Sports
Women's hockey legend to NHLers: Get back to work

Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Angela James accepts her ring from Chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame's Board of Directors Jim Gregory (R) as Co-Chairman of Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee Bill Hay (L) looks on in Toronto, November 8, 2010.

Credits: REUTERS/MARK BLINCH

JOE WARMINGTON | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO -- Here's a message to NHL players and owners from a fan who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame and was never paid to play.

Get back to work.

Actually, Angela James -- whose name is on the front of an arena -- is more diplomatic.

"Get it done," were her actual words. "I miss my Saturday nights."

An Abacus Data poll shows six out of 10 fans do not think they are coming back.

James, who has worked in athletics for 20 years at Seneca College where she once scored 50 goals in 14 games, is in the minority, believing players will return this season.

But she cautions the poll shows the damage caused by the labour dispute.

"I see it in the dressing room with my own team," she said of the minor bantam AA boys team she coaches. "They are not talking about hockey. I hear lots of football talk."

James, 47, who admits she is still "hurt" from being left off the 1998 Olympic team -- despite being the team's leading scorer -- says that as a family person, she tries to stay out of controversy.

But winning and losing, she said, should be on the ice.
And agreeing with Don Cherry, she feels a secret ballot is needed.

"I understand because I am in a union and we were on strike last year and you do what your union tells you," she said. "But there comes a time when if you can't resolve it, you need to take it down a level and go directly to the base."

James, whose brother, Theo Peckham, is 20 years her junior and plays for the Edmonton Oilers, would also be interested in seeing results of a similar secret vote by owners.

The hockey icon, a mother of three, could offer to the powers that be in this crazy labour dispute some understanding of having a passion for the game. Her story is the stuff of movies. Only in James' case, after scoring 46 points in 35 international games for Canada, she revolutionized women's hockey.

"She broke down doors and stereotypes and her legacy lives on in arenas across this great country," said Tom Bartsiokas, who, with Corey Long, wrote a new book, Angela James: The First Superstar of Women's Hockey.

"I see it every weekend at the Angela James Arena where my daughter, Angelina, plays alongside the boys. That's because of Angela James."

The book, published by Women's Press, talks of an unusual journey to get to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"It charts Angela's path as a child living in government housing and playing shinny against men in the east Toronto neighbourhood of Flemingdon Park to becoming the most dominant female hockey player on the planet," Bartsiokas said. "Angela played to avoid the pitfalls that awaited children in Flemingdon Park, where drugs were readily available, kids were tough and single parents -- like Angela's mother -- struggled to make ends meet. Despite all that life threw at her, Angela scored, hit and battled her way to the top of the game."

And never once receiving a paycheque.

"It was a hard road to get out of the projects," James admitted Monday. "But hockey definitely got me out."

She understands it's a business but says for some, it's more.

"I love this game and I still get chills thinking about the night we were inducted into the Hall of Fame," she said of the 2009 ceremony, where she went in with Jimmy Devellano, Dino Ciccarelli, Cammi Granato and Doc Seaman.

If the owners or player representatives -- some of whom never played hockey or ever paid to go to a game -- are looking to see the love of the game, go with James to watch her coach or with her and her partner, Angela MacDonald, to see their son, Christian, play.

James said they will witness joy, laughter and exuberance and excitement.

"The kids look up to the NHL players, their skill and they love their teams," she said.

And, James said, you'll never hear the kids talking about collective bargaining agreements, arbitration or contract disputes.

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