International Ice Hockey Federation

A moment with Mel

A moment with Mel

Davidson’s experience invaluable to women’s game

Published 06.04.2017 04:14 GMT-4 | Author Andrew Podnieks
A moment with Mel
Melody Davidson has led the Canadian women's national team as head coach and later GM for many years. Photo: Matthew Manor / HHOF-IIHF Images
Mel Davidson might be listed as the general manager of Canada’s national team programs on Hockey Canada's website, but she’s much more than that.

She coached Canada to two Olympic gold medals as well as two Women’s World golds, and she has been a driving force in the international community to develop and grow women’s hockey. She sat down after practise today to voice opinion on a range of topics.

On the new Team USA contract and how it affects Team Canada (peripherally):

Any time there’s an addition of professionalism around women’s sport, it’s a real plus. I wear two hats. I’m a woman, and I’m part of our contract talks. What will that mean financially for us? We’re not a bottomless pit of money either. We want to do right by our players—there’s no question—but at what expense to our development team, our U18 team, our grassroots? I’ve talked to our players, and I’m conflicted. I know what to do as the GM of our program and the money we have—but I also know how hard it is to make a living as a woman in sport.  We have these conversations all the time with the players. We’re not reacting to the U.S. situation, but the contracts do come up, and if there are things that the U.S. has negotiated and we haven’t thought of or covered as much, then we’ll take a look at it.

On what constitutes a contract for a Team Canada player:

Every athlete has to sign an agreement. We’re in the process of inviting our next up-and-comers to our strength and conditioning camp from U18 development. So, when they come to that May camp, they all have to sign an athlete agreement. That just deals with insurance, their behaviour, so they know what they’re signing up for and who they’re representing. For example, you have to be medically fit. If you sign, and you’re not, you’re in violation of the contract. For the younger players, there’s not a monetary consideration, but they do sign the same contract as every other player in the program. We’ve had this in place since at least 1999.

On how the U.S. contract might affect European teams:

The success of this tournament is a product of the success of the women’s community internationally for the last seven years, through the IIHF High Performance Camps, through coaching symposiums. We’re building our own “old boys’ network.”  We know each other. There’s collaboration. We ask each other questions. I hope this contract is just another step in the evolution of our game for all countries and helps us go to an even higher level.

On finding ways to pay players through regular channels:

We need the corporate world and maybe even some private business to support us. We have to look at how to continue to build and grow and sell the game. It’s not just women’s hockey. It’s amateur sport. Outside the top sports, it’s a battle for everybody for sponsorship money. 

On the difference between social media support and ticket sales:

The support the U.S. women received was amazing, but I’ve been around a long time, and it’s hard work to put bums in the seats. This week has been great. It hasn’t just been Canada and the U.S. Russia upsets Finland; Finland beats us and challenges the U.S. to the end; Germany beats Russia; the Czechs beat the Swiss. Our next goal has to be to figure out how to get people in the seats to watch these great games. 

On the independent existences of the CWHL and NWHL:

Something has to happen there. It’s incumbent on USA Hockey and Hockey Canada to look at this as well and see if we have a role there, and if so, what is it. We don’t get involved in leagues on the men’s side. Is that a change we want to make to help grow the women’s game, or is that someone else’s responsibility? We’re not deep enough to have two leagues on either side of the border and expect that the product will bring in the money and fans.

On Finland’s defeating Canada a few days ago:

I take it as, ‘I told you so.’ I’ve been saying for three years or more Finland is ready to beat one of us [Canada or the United States]. I don’t think we had a bad game. I thought we played fairly well actually. We didn’t execute at times the way we wanted to, but that’s because the Finns played well. People have been wanting that parity, and now they have it, they’re asking what’s wrong with Canada. Maybe the other team is just good. They did it the next night, challenging the U.S. right to the end as well. That’s great for our game.

On the post-Hayley Wickenheiser era:

We have a healthy program. Caroline [Ouellette]’s presence here is important. We lost Jayne Hefford and a lot of defencemen coming out of Sochi, and they stayed a long time—deservedly so—but at the same time that can stunt your leadership group for the next generation. We’ve worked hard on that this whole quad [Olympic cycle]. We’ve tried to get some young players to blossom. We’re on track. 

On getting into coaching:

I was never a hockey player as a kid, but I started coaching my brother’s team when I was in grade 8. I’m not sure how that happened. I was also an official, but I coached a lot of sports—softball, swimming, volleyball, basketball. And I played a lot of sports as well. My staff laughs because I tell them my first love is not hockey. If I could have had the same pathway through softball, I would have gone that way. 

On a career in hockey (nonetheless):

In the summer of 1989, I was an assistant coach in the west in softball, and that was the same time women’s hockey was accepted into the Canada Winter Games for 1991. I had to make a decision. I picked hockey because I knew there weren’t many women and the Canada Winter Games intrigues me. I just never left, but I still coached softball and swimming in the summers. Always outside. It was great. My first full-time coaching job was at Connecticut College as an assistant in volleyball. I believe a coach is like an athlete—you need to be involved in multiple sports.

On leaving the coaching ranks in Hockey Canada despite great success:

There’s only one team. Ask the players here who know me—they got tired of my voice. You can see it in their eyes. It was time for a change. I knew that. 

On what women’s hockey has to do today and moving forward:

If we put aside the marketing and sponsorship and all the business side, we have to grow our natural leadership. The IIHF Performance Camps are essential. We’re focused now on bringing in only women coaches, no men. We had a coaching course last May and we had 32 former and current players attend. Our job is to make sure they ALL end up in coaching or taking on leadership roles. That’s the next step.


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