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It is the oxymoron of the film world.

"Working title."

The translation is obvious: doesn't work at all -- and desperately in search of something that will.

They began by calling it Paula's Power Play, but that, not to put too fine a point on it, is a simply dreadful title for the world's first movie about women's hockey.

They then switched to Chicks with Sticks, which struck everyone as a perfect title until they began using it and . . . well. . .too many people thought they must be making some kind of a porno flick.

And so, at the moment, it is Chicks with Sticks (Working Title) -- meaning somebody had better come up with an improvement fast, because Chicks with Sticks (Working Title) is only a week away from wrapping up shooting.

The $3.5-million made-for-television movie has been in production all month around Okotoks, a small town outside Calgary, with the on-ice action being filmed through the night at the Sarcee Seven Chiefs Sportsplex in the southwest part of the city.

That it hasn't gained much notice yet may have to do with the hockey world being mesmerized by the 57,167 who showed up this past weekend to watch a few retired National Hockey Leaguers play a game of shinny -- called The Geezer Freezer in one New York paper -- but now that the boards are down in Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, the hockey world will turn its attention to Chicks with Sticks (Working Title) and what it potentially means to the Canadian game and the frail Canadian psyche.

The plot centres on a grudge match played between a women's hockey team and a men's team -- the ultimate barroom argument taken to the ice.

The idea for such a film came years ago to Don Truckey, a former Albertan who has had considerable screenwriting success in Toronto with such productions as Street Legal .

In Truckey's original story -- which was first set in Red Deer, then in Sarnia, Ont., now in small-town Alberta -- a local woman who just missed making the Olympic hockey team is asked to suit up in a men's beer league, dazzles the doubters with her play, and, in a bar one night, a challenge is taken up to see if she can put together a women's team capable of competing at the men's level.

Nothing much happened to Truckey's pitch until early 2002, when, in quick succession, a very unlikely film about curling -- M en with Brooms -- was a minor Canadian hit and then, of course, the Canadian women won the gold medal at Salt Lake City.

Suddenly there was renewed interest and new funding. The Nightingale Company and Earth to Sky Pictures went into co-production, Kari Skogland was hired to direct and a cast was put together that includes Montreal's Jessalyn Gilsig from Boston Public in the starring role, with Jason Priestley as the romantic interest and Margot Kidder as a rather different "hockey mom." The movie -- with a new title that, with luck, really does work -- is expected to air in hockey season on The Movie Network, Movie Central and Super Écran.

There have been a few adjustments in the story line since the Canadian women dramatically won their gold medal. The more the filmmakers studied the women's game, the more they came to realize how differently it is played from the men's. Women pass more, shoot less, and the rules allow for what is called "incidental contact" rather than full body contact.

"The original idea was to have the women take on the men at their game," says producer Debbie Nightingale.

"Now it's the guys taking on the girls at their game. We wanted it to be as believable as possible."

And this, of course, is where Hayley Wickenheiser, who isn't in the movie, comes in.

Less than a year ago, Wickenheiser headed off to Europe to try her luck against men. The Canadian Olympic star generally regarded as "the best woman hockey player in the world" joined Salamat, a minor pro team in Finland, and, by scoring two goals and nine assists in fewer than two dozen games with the team, proved that she could play with men at that particular level.

"Hayley's story helped a lot," says Nightingale. "It's helped raise the profile of women's hockey even before the movie comes out."

But this year, Salamat was promoted to the second level of Finnish hockey, still substantially below the elite men's league, and, of course, considerably below the NHL level. And just last month, an unhappy Wickenheiser -- homesick for her family and disenchanted with her ice time -- left the team and returned to Canada, thereby starting all the male gloating and silly bar arguments up again.

Which, the filmmakers say, is nothing but good news for them.

"Anything that keeps the issue of women's hockey before the public eye," says Nightingale.

Now, if they could just come up with a title that really does work

rmacgregor@globeandmail.ca