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Cassie Campbell-Pascall is the first woman to serve on the HHOF selection committee

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But I’m not applauding this groundbreaking appointment.

IIHF World Women’s Championships Gold Medal Final Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

On Tuesday last week, just after the latest crop of inductees into the Hockey Hall of Fame were announced, two new members of the selection committee were introduced to replace two outgoing members. One of the new people joining the group is Cassie Campbell-Pascall. She is the first woman to be named to the selection committee.

There is no question of her quality as a player, a broadcaster and a person. She is exactly who the HHOF looks for to join the committee. But it’s not a cause for celebration. Rather, it’s an opportunity to take a hard look at who the HHOF calls on to choose those inducted each year, to decide who can be considered great in the world of hockey.

The men who say “Eh!”

You could sit down with the list of those inductees, and write a profile of every person. It would take months, maybe years, and when you were done, you’d have something that seems like a comprehensive history of hockey. And in many ways, it would be the history of hockey a lot of fans know. But it would be an illusion.

There would be no women’s hockey before the Olympians got attention in the television age — there are only 6 Canadian and American women in the hall. There would be some LGBTQ people playing hockey in your history, but you might miss it, as it’s often left out of the profiles of some of those greats. Your history would be drenched in whiteness, maleness and it would be so Canadian, you might be led into thinking that the depth of passion for the game all over the world doesn’t exist. You might think hockey was only for Canadians.

The inductees and the selection committee are fished from the same pool. The current committee is so overwhelmingly Canadian that if the rules didn’t require some token Euros, the committee could be called the men who say “Eh!” Sorry, men and one woman.

In these rules to name the selection committee, the HHOF has chosen to require there be someone who is familiar with international hockey and amateur hockey, but women’s hockey is never mentioned. Perhaps, it was assumed in 2015, or whatever prior version of the by-laws that criteria dates from, that women’s hockey was just a part of amateur sport. Even in 2015, that attitude was woefully behind the times.

When Willie O’Ree was inducted to the hall last Monday, a lot was made of the fact that he was the first black man to play in the NHL. The chance that singled him out and required that he do that extra work of being the first in order to make the NHL better in 1958 was not his achievement, and the fact that it happened 41 years after the founding of the NHL is a shameful truth that the NHL still has to work to overcome. The thing to celebrate is that O’Ree works hard to this day to help the NHL and the wider hockey world grow up enough to no longer need him on the payroll. His work to break down the barriers that still exist in hockey is his achievement, but the fact that it is necessary should be a labour all of us who work in or play hockey in any way should take up.

Having Cassie Campbell-Pascall on the selection committee for the HHOF is not an achievement for the Hall. It’s not a thing to be celebrated. Rather, it is something to be looked upon with deep disturbance and shame that it took 60 years from the first selection committee for one single woman to ever sit and choose worthy players for the hall.

The HHOF is not the Hall of NHL Fame. And women have always played hockey, watched hockey, written about hockey and built and maintained hockey leagues.

The current list of men (and one woman)

One thing not made very clear in those rules is that the men who have been on the selection committee over the last 60 years can serve for longer terms than the seeming maximum. They can be reappointed and many are, and while there is a soft term limit of 15 years, it can be overridden by the board of directors.

Here is the current active selection committee, with the year they were named to their posts:

  • John Davidson, Chair: Canadian, born 1953, named 1999
  • David Branch: Canadian, born 1948, named 2009
  • Brian Burke: American, born 1955, named 2012
  • Cassie Campbell-Pascall: Canadian, born 1973, named 2018
  • Colin Campbell: Canadian, born 1953, named 2005
  • Mark Chipman: Canadian, born 1960, named 2018
  • Bob Clarke: Canadian, born 1949, named 2014
  • Marc de Foy: American as per wikipedia, named 2012
  • Michael Farber: American, named 2007
  • Ron Francis: Canadian, born 1963, named 2016
  • Mike Gartner: Canadian, born 1959, named 2009
  • Anders Hedberg: Swedish, born 1951, named 2012
  • Jari Kurri: Finnish, born 1960, named 2016
  • Igor Larionov: Russian, born 1960, named 2011
  • Pierre McGuire: American, born 1961, named June 2018
  • Bob McKenzie: Canadian, born 1956, named 2016
  • David Poile: Canadian, born 1950, named 2014
  • Luc Robitaille: Canadian, born 1966, named 2014

I can safely guess the approximate ages of the two non-hockey-playing media members who don’t have their vital statistics all over the internet, and say that there are only two people on this list younger than me. And Campbell-Pascall is of course the youngest here. It’s an odd thing about even this feeble an effort at diversity, but it often brings in younger voices too.

If you look at when people were named, it seems like there has been a bit of a push recently to get younger, so bright young minds like Ron Francis and Luc Robitaille were added, and to be fair, Robitaille is the other person younger than me.

This is an excellent group of hockey people — one that includes my favourite player ever, my favourite media member of all time, and some others that I admire greatly. The only person on there I have no time for is Colin Campbell, but I can understand why the HHOF would want an inside line to the NHL at a high level.

The tough realization any organization like the HHOF faces — if they ever do face up to what they’ve been doing in keeping within their tight-knit group of people who all think the same and grew up the same way and look the same — is that most of the time, the people who have risen to the top are pretty good people. But that doesn’t mean a little more diversity wouldn’t liven this group up and bring even better ideas about who should be in the HHOF to the table.

And of course I see many names I admire here, but what of a hockey fan twenty or thirty years younger than me? What of a more serious and dedicated fan of the women’s game? What of a fan who isn’t Canadian?

The two American-born journalists, Mark de Foy and Michael Farber, both live in Montreal and have for a very long time. Brian Burke has been around this side of the border so long, I forgot he wasn’t Canadian again.

Who here knows USA Hockey? Who knows the Minnesota high school scene, the NCAA, all the people who have built the game to grow in America at a rate unlike in any other hockey nation? You can’t leave it all to Pierre McGuire and a couple of transplants who are GMs of US-based teams, just so you can keep the men who say “Eh!” in the overwhelming majority. You can’t keep it comfortable and close as the world grows big and complex.

Who on this list isn’t white? I think you know the answer to that. O’Ree and the NHL work to break down the barriers to entry in the game for young people, but this list of the insiders, the big names, the honoured elder statesmen (sorry and the one women) shows that in the years since 1958 right up to this moment, the powerful in the game are still the same as they ever were.

To fix this, the HHOF needs to look at their attempts to modernize, visible in the more recently added names, and face up to the hard reality that they are decades out of date in their thinking. They’ve been taking criticism for some time for inducting men from the NHL every year who are not that great, so they’ve been slowly looking to induct more Europeans and to address their NHL bias. But these efforts have been so timid it’s like deciding you might play the one scoring winger who can skate on team of old-time grinders — but no more than the one and not when you’re trying to hold the lead.

If the HHOF ever wants to embody the greatness of the whole game of hockey, not just the game known by the men who say “Eh!” the HHOF needs to start cycling out their committee members before they hit 15 years on the job. And they need to realize the the men of a certain kind they’re so used to seeing in press boxes, running teams and talking about the game on television do not have a monopoly on understanding the sport. They need to work at changing. Get in the corners and dig hard for a better, broader and truer vision of the game.

Come on, eh! You can be better than this.