Finnish legend Riikka Sallinen hung up her skates this week at the age of 46. The last active player to have played in the very first Women’s World Championships in 1990 and the top scorer at the Nagano Olympics, if there was any justice she’d skate right on in to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2022 and get a standing ovation while doing it. But of course for women, it’s not that easy.
The Hockey Hall of Fame class of 2019 will be announced on June 25, in just under a week. For once, we’re all pretty sure at least one of the two slots for women will be filled. After all, this is Hayley Wickenheiser’s year.
Hayley Wickenheiser is a unicorn. The only way she doesn’t get announced as a first ballot Hockey Hall of Famer on Tuesday is if all the men on the Selection Committee thought Cassie Campbell-Pascall, as token Woman, would nominate her, and Cassie rightly figured someone else on the committee would nominate her and she could safely nominate a player for that seldom-filled second spot, and oops, nobody nominated her. (This still feels like a plausible scenario, to be very honest.)
I had a look at the six women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame to date and came across some comparables. Five of them were 39 or older at the time of induction (Angela Ruggiero was 35), five of them have at least one Olympic gold medal, four of them are Canadian, and all of them have strong name recognition within the international hockey community, and all of them demonstrated consistent excellence in hockey, whether through numbers or awards.
Hayley Wickenheiser not only ticks all of the boxes (she turned 40 this year), she obliterates them. When trying to compare her to those she played against on a seasonal basis, I had a look at the top 10 scorers at the Olympics and at the World Championships from every year from the first Worlds in 1990 through to Wickenheiser’s retirement in 2016. Of those currently eligible for the Hall (not counting those already in), there are 55 players who were ranked in the top 10 at least once in their career. 20 players did it more than once. Three players (possibly only two) maxed out at seven times each. Hayley Wickenheiser was among the top 10 scorers 12 times.
For those already in the Hall, 2018 inductee Jayna Hefford comes closest, having managed it 10 times. So Wickenheiser, using just one comparable, clearly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. The problem is, so do a lot of other players.
According to Elite Prospects, 900 skaters and 121 goalies have competed in at least one Women’s World Championship and 545 skaters and 58 goalies have competed in at least one women’s hockey tournament at the Olympics. If we go with the assumption that the mostly male, mostly Canadian Selection Committee couldn’t care less about women’s NCAA hockey, much less any league play, just barely acknowledges the first four Worlds as relevant, and will concede that Olympic competition counts as Actual Hockey, then this is the pool of potential candidates for induction. The best of the best from about a dozen countries in the world. Currently about 0.6% of skaters from this pool are in the Hall of Fame, and 0.0% of goalies. That is entirely ridiculous. It’s a measure of just how backwards hockey is that only a third of the 18 possible slots available to women since 2010 have been filled. And if they induct Wickenheiser by herself this year, it just reinforces the glass ceiling that the Selection Committee continues to impose upon these players.
So, who among the pool is 40 or over, has at least one gold medal and has demonstrated consistent excellence in hockey? Well, let’s go back to the top 10 scorers.
All of the eligible players who ranked in the top 10 scorers at a Worlds or Olympics seven times in their careers are American, which is of course strike one. Natalie Darwitz retired nine years ago but is still only in her mid-30s and doesn’t have an Olympic gold. Jenny Schmigdall-Potter, who last played in a professional league in 2015, looks like an excellent candidate until you realize that she was on the roster of the independent Minnesota Whitecaps in the 2016-17 season and thus is probably not actually eligible til next year.
That leaves us with Karyn Bye Dietz (or Karyn Bye, in her playing days). Karyn is over 40, was an alternate captain for the 1998 US team that won gold in Nagano, and was a top 10 scorer in six straight World or Olympic tournaments before racking up her seventh the year she retired in 2002. She still ranks as one of the top 10 players all-time in points per game at a World Championships, with a 1.70 ppg average over 30 career games. In her career with the University of New Hampshire Wildcats she sits fourth all-time in goals scored with 100 and tenth all-time in points with a total of 164 over 87 games. She also spent two years in Montréal with the Concordia Stingers, scoring 99 points in 69 games. She was named to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2011 and the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014.
Among North Americans, Katie King Crowley and Jennifer Botterill are the only other two that are over 40, have an Olympic gold medal, and have ranked among the top 10 scorers at least three times in their career. What about the rest of the field?
Maria Rooth is one of only five players from outside North America who made the top 10 in scoring more than once. Two of them (Tiia Reima of Finland and Liu Hongmei of China) did it before 1998 so clearly that doesn’t count to the Hall. Rooth managed her feat in consecutive years, 2006 and 2007. She scored six points in five games at the 2006 Olympic Games, leading the scoring on what Sweden calls the “Mirakel” team—the only team from outside of North America to win a silver medal at the Olympics to date. She was a SDHL champion with AIK in 2009, and lead the league in points two years running. She is a three-time NCAA champion with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who retired her number. She still stands as their all-time leader in goals with 119 over a 124 game career. She has three World Championship bronze medals and made the 2005 all-star team, when she was also named Swedish Player of the Year. She’s also a member of the IIHF Hall of Fame. Despite retiring in 2010, she’s only 39 so that’s probably enough of an excuse for the Hall to continue to keep her out for a while.
Kirsi Hänninen is the only full-time defender to make the top 10 in scoring multiple times. Her first time was in 1998, scoring seven points in six games to lead Finnish scoring as they won their first Olympic bronze medal. She also lead Olympic scoring by a defender that year. She led defender scoring again the next year at Worlds in 1999, where she was named “Best Defenseman” and was named to the All-Star team while winning her third of four career bronze medals at Worlds. Prior to Olympic hockey she won two European Championships with Finland. In the Finnish league, SM-Sarja, she was on the championship team JYP two years in a row. She is over 40 but most of her career was prior to the Olympics and she has no North American experience.
Kim St-Pierre has long been in the conversation as a contender for the first women’s hockey goalie to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. She meets our 40-or-over criteria, she’s Canadian, and boy does she have the hardware. A member of the Triple Gold Club, St-Pierre has three Olympic gold medals, five World Championships, and won the Clarkson Cup in both 2009 and 2011 with the Montréal Stars. She was named best goalie of the 2002 Olympics, as well as the 2001 and 2004 World Championships. She played 89 games internationally for Team Canada at the senior level, racking up a 64-10 record, including 29 shutouts. Although she stands second to Sami Jo Small in career save percentage (.939) and goals against average (1.17) for Team Canada goalies with 5 or more games, her career was 32 games longer. In terms of games played and shutouts Shannon Szabados is the only Team Canada goalie to come remotely close and is still about 15 games and nine shutouts behind. St-Pierre was inducted into the McGill Martlets Hall of Fame in 2014 after a career that included 27 shutouts in 99 starts and saw her named CIS hockey player of the year twice and athlete of the year in 2003. For those that care about this sort of thing, she has also played for the McGill men’s team and praticed with the Montréal Canadiens. If any goalie deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame, she does.
Kim Martin Hasson (formerly Kim Martin) may or may not be eligible for the Hockey Hall of Fame, depending on how the selection committee interprets “played in a game”. The last game in which she saw ice time was in 2015, and from 2015-19 she was the GM of Linköping HC in the SDHL. However, she has been on the league stats sheet for goalies for the past three seasons (with nothing but zeros on the board), and in at least one playoff game this season she was on the bench for Linköping as the backup goalie to Eveliina Suonpää. Assuming this isn’t interpreted as “played in a game”, Kim Martin has a very strong case for first European women’s hockey player, or at least first European women’s hockey goalie into the Hall. At the 2006 Olympic Games she backstopped Team Sweden to their first Olympic silver medal and was named best goaltender of the tournament. She did this several days before her 20th birthday. She has one Olympic and two World Championship bronze medals, along with an NCAA championship as the starter for University of Minnesota-Duluth. As a player in the SDHL she was named player of the year in 2004 (again, as teenager), won two championships with Linköping HC, and had the most shutouts in the league in both the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. Her age works against her, but someday she’ll be considered old enough to be allowed into the Hall.
I’ve left out a slew of strong contenders, but if there’s any hope in hell that the second slot gets filled, from the way the Hall seems to go about things it’s likely one of the women mentioned above. And they’ve got to get into the habit of inducting more than one woman at a time. Next year Julie Chu and Emma Eliasson will be among those eligible, and 2021 will see both Caroline Ouellette and Florence Schelling ready to go. With the state of women’s hockey this year, Riikka Sallinen will doubtless not be the only strong contender for a 2022 slot. Meanwhile these and other exceedingly deserving women have been waiting in the wings, and one of them should make the headlines alongside Hayley Wickenheiser this year.
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