When a hockey player has won a silver medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics, won gold medals in the 1997 and '99 International Ice Hockey Federation World Women's Championship and played in 13 national championships what is left to do?
For Fiona Smith-Bell of Edam and 35 other prominent Canadian, American, Swedish and Finish women's hockey icons the next step it is to be an ambassador for women's hockey. Help is on the way for those countries that are failing to compete internationally. For many years, international women's hockey has been a two horse race with Canada and the United States being the powerhouses. Sweden and Finland are now in the running, but too many lopsided scores in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver forced International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge to say the sport needed to be more competitive.
Instead of standing idle, the IIHF created the Ambassador and Mentor Program, which began July 1. The program allows coaches and athletes from the top four countries in women's hockey to assists in women's programs in China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Norway, Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Hayley Wickenheiser, the most accomplished women's hockey player in the world, joined the program in a leadership role as the athlete ambassadors co-ordinator. Each of the nine countries in the program were assigned two mentor coaches and two athlete ambassadors to help improve their hockey programs and prepare them for future international competitions.
Smith-Bell will be working with the German hockey program for two and half years and recently an IIHF multi-country, high performance women's camp was underway in Bratislava, Slovakia, which operated from July 5 to 14. The goal for the ambassadors is to build personal relationships with the players in their program and encourage them to improve their daily training and help with any questions or concerns coming from their hockey clubs or federations with communication through phone calls and e-mail.
Canada has an abundance of hockey knowledge and now Smith-Bell will be one of 13 Canadians to be either a mentor or an ambassador and share that knowledge with the world.
"I think the overwhelming message that goes into every single country is that we need to raise the bar and we need more," said Wickenheiser in an article by TSN. "We need better performances on the ice, we need the athletes to be fitter, we need them to be more committed, we need them to buy in, that it's not good enough right now."
Smith-Bell, who played with team Canada from 1994 to 2002 currently lives in Stonewall, Man. and continues to work with the RBC Olympians Program, which has helped Canadians reach their potential and goals of competing internationally. Now she will be helping Germany do the same through the Ambassador and Mentor Program.
"I'm very excited and grateful for this wonderful opportunity to help the future of our game," explained Bell-Smith on her ambassador profile. "I have seen our game grow in Canada tremendously and I think it's essential that we have a program like this to share our experiences and help our game globally."
The list of other mentors and ambassadors includes Canadians: Doug Lidster, France St-Louis, Daniele Sauvageau, Gina Kingsbury, Nancy Wilson, Melody Davidson, Shannon Miller, Jennifer Botterill, Rick Polutnik, Correne Bredin, Margot Page and Therese Brisson.