to win that gold medal, too, 5-1 over the U.S. for their ninth straight world championship title. Perhaps pink was a bit of a lucky colour?

Even better, those pink 2007 jerseys were auctioned off on eBay with proceeds going to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as to some grassroots female hockey programming for Hockey Canada.

And now it’s not just the ladies lookin’ so pretty in pink.

It seems that women have paved yet another path forward, broken down yet another gender barrier, by opening up doors for male hockey teams, from minor hockey to the professional level, to adorn specially designed pink jerseys for annual “pink in the rink” games in order to raise awareness and research for breast and other types of cancers. These boys and men do it to support the strong women in their own lives – mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, aunts, nieces, friends, colleagues – and even many male friends and family members.

And finally, pink is now the official colour worn in the fight against anti-bullying campaigns around the world.

Pink Shirt Day takes place each and every Feb. 26 across the country – in schools, in workplaces, and in ways that continue to break through gender norms and stereotypes. This innovative anti-bullying campaign, by the way, was initiated by some strong and determined Nova Scotia high school kids, willing to step up for a classmate by wearing pink in solidarity with their friend.

So as far as we’re concerned, pink is pretty, powerful – and pretty powerful.

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