Shewchuk Revitalizes Women's Hockey
Harvard's Freshman Center to Audition for Spot on Canadian Olympic Team
Twelve years ago, freshman Tammy Shewchuk, feeling overshadowed by her older brother and their hockey careers, tried out for a local hockey team.
"I've always wanted to be the center of attention," Shewchuck would later remember.
Lacking strong skating abilities and general skills, she was quickly cut. Her father immediately took her aside and promised she would never be cut from another team. So far, he's been right.
After years of long practices and difficult sacrifices, Shewchuk has now found the attention she craved earlier. But she did not think it would come so quickly.
In her freshman year at Harvard, Shewchuk led the women's hockey team in practically every offensive category. She amassed 38 goals, breaking the school's previous single season record of 34 held by A.J. Mleczko '97. Her end of the year point total of 53 surpassed another of Mleczko's single season records (51), which was shared with Charlotte Joslin '90.
Shewchuk topped the Crimson's scoring list with six power play goals, five short-handed goals, four hat tricks, ten multiple-goals games, and was tied for the lead with three game winning tallies. Even with this impressive list of accomplishments, Shewchuk still considers the season disappointing.
"The record wouldn't have mattered to me at all, if we could have won more games. If we could have gotten the [Ivy] championship, I don't care about ever scoring goals."
It is offense, though, that has allowed Shewchuk to play at the top levels of hockey. Because of her knack for find the back of the net, Shewchuk routinely found her way onto previously all-male teams. She was the first women hockey player to be signed as a reserve for a Midget AAA Canadian team. This Midget league is a feeder for many Junior Canadian team and, to varying degree, the NHL. Learning to play with and against physically larger and faster males has afforded Shewchuk an advantage over most other girls, who played in all-female leagues.
This advantage has not come without costs. She spent her youth playing hockey seven days a week with only boys. Although she made many great friends, and got to play against future NHLers, Shewchuk still was the only girl in the boys club, and was often treated as such.
"When you're young and everyone's going through puberty, yeah, there's going to be some teasing. There's going to be the idea that "Hey, you're different so let's pick on you."
"There's a lot of discrimination that you face, but that's over and done with once you've proven yourself."
Shewchuk may gave been able to prove herself to her male teammates, but women's hockey in general has yet to find acceptance and respect in the male-oriented hockey world.
The majority of hockey fans do not know anything about women's hockey, nor do they really care to know, either. Shewchuk believes general prejudices and stereotypes is what keeps fans away.
"People hear women's hockey, and think they're not fast, they can't play, they won't hit. Yeah, we can't check, but we're still fast and have skill. Without the hitting, the game is faster and it allows for more skill on the ice."
An offensive player of Shewchuk's stature (5'3") certainly benefits from the lack of checking and clutching. It gives her the opportunity to display the skill and stickwork she possesses. Still, she misses the hard checks and the tough battles along the boards she experienced while playing with guys.
"I think women's hockey would gain more respect if the hitting was reinstated. In the world championships of 1990-91, hitting was allowed. It slowed the game down a bit, but the players would eventually adapt. The speed would return."
Shewchuk, though, does not see the dismal fan support here at Harvard as an extension of these prejudices. Instead, Crimson fans expect a wining team, regardless of its gender. A team that finishes the regular season 9-17 just isn't going to draw the fans.
"All we can do is win, and hope the fans come. It's great game, but if no one ever sees it, they can't ever appreciate it."
Shewchuk and her teammates hope to remedy this situation next year. The core a good team remains, considering four of the top five scorers are returning. Also returning for another season in the pipes is junior Jen Bowdoin, the starting goalie for the past two years, Shewchuk believes this nucleus is strong enough to contend for the Ivy championship for the next couple of years.
However, if Shewchuk gets her way, the Crimson may be hard pressed to contend next year.
Last week, she played for Team Quebec in Vancouver for the Canadian National Championship. Her team placed second to Alberta, but Shewchuk can find consolation knowing she led her team in scoring, ahead of four girls already named to Team Canada--the Canadian Olympic team which will represent the country in 1998 in Nagano, Japan.
Considering her success playing for Team Quebec at Nationals, Shewchuk hopes she has a shot at the team. Eight slots are still open. If she does make the tryouts, Harvard will be well represented in the Winter Games. Mleczko and Sandra Whyte '92 are currently training with the American National Team. But Shewchuk cannot take anything for granted. The other competitors for the Canadian team are playing in Quebec and Canada, and consequently get more press and consideration from the coaches than a player in the ECAC.
"It's hard being down here and trying to get the exposure. The system of play they play on the team is very important to them. These other girls are playing that system right now."
It may have slightly hindered her chances to make the Olympic team, but Shewchuk does not regret her decision to attend Harvard instead of a high-powered Canadian college team.
"Harvard has a great women's hockey program. We have a great bunch of young players that can put the puck in the net, a great coach and a great goalie. Hopefully, next year we'll have a winning season, a chance to win the ivy championship and a berth in the playoffs."
Of course, Harvard will have a better chance of attaining some of these goals if Shewchuk decides to play next year. She wants to play here, but if the Canadian teams calls, she'll be ready.
"I definitely want to play for Canada, but it's not up to me. It's up to the powers-that-be. I can only wait and see."
Harvard women's hockey fans can only do the same.