TORONTO, Ont. -- If you can see it, you can be it.
The Hockey Hall of Fame, the sport's shrine of lifetime excellence, had been an exclusive men-only club for decades. That is, until 2010, when legends Angela James and Cammi Granato became the first-ever HHOF women inductees.
Since then, seven additional women have had their plaques rightfully installed in the museum's Great Hall.
To further commemorate the women's game, the Hall unveiled a new 600-square-foot exhibit in early April, coinciding with this year's edition of the IIHF Women's World Championship. More than 100 artifacts are on display dating from as far back as the 1920s -- and all the way to 2021.
James, and fellow Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford, were on hand to help formally introduce the exhibit. Both players installed into the large display cabinet the trophy that bears their respective name from the defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League; the Angela James Bowl that had been awarded to the CWHL's Top Scorer, and the Jayna Hefford MVP Trophy.
"This is pretty phenomenal," said James, a four-time world champion with Team Canada. "The Hockey Hall of Fame is so inclusive. To be able to capture every league, every association of women's hockey from the 1930s right up to the current times and celebrate that - because that's what we're all in; women's hockey. To elevate our game is pretty special." Among the artifacts are: team sweaters worn by American Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero and Hung Guo "Wall" of China at the first-ever women's hockey Olympic tournament at Nagano 1998. Also featured are sweaters donned by stalwart goalies Florence Shelling of Switzerland and Noora Raty of Finland, as well as skates donated by Danielle Goyette from the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, during which she won a second gold medal, 11 years before her own HHOF induction. Undoubtedly, the visibility of the women's game's most treasured historical keepsakes will influence the next generation of girls and young women. After all, a sweater worn by Hayley Wickenheiser is now in the same museum that celebrates Wayne Gretzky, Maurice "Rocket" Richard and Bobby Orr. "It certainly brings credibility to the women's game," Hefford said. "Once women began to be inducted into the Hall, that was a huge moment for our sport. And now for hockey fans to come in here and have the opportunity to see all aspects of hockey, I think that's huge. Because as a hockey fan, we want the sport to grow. We want the sport to be healthy and thrive for years to come.
"And we're all a part of that; the international players and teams, the NHL, the international men's teams are all a part of that," Hefford said. "So to be able to come in here and just indulge yourself in hockey is incredible. I'm just so excited this next generation that comes in. They're just gonna walk the whole place and learn every single exhibit about hockey. That's what they want to learn about."
The opening of the new exhibit, and the start of the 2023 IHF Women's World Championship in nearby Brampton, Ont., have occurred just days after a historic women's NCAA basketball championship game in which Louisiana State University (LSU) defeated the University of Iowa, shattering television ratings and grabbing headlines as Angel Reese on the winning side trash-talked phenom Caitlin Clark.
James we all smiles at the meteoric rise in the popularity of women's sports.
"Take a look around; the number of countries that are participating at the world championships, the number of young athletes that are here today," she said. "I read in the U.S. that somebody opened a women's-only sports bar. Years ago, that wasn't even thought of. The fact that it's packed every night is a testament to where we are now in sport, but particularly in women's hockey."
Indeed, any of the young girls who cheer from stands the CAA Centre in Brampton may be the next player whose sweater - decades from now - ends up being displayed next to Wickenheiser's in the storied Hockey Hall of Fame.