Weekend Recap: Boston Blades upset, US Winter Camp

Toronto Furies Upset the Boston Blades, Blades lose both games.

Okay, I was cocky about the Blades’ chances when I previewed this past weekend, and apparently it came back to bite me in the ass. The Blades lost both games to the Furies, both 3-2 in the Furies favor. It took Boston until the third period of the second game to get their big name players on the board– depth scoring is all well and good, but as a Minnesota Wild fan, I’m intimately familiar with how much not having those big names score can hurt a team. I’ve got to watch this weekend’s streaming game a couple more times, I think, before I’ve settled on what exactly Toronto has figured out to solve Boston, so I’m going to refrain from more off the cuff analysis right now.

Continue reading Weekend Recap: Boston Blades upset, US Winter Camp

Weekend Preview: Boston Blades face Toronto Furies twice, and a new CWHL app!

Weekend Preview: Boston Blades face Toronto Furies twice on the road, and a new CWHL app!

This weekend is a bit light on the CWHL action as we head into the home stretch on Christmas, but the Boston Blades will face off against the Toronto Furies twice.

Continue reading Weekend Preview: Boston Blades face Toronto Furies twice, and a new CWHL app!

A Fan’s Experience: 2014 CWHL All-Star Game

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the ACC was all the girls in hockey jerseys milling around. I’ve been to a few CWHL games, and local girls’ teams are usually a fixture in the stands, but based on the names on some of these jerseys, many of these girls had travelled to get here. There were a lot of Leafs jerseys around (can’t be helped, it’s probably a local Toronto bylaw that there must be a certain amount of Leafs jerseys in view at all times), but it was also good to see how many of the men in attendance were wearing women’s team jerseys, whether from the CWHL, youth teams, or Team Canada.

The arena was lightly buzzing, with people selling programs and merchandise, and many of the concession stands open. It clearly wasn’t the ACC operating at its full game-day level, but there was enough happening around us that it was definitely a few levels above what people are used to for CWHL games.

I was there with two friends of mine who’ve been hockey fans for about as long as I have (a couple of years, none of us come from countries where hockey is much of a presence) and my roommate, whose total exposure to hockey prior to this had been the movie Goon and once sitting next to me during a Penguins/Flyers game where I spent two hours yelling at the TV. The first thing I had to do once we found our seats was quickly explain not only the difference between the men’s and women’s games, but the difference between regular-season games and All-Star games. Behind me, a father was carefully explaining the physical features of the rink to his daughter who appeared to be about four years old.

We were in the bottom of the upper bowl, because when it had switched to a ticketed event the entire lower bowl was booked off. I presume that had been block-booked by various groups, or set aside for them to book in future. The lower bowl wasn’t quite full (I’d estimate about three-quarters of the way there) but parts of the GTA still hadn’t been fully cleared from a large snowfall a few days earlier, so I don’t know if those seats had been booked by people who couldn’t make it, or if they were always going to be empty.

The teams were announced in suitably dramatic fashion. Julie Chu was the sixth player to skate out for Team Red, fist-bumping all her teammates before taking her place and sparking a trend for all the players behind her. Team White were already standing on the blue line when they were announced, smiling into the camera as their names were called.

The game was good. It had the fast pace that I love about women’s hockey, and it feels kind of patronising to say that they all looked like they were having fun, but it’s true. Because the game was being broadcast, there were now TV timeouts, and the players all milled around chatting to each other and laughing. In the second period, Sami-Jo Small and Genevieve Lacasse of Team White cleared the creases of both goalies and dumped the ice shavings over Tessa Bonhomme as she was sitting at the Team Red bench. In the stands, they had set up the usual trivia games to keep the crowd entertained, another thing that made this feel more like an event then a regular women’s game sized up to a bigger location. These games were all blatantly fixed in favour of the young girls participating, though some of them still managed to nearly lose. (They also showed Poulin’s winning goal from the 2014 Olympics at one point, which probably wasn’t entirely kind to the several members of Team USA in attendance, though they were all in the locker room at that point.)

I had joked earlier that because it was an exhibition game, Tessa Bonhomme probably wouldn’t try to kill anyone, which turned out to only be marginally true, as at one point she threw her glove at Natalie Spooner to try to prevent a scoring chance — Spooner scored anyway. But in general the game was very much a classic exhibition game. Lots of speed, lots of fancy moments, and by the end, a decent amount of goals. Team White carried a 2-0 lead until near the end, but three goals from Red meant they had to pull their goalie near the end, though Lacasse left her stick, glove, and blocker in the crease to try to prevent an empty netter.

As far as I know, only the in-arena audience got to see the mini skills competition, which took the form of a five-round fastest skater contest, and a shootout that combined elements of the NHL All-Star game’s elimination shootout and breakaway challenge. Some rounds were a straightforward shootout attempt, others featured Hilary Knight abandoning her stick and glove for a tiny stick (a la Corey Perry), another Team White player skating with two sticks, and Natalie Spooner swapping out her helmet for a vintage 80s one. At one point all three Team White goalies were squashed into the net, and Julie Chu skated in to play defense against another Team White player. When Caroline Ouellette had a chance to win it for Team White, two Team Red goalies and half of Team Red’s sticks blocked her way. When it came down to the last two shots, Lacasse went as the last shooter from Team White, and in the end I’m not sure even the commentator knew exactly which team had won.

We waited outside to meet up with another friend who’d been sitting in a different section, but it wasn’t long before we were hustled outside by arena staff who had to turn everything over for that night’s Leafs game, another reminder that right now, women’s hockey is just something that has to squeeze itself in alongside the NHL.

But there was a lot of energy in the arena, a lot of people in the audience who love women’s hockey and want it to be successful, so I’m hoping the All-Star game becomes an annual thing, and the league is able to get more exposure and build on that. I’ll be doing my part by dragging my roommate to as many Furies games as I can manage.

Weekly Link Round Up: CWHL All-Star game follow up

Reflections on the CWHL All-Star Game, Interviews with Ann-Sophie Bettez, Digit Murphy, and More.

Bettez won both the Angela James bowl for the top scorer in the league, and the league MVP award this past year (2013-2014).
Bettez won both the Angela James bowl for the top scorer in the league, and the league MVP award this past year (2013-2014).
  • Savanna Arral, Executive Director of Hockey and lead play-by-play for WHRB Sports, did an interview with Ann-Sophie Bettez of the Montreal Stars, which will air during the first intermission of the December 28th, 2014 Harvard University men’s hockey game versus the Russian Red Stars! In order to hear the interview, tune in during the first intermission, either by listening on 95.3FM in the Greater Boston area, or whrb.org everywhere else. It’s a really interesting interview with Bettez, and touches on the challenges of training in the CWHL when you have so much less ice time vs college, etc.
  • Shannon Miller, the head coach of the University of  Minnesota Duluth’s women’s hockey team since 1998, will not have her contract renewed due to financial considerations. She coached the team to five NCAA championships.
  • You’ve probably read these next two links already if you follow us on Twitter, but our own Angelica wrote up the CWHL All-Star Game for the Minnesota Wild SB Nation blog, Hockey Wilderness, and Zoë Hayden wrote it up for Stanley Cup Of Chowder. Check them out, they’re both nice summaries, but both also touch on the All-Star Game as a vehicle to get the CWHL new viewers, and the slight surrealism of watching CWHL players in a massive NHL arena. I’m going to be really interested to see if CWHL viewership for this coming weekend’s games is at all affected, or if it’s more long-term.
  • Speaking of the publicity for the CWHL, check out Digit Murphy’s interview after the All-Star Game. I’m not sure how I really feel about her comparison of the CWHL to the NFL in terms of player conduct– that’s not really a comparable, and it’s not like women’s sport doesn’t also have issues with domestic assault. They’re not the same issues, but just because the female athletes aren’t paid as much, and don’t get as much media attention doesn’t mean domestic violence isn’t an issue.

2014 CWHL All-Star Game Recap

Nearly seven thousand women’s hockey fans of all ages and genders filled the Air Canada Centre in Toronto and an international audience watched at home from Sportsnet One in Canada and NHL Network in the United States, as the Canadian Women’s Hockey League made history with its first-ever All-Star Game. Charline Labonte’s Red team came from behind to win over Jessica Campbell’s White team, 3-2.

White dominated much of the play in the first period, throwing everything they could at the net, but came out of it with just one goal by Natalie Spooner (Toronto). Labonte was solid with 10 saves on 11 shots in the opening frame. Her only goal against went through the five-hole, as Spooner got her to open up the pads despite Red forward Tessa Bonhomme’s best efforts (she threw her glove at her Furies teammate from the bench during Spooner’s rush).

The White team would double its lead in the second period on a beautiful set up from Hilary Knight to former Boston Blades and Team USA teammate Kelli Stack, getting past Christina Kessler of the Furies. That was Knight’s only point of the game, as she was all over the ice and managed to get a couple of good opportunities in front of Red’s goalies but could not capitalize.

The Red team, meanwhile, had steadily built up momentum throughout the second period, with Calgary’s Rebecca Johnston and Jenna Cunningham and Brampton’s Jamie Lee Rattray getting some great opportunities in front of White goaltender Delayne Brian (Calgary). That momentum finally turned into results in the beginning of the third, as a 2-0 deficit turned into a 3-2 lead on goals by Stars CWHL co-founder Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux (Montreal), Rattray and Johnston in the first two minutes.

After that, it was up to Erica Howe to deliver in net – and did she ever. The Brampton Thunder goaltender turned aside chances by Knight, Campbell and Calgary’s Brittany Esposito, among others, sealing the come-from-behind victory and providing fans and viewers with a performance worthy of her All-Star nod.

The event ended with a skills competition, as Red and White competed in the Fastest Skater and Breakaway Challenge events. White proved to have the faster skaters, while Red took the Breakaway Challenge.

This Week in Women’s Hockey: The Insurance Bureau of Canada wants YOU to bench your phone

  • IBC, the newest sponsor of the CWHL, is understandably, as an insurance company, concerned with texting and driving– and made a quick video spot featuring Christina Kessler of the Toronto Furies to illustrate what a bad idea it is. Check it out:
  • Karyn Bye Dietz was inducted to the US Hockey Hall of Fame recently– she led the 1998 US Olympic Women’s hockey team in goals at the Nagano Olympics where the US won gold (five goals, six game), and was the alternate captain of the team. She’s the third woman to be inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

Check out Bye Dietz’ acceptance speech– she mentions the fact that in 9th grade, her dad counseled her against continuing to play hockey because he didn’t think there was a career in it. Thankfully she did, but it’s a reminder of the fact that girls playing hockey often don’t have an assumed hope of career success. As someone who grew up knowing women played hockey at the Olympics because of women like her, that’s kind of chilling.

Also check out the really nice retrospective on her career that the US Hall of Fame put together–

That’s about it! It’s been a slow week for us, between the upcoming All-Star Game, moving our servers, and my own health issues. Take care and don’t get phished, kids.

CWHL All-Star Game Preview

Okay. You’ve seen the voting, you’ve seen the rosters, you’ve probably seen the CWHL twittersphere yelling their heads off about it– the CWHL All-Star Game is coming up this weekend on Saturday, December 13th, 2014!

All-Star Captain voting will close tomorrow, December 10, 2014 at 6:00 pm CDT , so get your votes in! Charline Labonté of Montreal and Jessica Campbell of Calgary are currently your leaders, closely followed by Geneviève Lacasse of Boston– come on Americans, let’s get a representative from the US team!

If You Can’t Go to the CWHL All-Star Game, You Can Still Watch It!!

You can even watch it in a bar, if you so choose! (Probably.)
If you’re in Canada, Sportsnet will be showing the All-Star Game– check your local listings, but it’s going to be shown live.
If you’re in the US, the NHL Network will be showing the Rodgers/Sportsnet broadcast live– so check your cable subscriptions and call your local bars, figure out what you need to do.
If you’re not in Canada or the US– we’re still waiting on if the game will be on the NHL Network outside of the US. When we hear one way or another, we’ll confirm.

There will not be an online stream of this game– so investigate your options now!

If You’re In Or Around Toronto– GO SEE THE CWHL ALL-STAR GAME!

There’s been some confusion over the ticketing for the All-Star Game, so let’s clear that up– tickets are free. You need to get a ticket. Originally, the RSVP was so the staff could plan on how many people were coming, but you didn’t need a ticket to get in. You do now! Go and get your free ticket!! The Air Canada Centre seats 19,000, and seating will be ticketed– which is to say, each ticket will have a seat on it. The CWHL said to us that they were “well on our way [to filling the arena] with thousands of CWHL fans, including over 5,000 players from girls’ and womens’ hockey teams”– I gotta tell you, if they get even close to selling out the arena, I’m popping some champagne.

There will be exciting fan events as well– CWHL sponsors will be doing giveaways, and there will be a silent auction for signed all-star jerseys. There will also be special All-Star Game merchandise such as hats, t-shirts, and pucks.

CWHL Weekend Preview: Calgary Inferno @ Boston Blades, Toronto Furies and Brampton Thunder home-and-home

We’ve got a jam-packed weekend starting TODAY, as the CWHL gets a bunch of games out of the way before the All-Star Game (which is NEXT WEEKEND, in case you’ve missed it! GO VOTE FOR YOUR CAPTAINS!) Sadly, only one of the games will be streamed.

CALGARY INFERNO @ BOSTON BLADES:

  • Friday, December 5th @ 6:30 PM CDT, at Allied Veterans Rink in Everett, MA. Please note that the arena has CHANGED!
  • Saturday, December 6th, @ 6:30 PM CDT, at UMASS-Boston. ** THIS GAME IS STREAMED **
  • Sunday, December 7th, @ 11:30 AM CDT, at UMASS-Boston.

Boston and Calgary kick things off tonight, as the two hottest teams in the league go head to head in a three game series. Boston will be looking to make up the points lost in their forfeited games earlier in the month, while Calgary will be looking to continue their five game win streak. Notably, their win streak is all home games– we’ll be looking to see if they can continue this on the road in Boston.

These are both high octane offensive teams– Calgary is currently averaging about 3.6 goals per game, while Boston is averaging 2.8/game, but 4 per game if you take out the two forfeits lost to player contract issues. Both are also getting points from up and down their line ups, although Calgary’s getting most of their goals from their top lines, while Boston’s spread the goals out a bit more.

What I think this series could hinge on is penalties. Boston has taken the least amount of penalties in the league (a little under half of 64, the average number of PIMs) while Calgary has taken almost exactly the average number of PIMS with 62 PIMs. Boston has the best power play in the league, with an average scoring likelihood of 23.08%, and the best penalty kill, with an average 91.67% kill. So Boston doesn’t take many penalties, have a really good kill when they do, and they can capitalize on a power play chance, while Calgary has a really middle of the road power play at 14.29%, and the second to last penalty kill in the league at 83.33%. I think if Calgary comes out rough, it’s really going to hurt them.

This is going to be a fascinating series to watch, and I’m really looking forward to it. Thankfully, Saturday’s game in this series will be streamed, so remember to tune in! Interestingly, the Blades’ twitter has announced that all three games will be being filmed by ESPN for a Hilary Knight feature– we’re not sure what kind of feature, but have reached out for (hopefully) some comment.

Make sure 2B early, we have lots of buzz around this series @C4sidee16 #BostonBlades especially w @espn filming a feature of @Hilary_Knight

— Boston Blades (@BostonCWHL) December 4, 2014

TORONTO FURIES AND BRAMPTON THUNDER:

  • Toronto @ Brampton, Friday, December 5th @ 6:30 PM CDT, at Victoria Park
  • Brampton @ Toronto, Sunday December 7th @ 11:45 AM, at the Mastercard Centre

This home-and-home series will also kick off tonight! These two rivals will twice this weekend, but neither game will be streamed. 🙁

Toronto and Brampton are 4th and 5th in the standings respectively, but I think both can play much better than their standings indicate– sometimes. Normally I’d say Brampton’s higher PIMs could be a point of concern, but Toronto’s power play is the worst in the league, and Brampton’s penalty kill is pretty league average.

I’d anticipate a rougher, gritty game from Brampton, but better goal-tending from Toronto. Howe’s been having a rough time behind Brampton’s defense, but Knox, who has the second most starts for Brampton’s goaltending, has only a very slightly better save percentage. Sonja van der Bliek, who has a much better save percentage than both of them, is unfortunately out with a hip joint injury, according to what I have heard. I have not heard a time line on her return. It’s a real pity that she’s been sidelined by injury now, just when it seems like her game was really starting to come together after a somewhat rocky start in the league.

Mid-Week Links: CWHL All-Star Game, Ammerman spearheads soccer league, COC LGBT initative

  • We’re waiting for some clarification, but if you’re going to the CWHL All-Star Game, you might want to double-check the page with ticketing information— it looks like the event now requires a ticket, whereas before the RSVP was just for a headcount.

First off, CJ of Power Play with CJ did an interview with Knight–

Dewar’s, the scotch company, appear to have picked up Knight as one of the faces of their brand, and as such put out a profile of her– she mostly talks about her work with the Olympic team and her various charity work, but still pretty interesting.

Finally, looks like Knight’s selling some neat t-shirts and signed posters of her– check it out over at blixknight.com.

Owly Image

Fighting in Women’s Hockey

Any avid hockey fan knows that fighting is part of the game. It serves as a natural outlet to blow off steam or stand up for a teammate, and the vast majority of spectators love it. Hockey is a swift, gritty, physical sport, so occasional fisticuffs are expected. Or at least in men’s hockey it is.

Female players are not permitted to drop the gloves — one of several questionable regulations of women’s hockey. However, fists do fly in the women’s game. Take late 2013 for instance: arch rivals and women’s hockey superpowers Canada and the United States dropped the gloves during two separate pre-Sochi meetings. In Burlington, Vermont on October 12, USA’s Monique Lamoureux bulldozed Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados on a rush to the net, sparking a fierce line brawl. On December 20 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, 10 fighting majors were distributed after a series of illegal plays (Jocelyne Lamoureux nailed Brianne Jenner into the boards after Jenner laid a late hit on Josephine Pucci, and Hilary Knight rammed into Melodie Daoust for invading American goalie Molly Schaus’ territory), which resulted in a bench-clearing brawl so crazy that it went viral and was featured by sports outlets like Yahoo Sports and CBS Sports.

Such incidents raise the question of whether female hockey players should be allowed to fight, or if they should continue to risk game misconducts and even suspension for doing so. So, let’s evaluate whether fighting would be more beneficial or detrimental to the women’s game.

By allowing women to drop the mitts, false stereotypes of female hockey players characterized by words such as “fragile” and “weak” would be easier to refute using the standards that are used for men. Fans and skeptics alike would be able to observe the commonly overlooked physical element of women’s hockey in a new exciting way. By granting players the privilege to fight, public coverage, such as local television footage or newspaper recaps, may increase. This could subsequently provide a means to expand the audience of the sport, and open another door to gain people’s interest.

On the contrary, extensive focus on the fighting facet would probably overshadow the finesse and talent of the players. If women’s hockey is to be taken more seriously by a broader audience, then skills that need to be put at the forefront shouldn’t include knock-out uppercuts and rapid blows to the face, but filthy dangles, bar down game-winners, and windmill glove saves in order to prove that the women’s game is just as exciting and fast-paced as the men’s.

Moreover, fighting tends to highlight lack of discipline, drive away a significant portion of potential viewers, and promote aggressive behavior in young admirers. In other words, by allowing fighting in professional women’s hockey, current supporters who are already accustomed to the no fighting regulation may dissociate themselves from women’s hockey in fear that it would detract from the game itself. Additionally, potential fans with hockey-oriented families may avoid the sport entirely in an effort to shield their children from the extra violence.

Fan loyalty and feedback are important factors in determining the popularity, value, and success of sports organizations. So, how should the world of pro women’s hockey establish a connection between fighting and spectatorship that would yield maximum support? One argument is to target men’s hockey fans, specifically pertaining to the NHL. The NHL fanbase is exponentially larger than that of the CWHL. By attempting to market the women’s game with a focus on men’s hockey fans, fan recruitment could have a substantial turnout, allowing for quicker audience expansion through an established fanbase. However, NHL fans would probably be a lot more compelled to extend their interest to women’s professional hockey if fighting were permitted. On another note, an additional audience to go for would be the considerable number of people who aren’t invested in hockey whatsoever. Odds are that this huge potential following would be more dismayed than intrigued by a fighting component if anything. They may not be interested in a game that accepts brawling as conventional, but perhaps a unique sport free of violent diversions would be more engaging. Therefore, for the sake of the latter prospective audience, scraps should stay out of the game.

Overall, my stance on the zero tolerance treatment of fighting in women’s hockey is that it should remain as it is. Although allowing female players to engage in brawls would make the rules more parallel to that of men’s hockey and could bring about increased exposure, it would do more harm than good. Permitting fighting would distract spectators from the undervalued skills these ladies possess and divert people’s attention from players’ uncanny ability to move the puck efficiently and control the flow and tempo of gameplay. Plus, no fighting would be more suitable to attract potential fans who are not yet invested in the game; large-stage tournaments such as the Olympics and the Women’s World Championship already play important roles in leading men’s hockey fans to the women’s game. As such violent entertainment and aggressive theatrics are becoming discouraged in the NHL anyway, they’re not necessary for a game that’s already as beautiful as it is.