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Hickey on hockey: Women's hockey gets a boost with Dream Gap Tour


The Dream Gap Tour, featuring the best female hockey players in the world, will return this winter with a new format and a $1 million infusion from the makers of Secret deodorant.

“We were happy with the exposure for women’s hockey with our showcase events last winter, but now we’re looking at a tournament format with cash prizes and a final for the Secret Cup,” said Jayna Hefford, a four-time Olympic gold medallist who serves as the operation consultant for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA).

The PWHPA was formed last year following the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The group includes 125 women who have pledged they won’t play for any league until there is a sustainable professional league. Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner, Sarah Nurse, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker are among the 38 Olympians on the PWHPA roster.

The group has established training centres in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, New Hampshire and Minnesota and has organized the Dream Gap Tour so elite players can maintain their conditioning and competitive edge.

The NHL and the NHLPA have provided some support — women’s hockey was featured during the NHL All-Star weekend this year — but it’s not at the same level as basketball, which sees the NBA partnering with the WNBA.

“Secret has been involved in prompting gender equality since 1965 and this is a natural association because hockey is so much a part of Canada,” said senior brand director Lisa Reid. “Secret believes that equal sweat deserves an equal opportunity.”

Hefford noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has made planning difficult.

“In Montreal, they can have only two or three players on the ice at one time; in Toronto, it’s 10 and some other areas are allowed full practices,” said Hefford. “We’re hoping the situation improves when we’re ready to play games.”

There is the possibility the tour games will be played without spectators, but Reid said Secret is working on plans to have the games televised.

Hudon is where he belongs: There’s a suggestion making the rounds that Charles Hudon didn’t get a fair shot at succeeding with the Canadiens, but the reality is that, like water, Hudon has found his level in the Swiss League.

Hudon got off to a quick start with HC Lausanne with a goal — albeit an empty-netter — and three assists in his first two games. He wasn’t in the lineup Friday against Ambri-Piotta, but no reason was given for his absence.

The Swiss League could be a perfect fit for Hudon, who seldom rose above his status as a fifth-round draft choice. He scored 10 goals and added 20 assists in 72 games in 2017-18 and I predicted he would score 20 goals the following season, but he finished with three goals in 32 games.

Hudon’s biggest problem is that he’s small and that means you have to be fast like Paul Byron, doggedly determined like Brendan Gallagher, creative like the Calgary Flames’ Johnny Gaudreau or have all those qualities and wind up in the Hockey Hall of Fame like Martin St. Louis. Hudon had none of those things going for him.

Hudon isn’t the only Montreal connection in Lausanne. Former Canadiens defenceman Mark Barberio is the team captain and the roster also includes former Canadiens prospect Tim Bozon. Cristobal Huet is the goaltending coach and former Lac St. Louis Lions technical director Karel Svoboda is an assistant coach. Svoboda’s younger brother, former Canadiens defenceman Petr Svoboda, is a co-owner of the team and director of hockey operations.

All bets are on: The NHL has announced a partnership with the American Gaming Association for an education program titled Have a Game Plan, Bet Responsibly.

There was a time when professional sports leagues shuddered at the idea that people actually gambled on their games but, with the growth of legalized gambling, leagues have learned they can share in the misery of folks who don’t bet responsibly.

Most NHL teams are in bed with gambling operations — the Canadiens have deals wth Quebec’s casinos and Loto-Québec — because it makes good business sense. The AGA estimates the legal gambling market can bring the NHL US$216 million a year. That’s about five per cent of the league’s pre-pandemic annual revenue.

Still no takers: The free-agent market has been open for two weeks and Alex Galchenyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk are still available.

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