Last week, it was announced that Angela Ruggiero and Dani Rylan had gotten together to create a women’s hockey league that could pay its players. While information is still forthcoming and the details will probably become clearer in the coming months, this has not stopped people from speculating and arguing because that is what people do. Having had some time to think it over, I have five main desires for the future of women’s hockey.
Aside from getting as many jerseys with this sweet-ass logo on them as possible.
1. No CWHL vs. NWHL
I get it; we love the CWHL. We’ve formed attachments to teams and players. We’ve talked about how awful it is that the CWHL can’t pay the players. But the answer shouldn’t be to turn it into an either or situation. Part of growing the game is supporting it in all its forms, and turning on the CWHL would only make things worse for a league that was finally starting to see the coverage and attention it deserved.
On the other hand, if the CWHL and the NWHL want to do a MLB thing and have the champions of both leagues play each other at the end of the year, I’d be totally cool with that.
2. Building the fanbases
We gotta try to up the fan-ante. I count myself among those who need to step up their game, although I did at least try to attend a Boston Blades game (naturally the one I chose was one of the two cancelled ones). Gather your friends for the games. Dress up, bring signs, do things that will make people ask you questions on public transportation and while normally that is one of the nine circles of hell, you’ll get to tell them, “We’re going to a Boston Pride game,” and then you’ll explain that this isn’t the same as Boston’s Pride event in June but actually a women’s hockey game. And they’ll be educated!
This is the first image result for ‘Boston Pride’ and now I hope that if/when the Boston Pride win their first whatever trophy they march in the parade.
I want people showing up to Riveters games dressed as Rosie the Riveter. I want people throwing roses on the ice after hat tricks. I think most of my ideas are Riveters-related actually, which may be due to the fact that they have the baddest logo of the four. (Let’s not talk about the Beauts or the Pride…)
3. Continuing increase in coverage
This year saw a marked increase in CWHL coverage even from last year when women’s hockey fever was running high. They got a television contract with Sportsnet, the Clarkson Cup was replayed on the NHL Network (I know they’ve done that before, but they are continuing it, which is great), and at least from my somewhat biased perch there seems to be a lot more conversation about women’s hockey than before. And in a non-Olympic year, too!
The NWHL’s creation got a good amount of attention, too, and it’s nice that we seem to finally be talking about the inequities between men’s and women’s hockey on a wider scale. People are always so surprised when they learn the CWHL doesn’t pay the players; that most of them are struggling to juggle hockey, jobs, and families. We have to keep talking about that; about the structural inequalities that still face women’s hockey; about the challenges women athletes face that men do not. The NWHL is a step forward but there’s still a long way to go.
4. Growth in the face of women’s hockey
Women’s hockey is dominated by two countries: Canada and the United States. There is no disputing that. Finland is getting there, and certain the goaltending of the women’s teams at the Olympics (Switzerland in particular) meant that it was a bit closer than it’s been in year’s past, but the majority of women’s hockey heroes are from those two countries. Hayley Wickenheiser, Julie Chu, Marie-Philip Poulin, Cammi Granato — all of them are from America or its hat. In the future I suspect we’ll be adding Florence Schelling and Noora Raty to that list, but it should be much broader than that.
This is my obligatory mention that I love Nana Fujimoto.
At the 2014 CWHL draft, the Calgary Inferno took Aina Takeuchi, a Japanese player, and women’s hockey is rapidly growing all over the world. The five countries with the highest female participation are North Korea, Turkey, China, and India. Okay, so maybe we’re unlikely to see a North Korean hockey player in the CWHL or NWHL anytime soon, but the closer the leagues edge towards viability, stability, and size, the closer we are to providing a strong women’s league that can stand next to the NHL as a desirable landing spot for women hockey players the world over.
5. That the model for women’s hockey changes
We’ll find out in the coming year how good the NWHL model is and whether it’s sustainable. In the meantime, this does encourage the hope that we will find a model for a women’s hockey league that works until it gets itself up and off the ground. People haven’t given up trying to make it work, and given that the sport is growing (more than men’s, at least in Canada!) I imagine we’ll continue to see people pushing to make it better. And that’s good. The more we push and demand for coverage, the more we support the women’s hockey we have while searching for ways to improve it, the better it will become. In the meantime, let’s all be glad there are four more landing spots for women hockey players once they leave college and hope that in the future there’ll be at least 30. Ambitious? Maybe. But they probably would have said that about the NHL back in the 1930’s.