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Goaltender: Sami Jo Small

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As one of Canada's top female goaltenders, Sami Jo Small already gets the media attention she deserves for her participation, effort, and skills that she demonstrates. But for the Winnipeg, Manitoba native, there's one more thing she'd love to do in her amazing career.
"I'd still love to eventually end up in Winnipeg," she said, indicating that what she wants is a professional women's team in her hometown, and she'd love to have the chance to play for the city again.
Now, as I talk to her via email interview, she talks about why it could be a good thing for Winnipeg, the success of the IIHF World Women's Championship back in April, the issues of shots to the heads in the NHL and girls playing on boy's hockey teams, Cassie Campbell's success as a Hockey Night In Canada broadcaster, being a hero for young girls all over, and other questions related to being a successful woman out there in the business of hockey.





Sami Jo Small talks about her wish to expand the CWHL to her hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba…


SC: How did this whole idea of expanding the CWHL for a professional women's team in Winnipeg? How long has this been something of a goal to you?
Sami Jo Small: I've always wanted to play elite level hockey in Winnipeg. When I graduated from University I wanted to move back to Winnipeg but I couldn't because there was no elite team for me to play on in order to pursue my hockey goals. I thought that because the community is so supportive of it's athletes and it's teams that bringing an elite team to the city seemed like a great fit. The notion that Winnipeg could house an elite women's team really became a focus once I saw the excitement generated by the World Women's Championship in April 07. However, this idea had to be put on the backburner when the entire NWHL (the league I used to play in) collapsed in May 07. My focus now is creating a sustainable league for elite women hockey players to compete and hone their skills.


SC: Although it's a relatively over-debated subject, do you think that adding another hockey team to Winnipeg would bring more of the attention and profits the city needs to become the home of an NHL franchise?
S.J.S: I'm not sure that housing and supporting an elite women's team would even register in the eyes of the NHL, however, I think it would be great for the city. I think it's something that the city could rally around, similar to towns that are home to WHL franchises. We would shoot for an attendance similar to Junior hockey or even that of Major League Lacrosse and I'm not sure that would enhance Winnipeg's bid anymore that successfully hosting the World Women's Hockey Championships, Pan Am Games or even Indoor Soccer.



SC: Because the Winnipeg is such a great hockey city, do you think a CWHL team here could be an extremely successful thing for the city?
S.J.S: I really do. I think Winnipeg has the most incredible sports fans who are extremely loyal to their city's teams. I think it would also benefit all of the levels of women's hockey in the city as registrations would go up and acceptance would be automatic. Winnipeggers support their own and I think this would not be any different.



SC: Do you feel like you have plenty of support from your teammates, friends, family and others on your ideas and goals?
S.J.S: I think my family and friends that live in Winnipeg would love for me to come back and play in Winnipeg. However, I think it might be difficult to convince some of my National Team teammates to take a risk in a new market and help create a new team. The team in Winnipeg would have to have some great incentives so that it could attract enough great players to compliment the elite players that already currently live in the city.



SC: If you ended up as a general manager in the future, what players would make up your all-star CWHL team?
S.J.S: Forwards:
Cherie Piper
Jennifer Botterill
Meghan Agosta

Defence
Delaney Collins
Becky Kellar

Goalie
Kim St-Pierre





I asked Sam some general questions concerning women’s hockey, her thoughts on the NHL, Winnipeg/Selkirk’s reaction and support for the WWHC back in April…


SC: Who are your favourite players in hockey right now, male and female? Who are your idols?
S.J.S: I don't really have any idols within the sport. When I was younger I idolized a goalie by the name of Pele Lindberg who used to play for the Philadelphia Flyers. I wanted to be exactly like him. Unfortunately, he died in a drunk driving accident. He was found to be the drunk driver. I was so devastated and since then haven't really idolized anyone except for those people around me. I've always looked up to my brother and now find so much motivation in actions of my teammates everyday.



SC: What are your thoughts on Steve Downie's hit on Dean McAmmond? Are you thankful that there's generally nothing like that in women's hockey?
S.J.S: I think the hit was an abnormality in the NHL. Most hits are not like that. Ours games are tough and physical and certainly there is always a risk a player takes that too far.



SC: Even though women's hockey is rapidly growing in popularity, do you feel like it gets the publicity and credit it deserves? Of course, Winnipeg's reaction to the WWC in April definitely attracted lots of media attention, and I had never seen the MTS Centre so full…
S.J.S: I think women's hockey is well-supported but not well marketed. Mpst hockey fans love a great game of women's hockey between two fierce competitors. The problem within our sport has generally been a lack of funding which in turn turns into a lack of marketing. If no one knows about our games no one is going to come watch. Hopefully, in the future we can do a better job of marketing the game so that the fans can enjoy the excitement. The World Women's Hockey Championships was proof that it's a great game and if marketed correctly can be enjoyed by packed arenas.



SC: Were you surprised at Selkirk and Winnipeg's support and fan reaction at the championships? At the FanFest, the autographs ran overtime because hundreds of people ended up coming out, and Hockey Canada did so much to promote the tournament.
S.J.S: Having seen the lead up to the Championships I was not surprised. I knew that Polly Craik and the whole organizing committee had done and tremendous job promoting the event.





Last of all, the gold medalist answers talks about what she thinks of the women who are changing the world, along with why girls should be allowed on boys hockey teams…



SC: Cassie Campbell has been a huge success on Hockey Night In Canada as the first ever female to do colour commentary in history. She knows her game, on-ice and on-screen. Do you think this will prompt more young women to stand up and go places where no other woman has gone before, and even into the hockey broadcasting business (I ask you this because it is something I would love to do, along with hockey journalism)
S.J.S: I certainly think that Cassie is doing a great job on Hockey Night in Canada. She has been such a leader in the hockey world paving the way for females in the future. There are other great females in the world of broadcasting and Cassie proven herself to be as great a leader off the ice as she was on the ice.



SC: My friends (the hockey fans, at least) and I find it perfectly okay for girls to play on boy's hockey teams, and don't understand why they shouldn't. Girls can play just as well-if not better-and have every right to play on the guy's teams--Hayley Wickenheiser and Manon Rheaume proved that themselves. But what do you think of it?
S.J.S: I think girls should play wherever they have the most fun. We have created a great league where the worlds top players play and I choose to play there in order to spread the word about how great women's hockey players are.

*Note: This is a much discussed topic in Winnipeg. Amy and Jesse Pasternak, two high school girls went to court, trying to win the right to try out for the boy’s hockey team, even though there already was a girl’s team at the school. They won the case, but were cut from the team soon after.

SC: Are you glad to know that every time you step onto the ice with your team you are helping to build the dreams of young hockey loving girls across Canada?
S.J.S: Thank you very much for saying that. It's certainly an honour to play for Team Canada but also a great responsibility knowing that our actions are monitored by so many people. I just try to be a positive influence on as many people as I can while enjoying the game I love.







"To Sydney," the hockey card reads, "Small steps, big dreams!"
The Team Canada card with Sami Jo Small’s picture on it is in my room, signed just for me. It constantly reminds me of what I have to work for, and how I have to do it.
I will keep this hockey card forever and remember how much the woman who wrote those words achieved, and remember how that was exactly how she did it all.
Small steps, big dreams.
Congratulations, Sami, on achieving what you always wanted to, and on being an excellent role model for me.





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