Cassie Campbell: Paving the Way for Female Athletes

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to one of Guelph’s most decorated professional athletes, Cassie Campbell. Cassie started her career playing ice hockey with the Guelph Gryphons, where she won the OWIAA University Championships in 1995 and was named to the first team all-star in 1995 and 1996. She then went on to represent Team Canada in international competition, and become a six-time World Champion gold medallist and a two-time Olympic gold medallist.

Cassie is the only hockey captain, male or female, to ever lead team Canada to two Olympic gold medals. Although Cassie has since hung up her skates, she remains an important member of the hockey community as a broadcaster for Hockey Night in Canada.

Being a female hockey player myself, Cassie has always been someone I looked up to and considered a role model. Needless to say I was incredibly nervous going into this interview, but Cassie was extremely friendly and I had a lot of fun chatting with her about what it was like to be a Gryphon as well as her thoughts and opinions on women in male-dominated fields, and the future progression of women’s hockey.

What was it like being able to play for the Guelph Gryphons and lead them to a Championship title as their captain?

“Those were some of the best years of my life. That ’95 team, we won, and we beat U of T who had a bunch of national team players on their team. It was one of the best teams I’ve ever played on. I’m still friends with a lot of the people from that team. We just had a reunion and we all just kind of picked up where we left off.”

“The Gryphon team of 1995 was the best group of people I’ve ever played with. We worked hard and had a great coach. I loved being a Gryphon so much I actually went back for another year. Being a Gryphon was part of the foundation of my life.”

Was your dream to always be a hockey player or did you have other aspirations along the way?

“Growing up we didn’t have a national team to strive for. It was until I was about 17 that they announced women’s hockey was going to be in the Olympics. I originally wanted to be a forensic psychologist or get into law, but I didn’t have the grades. Like any other student I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I knew I needed career, and then the national team came along.”

What are your favourite memories from the Olympics and just being able to represent Team Canada on an international stage?

“My very first opening ceremonies in 1998 in Japan, walking out into that stadium and having this out of body experience. It was a pretty surreal moment, especially as a female ice hockey player where you never thought this moment was going to come. Another favourite memory would be winning gold in 2002 under such adverse conditions. It showed that if you stick together as a group anything is possible.”

How has going from a player to a broadcaster changed your perspective of the game? If it all?

“I’ve learned a lot. I get to rub elbows with a lot of great players and great coaches. I continue to learn about the sport and learn different drills and being a hockey player has helped me be a better broadcaster and recognize that people make mistakes and players are still human. I try to understand and be humble. Hockey taught me a lot about how to be a broadcaster. Things I learned in hockey, I took into my post hockey career.”

You’ve obviously been a major part of women’s hockey for a number of years and as a female hockey player myself, I know the struggles of having to compete for recognition against the boys. What are your thoughts on how women’s hockey has grown and evolved over the years?

“It’s amazing the number of girls that are playing now from when I was playing. I think that 1990 team deserves a lot of recognition for being the first women’s national team for Canada. I get to travel all over Canada and see all the girls that are playing everywhere. Now you see all these full teams in small towns, it’s incredible.”

“The Canadian Women’s Hockey League is slowly coming together. And the conversations I have with some of the NHL players, they know out game and follow us and I hope we have a future Women’s NHL someday. There are a few of us behind the scenes working to accomplish that and I hope it’s sooner rather than later.”

I’ve personally played on teams in which girls with enormous talent have quit the sport prematurely because they don’t believe there’s an future in it for them. Do you think this is true and what would you say to these girls?

“I had so many teammates that were probably better than me and could’ve made the national team and by ages 16 or 17 they just quit. I think that’s the unfortunate thing about female sport; we don’t have enough of a future for female athletes. I can’t wait for the day young girls say ‘I can’t wait to play for the Women’s National League or the WNHL’.”

“You know I was say to them to find another way to give back to the game. If you can’t find that focus to be a player, be a coach or an administrator. There are more coaching opportunities in women’s hockey than ever before. And I still think it’s as important as ever to get an education, even for the national players. That education is something no one can take away from you. Take advantage of every opportunity to get an education and play hockey at the same time.”

How do you view the state of women in sports broadcasting and in male dominated fields in general?

“I think more and more women are breaking down barriers. Performances by women are breaking down barriers. I think sometimes we’ve been our own worst enemies by complaining about a lot of things rather than doing things. That’s one thing I’ve learned working with men, is men respect women who do things. We need more women to just step up and do things, do things that aren’t the norm. I’ve never been made to feel like a woman working for Hockey Night in Canada. I’ve always just been treated like a hockey person. I think performance beats any odds for women. We break down barriers by performance. I get frustrated when I hear groups complaining about the lack of opportunities. It’s true, but complaining isn’t going to solve it, we just need to do things and take action. We’ve had so many women step up in sport recently and that shuts people up pretty quickly.

How did you overcome the glass ceiling and what advice would you have for other women looking to enter into male dominated fields?

“Be prepared. Be prepared to work hard. And be yourself. Just do it and believe you belong. I say those works to myself on a regular basis. Before I go on TV, if I’m feeling nervous, those are my focus words. As women we need to start believing we belong. We can do anything and we don’t have the limitations that our parents or our grandparents had. I have a 6-year-old daughter and I really believe she can do anything she wants now.”