What I Learned During The Olympics

As a person who loves hockey, I spend a ridiculous amount of time watching, studying and writing about the NHL. I’ve tried to learn about and teach others about more advanced statistics in order to have a better understanding of the game. I have received a tremendous amount of support and encouragement in this endeavor from many people, both men and women.

There are many people who discuss and use advanced stats. While I have always understood that men clearly outnumber women in the hockey blogosphere, I have not experienced being dismissed out of hand due to being a woman in that little corner of the world. Only once was I even made to feel marginalized in the advanced stats community (for lack of a better term), but frankly that had more to do with me being someone who uses stats instead of someone who thinks up the new ones.

The instances of men being outright misogynists with regard to my involvement in writing about hockey have been few and far between. Occasionally, I have run into someone who has questioned me or doubted my conclusions so vigorously that I am left with the impression that my gender had something to do with it. Nearly all of these instances have involved men on Twitter with whom I have never had prior interaction and who have only just started their accounts.

As for the men who write for established blogs, never once have I been made to feel that I am not good enough or know less based upon being a woman. I’ve only been writing about hockey in any formal manner since late November of 2013 so perhaps I have not been noticed by the wrong people yet and thus have had a positive experience. I hope that will continue to be the case.

If you followed anything that I tweeted or wrote about during the Olympics, you know that I was heavily invested in the Women’s Hockey tournament. I watched every game. I stayed up late to finish getting the stats table together after one of the west coast games for the Blackhawks, took a one and a half hour nap and got up at 3 a.m. so I would not miss the first game that the American women played. I do not say this to impress you or make you think I am some sort of martyr. I say this because I want you to understand how excited I was and how engaged I was in the women’s tournament.

I decided prior to the Olympics that I wanted to track Corsi for the American and Canadian women’s teams and all of the teams involved after the preliminary round. I wanted to do this because I had never seen this done for women’s hockey. I decided to track the American men’s team as well. I saw a bunch of arguments about advanced stats in the Olympics and understood that they would not be useful for future prediction and might be completely undone by luck. The exercise of tracking the men’s team was really more to sharpen my own tracking skills since I have also started tracking zone entries and exits for the Blackhawks. I did not anticipate that anyone would pay attention to any of the stats I tracked nor was I bothered by that prospect.

I started watching the women’s tournament thinking that I would see some half hearted support along country lines as I assume often happens in the case of international competition and some strong support from a few people. I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that I was wrong. Not only did I see support on from the sources I expected to see it from, i.e. some very dedicated female hockey fans, and from some very unexpected places. Not only did some of the women who normally write about the NHL on SB Nation take up the task of covering the women’s tournament, but many of the men did as well.

The coverage was not just lip service, but actual analytic discussion of the teams and the games. I did recaps of all of the American women’s games and several of the Canadian women’s games that were posted at the Blackhawks site for SB Nation, Second City Hockey. I included some stats tables from what I had tracked during the games. Much to my surprise, some of the stats were included in articles on the women’s games from main stream media (with proper credit given of course). By the time the semifinal round came about, I had people from women’s hockey fans to men who write for the NHL asking me for stats on the women’s games. I was very surprised when the excellent advanced stats website www.ExtraSkater.com started sharing my manually tracked stats not only for the men’s tournament, but for the women’s as well. The site also posted scoring stats for the women and their teams.

While all of this was happening, a rather contentious discussion came about after the American women handily defeated the Swedish women regarding the future of women’s hockey in the Olympics. Many people on social media, blogs and main stream media weighed in on the debate with the vast majority coming down on the side of inclusion. It would seem that level headed people do not think that progress deserves punishment. The notable exceptions to this viewpoint either admitted that they simply did not like women’s hockey or were those whose voices so many in the hockey social media community have learned to ignore regardless of the issue. Thankfully, the issue of the continued inclusion of the sport in the Olympics was put to rest the next day when IOC officials dismissed the idea of dropping it from the world stage.

As the men’s tournament went on, the stats I was tracking for Team USA became more and more popular and in demand following each game. This was encouraging not so much in terms of the meaning or weight of the stats themselves, but in the growing interest in them. I continually learn more about them. I genuinely enjoy answering questions and having discussions involving advanced stats as well, so the more the merrier.

Then came the gold medal game between the American and Canadian women. When that game ended, I sat down and cried. I am not much of a crier so this surprised even me. I spent the rest of the day trying to put on a happy face and be pleasant for the sake of my little boys, because that is what parents do. That evening after they were in bed, I had a hard time being upbeat about anything. I feared that I would not even be excited for the men’s game between the same countries. Fortunately, talking hockey the following day with some really wonderful people on Twitter renewed my excitement for the game.

After Team USA lost, I was disappointed and sad that they would not be playing for the Gold Medal, but I was able to shake off those feelings pretty easily as the day went on. The stats that I tracked during the game were widely used by various main stream media outlets. The interest in them was wonderful to see and I was genuinely happy about that.

That good feeling continued into the evening and I started wondering why that was. Why did I have no real difficulty getting over the men’s team loss when the women’s team loss hit me so hard? I know more about and am more familiar with the NHL players. I have a working knowledge of the careers of the women on the team but nowhere near that which I have of the men.

The quick turnaround for the Bronze Medal game against Finland put these thoughts on the back burner. After the men’s team lost the Bronze Medal game, I was not sad, but angry. Angry with how they played, how the game ended up, how the players were being judged. Once again the effort of a team was questioned. Once again the fault for a loss was placed at the feet of one player.

I started thinking more about the unexpected things that I experienced during the Olympics. The men’s tournament features players that I am extremely familiar with from the NHL. I know they are successful. I know they will continue to make money and be cheered for by their fans. I know they will continue to play the game that they love as their job. I know some of them will go on to hoist the Stanley Cup above their heads and feel like they have conquered the world. I know that praise and accolades await them after the Olympics are over. I know people will wear their jerseys and remember their names. I know that they will have all of the things that come with working harder and being more talented than everyone else in their sport.

I cannot say any of those things for the women who played hockey in the Olympics. Their hard work and talent will continue to go largely unnoticed. Once college is over, most of them will only play hockey on a club team, if at all. The masses will not remember their names or buy their jerseys. They will never hoist the Stanley Cup. A Gold Medal at the Olympics is their Stanley Cup. They may go on to play in the World Championships and a few of us will watch their games and cheer for them. They may return to their college teams and win championships, and a few of us will watch their games and cheer for them.

The grand stage for these women is over and done with until the next Olympics. Their lifetime of work gets two weeks to shine every four years. Seeing the American women lose their grasp of the ultimate prize on the biggest stage that women’s hockey is afforded was hard to do. Knowing that this is all that they get is worse. No matter how well any of the teams play, this is all they will get. No matter how inspired we are by their courage, talent and toughness, this is all they will get.

When the Olympics are over, we will go back to talking about and loving the NHL. We will go back to focusing on the Stanley Cup. We will go back to debating the inclusion of women in sports writing. We will go back to asking to be treated equally in writing about sports played in leagues that, no matter how talented we are, we would not be allowed to play in. These are the things that made me sit down and cry after the Gold Medal game. These are the things that made that loss so much harder to bear than anything that happened with the men’s team.

Now that the Olympics are drawing to a close, I am glad that I tracked the women’s hockey stats throughout the tournament. I feel like this was my own way of giving them the treatment I think they deserve and wish they would receive in a wider sense. This was the way I could treat them like the men’s teams in some small part.

*reposted in order to correct a sharing button bug **originally posted on February 23, 2014

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