Boston Pride win inaugural Isobel Cup with sweep of Buffalo Beauts

The first-ever Isobel Cup went to the top-ranked Boston Pride, who beat the upstart Buffalo Beauts in Game Two 3-1 Saturday evening at the Hockey House at the Prudential Center in Newark.

As expected, Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker led the way, with Decker scoring three points (two goals, one assist) en route to earning the MVP trophy for best player in the series. Knight also tallied a goal and an assist.

Although the Pride got on the board fairly early, with Decker’s first goal coming at 11:55 of the first period, the Beauts were able to hold off Boston’s offense for much of the game, mostly on the weight of a stellar performance from Brianne McLaughlin (30 saves).

But in the third period, defensive breakdowns and penalties caught up with Buffalo, and Boston’s top two were able to carry their team to the win. Erin Zach spoiled the shutout bid with her first goal of the playoffs at 19:23 on a power play, but at that point, it was clear who would be lifting the first NWHL championship trophy.

Brittany Ott made 29 saves in her first playoff shutout and a solid performance of her own, where she withstood multiple net-crashing opportunities (mainly by the Kourtney Kunichika line) and rushes by Buffalo’s top two scorers, Meghan Duggan and Kelley Steadman.

This win is emblematic of the continued dominance of Boston pro women’s hockey; as most know by now, many of the Pride’s players had won the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup championship a season ago as members of the Boston Blades. However, the Buffalo Beauts were very much an underdog in the Isobel Cup playoffs, stunning the Whale in three games in the semis and pushing Boston to the limit in Game One of the Finals (where a fortuitous penalty shot call to none other than Knight gave the Pride a win). Unfortunately for Buffalo, time and experience were not their allies, and the Pride were able to roll for the win in the second game.

However, it should be noted that the Beauts have made perhaps the biggest leap of any team in the league, as they played their best hockey at the right time in order to get to Newark in the first place. This is a tenacious, speedy team that’s been a ton of fun to watch, and this is likely just a sign of bigger things to come for them.

Congratulations to the Boston Pride on their Isobel Cup win, to the Buffalo Beauts (as well as the Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters) for excellent seasons, and to the National Women’s Hockey League for making history!

 

Knight penalty shot gives Pride lead over Beauts in Isobel Cup Final

The first overtime result in the history of the NWHL’s postseason came under interesting circumstances, to say the least.

With the Buffalo Beauts called for a penalty in their goaltender’s crease, it was left to one of the best current players in the game to deliver for her team — and Hilary Knight made no mistake.

The Pride forward came in close with speed, going glove side on Brianne McLaughlin to lift the Boston Pride over the Beauts, 4-3 in overtime in a wild finish to Game One of the Isobel Cup Finals at the New Jersey Devils Hockey House at the Prudential Center in Newark.

The call came as McLaughlin was dragged out of position and a defender was deemed to have closed her hand on the puck. Despite protests from the bench and captain Emily Pfalzer, the referees called for a penalty shot, making for an unsatisfying ending to what had been shaping up to be a game for the record books for Buffalo.

The two teams played a tight first period, with Buffalo throwing Boston slightly off guard. The Beauts’ forwards played aggressively, forcing turnovers in the neutral zone and trying to look for rebounds on Brittany Ott. Meanwhile, on the other end, Boston got a couple of good looks in on McLaughlin, but nothing stuck.

The second period was all Boston, however, as Brianna Decker took advantage of a bad breakdown in Buffalo’s zone, streaking in and shooting on McLaughlin. The rebound ended up on Blake Bolden’s stick, and she was able to make it 1-0 Pride. From that point forward, Boston dominated puck possession and made it difficult for the Beauts to exit their own zone and enter Boston’s. A seemingly innocent shot by Gigi Marvin midway through doubled the lead, but Buffalo had an answer. Erin Zach challenged a Pride defender with a diving defensive play, sending the puck up ice with Hannah McGowan and Pfalzer. Although Kacey Bellamy managed to break up their rush, no one on the Pride was able to clear, and Shelby Bram cut the lead in half.

A beautiful shot by Pfalzer tied the game at 2 in the third period, and then a couple of bad penalties by Pride players gave Buffalo the in they needed to try and win it. Zoe Hickel and Bellamy each went to the box within a minute of each other, and though the Beauts could not convert the 5 on 3, Kelley Steadman flew up the wing and got the time and space she needed to put a snap shot past Ott for a 3-2 lead with Bellamy still sitting for her penalty (ironically, one Steadman drew).

However, the lead didn’t last long. Late in the third, the Pride got a power play of their own as Megan Bozek took a delay of game penalty. As the Pride tried to cycle down low, Bellamy threw a centering pass in front and both Decker and Knight whacked at it, with Knight getting the puck past McLaughlin to tie the game back up. A late push by Buffalo ended up fruitless, leading to overtime, where Knight ensured her team a harder-fought victory than any they’ve seen in the postseason thus far.

With a mistake like that resulting in a crushing loss, it’ll be tough for the Beauts to regroup for Saturday evening’s Game Two, but they’ll have to do it quick if they want to have a chance to win the Cup. Despite the errors, the few rebounds from McLaughlin and the breakdown leading to the opening goal, it was a well-played and hard-nosed game from Buffalo, and the crowd in Newark (heavy on Beauts fans) certainly approved. The Kunichika line in particular, so effective at crashing the net and challenging opposing defenders all season, did much of the same tonight, and Pfalzer and Steadman came through exactly when they needed to. Meghan Duggan, who was not in the lineup tonight, could be back tomorrow, so that’ll be one more boost.

Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. in Newark.

Isobel Cup, Game One: Whale edge Beauts, Pride steamroll Riveters for series leads

Game One of the Isobel Cup had what some might call the expected results, with both higher seeds — No. 1 Boston Pride and No. 2 Connecticut Whale — pulling out wins on their home ice.

Whale 3, Beauts 0: The Buffalo Beauts threw 35 shots at Jaimie Leonoff, but none found the back of the net as the Connecticut Whale goaltender earned herself the first shutout in her team’s history, 3-0, at Chelsea Piers CT in Game One of the Isobel Cup semifinals.

The win gives Connecticut the upper hand over Buffalo in the best-of-three series, as well as a chance to sweep Saturday night. The Beauts managed to have a solid game in the first and third periods despite having both of their top scorers — Kelley Steadman and Meghan Duggan — out of the lineup, likely both due to coaching conflicts.

Both teams played an even game throughout, with an emphasis on defense. The Beauts came out strong on the forecheck, attempting to throw the Whale off early; however, Leonoff was equal to the task, withstanding several rushes from the Skeats-Kunichika-Browne line and the tandem of Erin Zach and Jessica Fickel. However, Connecticut found its legs toward the end of the first, closing the gap in shots 11-9 before the first buzzer.

Special teams took over in the second period, with Buffalo losing its composure and Connecticut capitalizing. Kelli Stack broke the scoreless tie at 9:12 on a 2-on-1 with Shiann Darkangelo at even strength, but the Beauts’ mounting frustration created a line to the penalty box, allowing the Whale to get comfortable on their end of the ice. Five minutes after Stack’s goal, Jessica Koizumi found Sam Faber on the doorstep to double the score. The Beauts had their fair share of chances on the power play, but both Leonoff and the Whale’s defense did well to keep them off the scoresheet, Leonoff moving well post-to-post and hanging onto her rebounds, while the defense got plenty of sticks in the lanes and deflected shot after shot.

Buffalo pushed hard to even the score in the third period, but by that point Leonoff was untouchable, withstanding a shooting gallery (the Whale were outshot 14-2 in the third period) to preserve the shutout and the crucial first win for her team. Kelly Babstock added an empty netter shorthanded in the final minute of the game.

The Beauts will look to force a third game Saturday night at Chelsea Piers, and they will hopefully do so with at least Steadman in the lineup; the practice forward was with Robert Morris University at the CHA Tournament (ironically being held in Buffalo this weekend), but RMU lost to Mercyhurst Friday afternoon, so barring any other conflicts, I’d imagine she’d be making her way to Connecticut for tomorrow evening’s game.

Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Chelsea Piers CT. 

Pride 6, Riveters 0: Jenny Scrivens withstood 56 saves and allowed six goals as the Pride barreled over New York, 6-0, at Ray Bourque Arena in Boston. The overmatched Riveters committed six penalties, three of which the Pride were able to convert on, and Brianna Decker and Jillian Dempsey combined for seven points on the evening (Dempsey with four, Decker with three). Brittany Ott made 17 saves for Boston in the win, earning the first shutout in the playoffs in the Pride’s history.

Women’s Winter Classic: Let’s Look Beyond The NHL

We here at Watch This have been advocates of women’s hockey being seen on its own merits for awhile now, so the debate about the admittedly poorly executed Winter Classic (the NWHL/CWHL one, mind) is certainly relevant to our interests. The “Winter Classic” as a phrase and as a hockey concept is really the NHL’s own marketing invention, and has been increasingly explicitly a marketing bid in recent years: more outdoor games, less big-name/historic locations, and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because marketing can be useful and women’s hockey in particular would benefit from larger institutions throwing their marketing weight behind it – but it does mean that you really can’t decouple the lackluster “Outdoor Women’s Classic” from the influence and background of the NHL’s Winter Classic brand.

When I (that is me, Elena) heard the news that a women’s Winter Classic was going to happen – but only sort of! individual tickets wouldn’t be sold! also it was last minute and not heavily advertised! – I just sort of sighed. Putting on an event in itself isn’t enough to guarantee profit or attention; the NHL knows that. After all, the NHL as a league is orders of magnitude more well-known than the CWHL or the NWHL, but they still advertise special events heavily. Putting on a women’s Winter Classic, but not planning ahead of time, promoting it, or really doing much of anything but the bare minimum of providing a space and a few tweets, is setting it up to fail. And, in the eyes of a lot of people, it did fail. If the event was meant as a way for the NWHL and CWHL to learn from the NHL’s experience putting on an event, then they appeared to have not left themselves with time to do it. This dry run didn’t result in a big crowd watching an outdoor women’s hockey game; time, money, and effort on the part of players and administrators – including the NHL – ended up squandered on an event for which individual tickets weren’t even sold.

But while the NHL’s lukewarm support certainly contributed to the women’s classic being more of a whimper than a bang, it wasn’t the only factor. The CWHL and the NWHL are ostensibly both grown-up, professional leagues. We therefore ought to be asking exactly why announcement of the game was delayed for so long, why details of the game were communicated so poorly to women’s hockey fans, who follow various CWHL and NWHL communications (email, twitter, and so on), and why, if there truly were hold-ups on various practical details such as broadcasting, the CWHL and the NWHL agreed to do this event this year at all.

More organized and comprehensive NHL support would be great. But if agreements between whatever parties needed to agree to make the event happen were only finalized a few days before the date, why wasn’t the agreement then to hold and promote a Winter Classic next year? As a women’s hockey fan who’s watched more than one women’s league in various sports come and go, what the rush to hold the Winter Classic this year tells me, rightly or wrongly, is that one or both leagues isn’t confident that they’ll even be around next year. It strikes me as incredibly poor marketing, on the CWHL and NWHL’s part, to rush this event out at the last minute – and I’m not really in favor of focusing on the NHL’s role in the event to the exclusion of looking at what the CWHL and NWHL have been doing. They had no coordinated media campaigns ready; they had no cross-league branding ready (merchandise and graphics in particular); they had no advertising ready. In short, they had nothing prepared to convince me, a fan, that the event was worth paying attention to.

That lack can be easily explained: the event was finalized at the last minute. But holding the event anyway, despite the last-minute nature of the preparations, was a poor choice. It signals disorganization within leagues, lack of cooperation, and lack of confidence in the future to fans. That really troubles me. We can talk all day about what the NHL could do for women’s hockey, but in 2016, when we have two independent leagues, we need to move beyond that. The CWHL and NWHL have both repeatedly asserted their confidence in the future and their ability to grow, both individually as leagues and as part of the larger community of women’s hockey. It’s time their actions reflected those statements.

Weekly News: Outdoor Women’s Classic, CWHL resumes play

Outdoor Women’s Classic

  • As you’ve probably seen, the NHL announced that they would be hosting an Outdoor Women’s Classic, where the CWHL’s Les Canadiennes will play most of the NWHL’s Boston Pride, their roster supplemented with other NWHL players to take the place of players with national team commitments.
  • If you’re going, please note that the women’s classic is not a separately ticketed event– you have to have a ticket to the NHL Alumni game to get in.
  • If you were hoping to watch the Outdoor Women’s Classic from your own home, you’re probably going to be out of luck. According to Jen Neale of Puck Daddy, this event is not planned to be streamed or televised. There have been a couple reasons proffered– visuals, like Neale cites, too short a time-line to get rights issues/other complicating factors sorted out, and, what looks like it could be a continuing issue, the need to possibly cancel the Women’s Classic to preserve ice conditions for the NHL Winter Classic itself.
  • Jen Neale talked further about the NHL’s involvement with women’s hockey with Susan Cohig. Cohig talked pretty extensively about how the NHL hopes to grow women’s hockey at a grassroots level, and focuses on getting girls into hockey. This is a great thing, but it’s also something that I find incomplete. Girls won’t stay in hockey if there isn’t a place to play after college, and focusing on getting girls into hockey without also focusing on the need for a paid league to work in as an adult is short-sighted. However, that’s an article for another day. 🙂
  • Elliotte Friedman prefaced his 30 Thoughts piece on the NHL with a bit about the Outdoor Women’s Classic, and I thought it was worth reading.

Come Thursday, we’ll all enjoy the spectacle, appreciate that it happened, and move on. But, what everyone involved needs to do is start next year’s process right away. The outdoor game will kick off the NHL’s 100th anniversary season. … The [CWHL and NWHL] have to be a part of that, as it’s going to be a huge event.
Make sure your best players can be there.

NWHL

The NWHL is playing this weekend!

Schedule:

  • The Buffalo Beauts @ the Boston Pride on Sunday, January 3rd, 2016 at 3:00 PM ET in the Harvard Bright-Landry Center
  • The Connecticut Whale @ the NY Riveters on Sunday, January 3rd, 2016 at 7:00 PM ET in the Aviator Sports Center

Other NWHL News:

  • In case you haven’t been following it, Sean Tierney has been making some cool visualizations out of the NWHL advanced stats that Carolyn Wilke has been pulling togeather. Check out his latest!
  • As you probably saw, the Connecticut Whale GM, Harry Rosenholtz, resigned right before Christmas. Kate Cimini talked a bit about what’s going on there now, and how this loss has impacted the Whale, who lost their first game this past weekend.

CWHL

The CWHL resumes play this weekend, after breaking for the holidays!

Schedule:

  • Brampton Thunder @ Toronto Furies on Saturday, January 2nd, at 2:00 PM ET in the Mastercard Center
  • Toronto Furies @ Brampton Thunder on Sunday, January 3rd, at 1:30 PM ET in the Memorial Arena This Game Will Be Streamed
  • Boston Blades @ Les Canadiennes on Saturday, January 2nd, at 5:30 PM ET in the Bell Sports Complex This Game Will Be Streamed
  • Boston Blades @ Les Canadiennes on Sunday, January 3rd, at 1:30 PM ET in the Bell Sports Complex

Other CWHL News:

Hats for Skeats, Victory for Boston

The Boston Pride came back from a three-game losing streak tonight, and they did it in style, starting strong with a 5-2 lead at the end of the first period and holding steady against the Buffalo Beauts for a 7-6 victory. Despite a hat trick from Devon Skeats, the Beauts couldn’t rebound from the Pride’s early success. This is the highest-scoring game the Pride have yet played at home. Energy was high from start to finish, on the ice and in the stands. While attendance was the lowest of the three home games so far (likely due to a conflict with the Bruins game tonight, which also preempted broadcast on NESN), the crowd was enthusiastic, especially the small group of Beauts fans who had traveled south to cheer on their home team.

Up in the press box, I was also enthusiastic. “I want this to be a 20-goal game,” I said. “I want Hilary Knight to get six points.” Say what you want about the defense situation or the sad state of my note-taking by the end of the game (none of that is correct), this game was a blast to watch. “You get a goal, and you get a goal—ten people get goals!”

After the game, Pride players agreed that strengthening their play in the first period was crucial to tonight’s victory. Hilary Knight, one of the team’s two captains, praised teammates Rachel Llanes and Jillian Dempsey, who opened the game with two neat goals in succession by Dempsey off Llanes’s assists. “We came out hard, and that was key. Last couple games, we’ve given them one, two quick goals. Really wanted to tighten it up. We came and scored the first goal today… I think we built off that first period,” said co-captain Brianna Decker. Amanda Pelkey spoke of Decker’s leadership as the Pride worked to improve: “Decker talked about being committed, from the drop of the pick committed… That was our first focus, to start off well.” That commitment was evident on the ice today.

Of course, a high-scoring game signals issues with defense. Buffalo pulled Brianne McLaughlin after she allowed five goals in the first period and sent in Amanda Makela, who allowed only two more throughout the game. Lauren Slebodnick started in the net for Boston, but was replaced by Brittany Ott after Devon Skeats’ hat trick five minutes into the third period. Defense Kacey Bellamy said of the Pride’s performance tonight, “We still haven’t played a full 60-minute game yet. Throughout the game, we can’t let our lead close like that. But [the Beauts] played us tight tonight and it was a good challenge for us.”

Coming off a slow start, it’s a pleasure to see the Buffalo Beauts rise to that challenge. Skeats, who is this week’s NWHL Player of the Week, finished out the game with three goals and two assists for a total of five points. “We just came off our first win, so we wanted to bring that momentum back into this game,” she said of the Beauts’ preparation for their first game in Boston. “We know we can compete with every team in this league.” The Beauts played a solid game against the Pride despite missing key players, including Meghan Duggan (who coached Clarkson University to a win tonight), Kelley Steadman (who does not travel with the team, according to coach Ric Seiling), and goaltender Kimberly Sass (who is finishing her thesis). While the Pride had the momentum at the start of the game, the Beauts came back from a 1-5 disadvantage towards the end of the first period to lose 6-7 to the Pride. Skeats said that they’ll be focusing on a better first period in tomorrow’s game against the Whale.

What can we expect from the Boston Pride tomorrow in their game against the New York Riveters? A lot of energy, according to Pride players. “I think that we’re going to probably play better tomorrow,” said Pelkey. “It’s easier on the legs, in a way? Reverse psychology, I guess. You have the adrenaline even the day after.” Decker added, “We would love to play 2 games every weekend. It’s obviously a little more mentally and physically a strain on your body but they’re fun games to play in. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

Weekly News: NWHL on NHL Network, NWHL Fighting Code

Weekly News: Shannon Szabados, Kendra Broad, and more

“The biggest thing that we’re looking for, what Dani (Rylan, league founder and commissioner) likes to say is: ‘we want to have 72 stars in this league,’” said the representative. “We want to have every player in this league be a big deal. The best way to do that is for everybody to know them and care about them and have information on them.”

“I knew I had to come here (to Western) to finish my fifth year of eligibility,” she said. Not that it was easy to walk away from the prospect of going pro. “Even though it’s not a lot of money… it was kind of hard to turn that down,” she said.

On top of the talented draft class, Jordanna Peroff, who was acquired Friday from Toronto where she won the 2014 Clarkson Cup, was back with several McGill teammates including Charline Labonte, team captain Cathy Chartrand, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Carly Hill, and others.

“As a team, we need to become stronger defensively and offer our goaltenders more support,” said General Manager, Rebecca Michael. “Up front, we need to start producing more throughout all four lines and not solely depending on our top players.”

“I’m pretty confident either way I’ll get a good amount of ice time, but definitely I’d like to play a little bit of a bigger role this year with a year of experience,” Szabados told The Canadian Press. “I’m a lot more confident going into this season with how I played last year.”

The Beauts don’t have as much veteran experience as the other NWHL teams, but look for the team to develop into one of the fastest and possibly one of the highest-scoring teams in the league.

  • Need to find a NWHL team to cheer for? Taylor Clark is running a series previewing each NWHL team and their facilities over on Along the Boards. So far she’s done the Buffalo Beauts and the Boston Pride.

It’s A Hard Knock Life: Labor In Women’s Sports

Who remembers the NHL lockout in 2012? Most people who read this blog, probably. I remember all the ducking and feinting, the inevitable delay to the start of the season, each side blaming each other, arguments being played out in actual press and blog-press, and so on and so forth. But what I also remember is the reaction to the NHLPA’s collective bargaining strategy – namely, I remember a lot of people blaming players for not taking the deals the NHL offered. They were, after all, making millions; why were they insisting on depriving fans of a season?

You might recognize this sort of attitude as being explicitly anti-labor in an old-timey robber baron way; if you’re a mindless servant to the causes of deregulated enterprise, you might not. (Kidding. Mostly.) But it’s true that how work stoppages are perceived often change over time, or relative to the inconvenience they cause people using the product no longer being produced. See, for example, the teacher’s union strike in Chicago , or any number of public transit or cab strikes. Often, our sympathy for workers – or in sports’ case, players – is commensurate to how inconvenienced we are by them deciding to withhold their work for a while.

Sports in general occupy an uneasy space in the world of work. People can beat each other up on the ice, even gravely injure one another and not face legal consequences. Team-adjacent employees can be exploited. Wives and girlfriends are put in tenuous situations, exposed to everything from locational instability to intimate partner violence, and are expected to sacrifice for the good of their husbands’ teams.

Making money from sports starts early on. The OHL, for example, employs kids as young as 16. Of course, they’re not technically employees – but they receive a stipend, and the OHL makes money from them. The NCAA works a similar system for colleges in the US: athletes get tuition and expenses paid, and the NCAA makes money from both their public personas and their work on the field, court, or rink. Various people in various mediums have questioned the morality and even the legality of these setups for years, but what often goes unacknowledged is that in the lower-cash world of women’s sports, labor becomes that much more valuable.

Let’s circle back around to the lockout. The CWHL was functioning that entire time, unpaid. I’ve written here before about the CWHL’s “love of the game” and “role model” narrative. Their commitment to the community can’t be questioned, nor can the heart-warming nature of the entertainment they provide. But because women’s hockey is continually called into question – its skill level, its competitiveness, its worthiness as entertainment and as work – a lot of media coverage of the CWHL comes across as condescending. It’s not work for these women, despite the fact that they’re contractually obligated to show up to practices and games. It’s something uncomfortably hovering on the line between hobby and work. They’re not amateur in expectations or skill, but the hours they put in, on and off the ice, are generally disregarded because they don’t hate what they’re doing. Love of the game is privileged over even using that work to put food on the table, much less making a profit from it as NHL players do.

Unfortunately for female athletes, devaluation of the work they put in isn’t commensurate to how risky it is. Girls and women are more prone to concussions than boys and men, and also just so happen to dominate a dangerous high-school sport in the United States – cheerleading, where participants are injured in under-supervised practices more than competitive events. It’s possible that my lady brain is more prone to injury than a strong man brain, but given the reality of women’s sports, it seems likely that concussions are a product of a paucity of care and coaching. Female athletes are far less likely to have access to elite anything: coaches, trainers, equipment, doctors. The line to more injuries is clear and stark. In hockey, Amanda Kessel is a recent example. Kessel was sidelined with a mysterious injury prior to the Olympics, came back just in time to play for the US, and has been off the ice since then with chronic concussion problems.

In women’s sports, even the most elite players experience the same kind of grind and disregard that fourth-liners do in the NHL. Those same fourth liners have made headlines in recent years by committing suicide. Let me be clear: those deaths are a tragedy and absolutely point to the NHL’s disregard for labor. But this disrespect is an issue at every level; with women’s sports being as devalued as they are, most female athletes have no chance of escaping the level where their health and autonomy is disregarded. Female players can wind up very sick or even disabled, with pretty much nothing monetary to show for it.

So, you’re a women’s hockey player. You can reasonably expect a grinding level of hard work, a high risk of injury, spotty access to new equipment and good doctors, and career prospects that are pretty much limited to college employment or a cobbled-together combination of endorsements and gigs with the IOC, hockey federations, and so on. There aren’t really millions to be made here. If you’re in charge of a fledgling women’s league, then, how do you behave? What lines do you draw?

Unfortunately, in the CWHL’s case, the answer to those questions appears to be, respectively, “poorly” and “almost none that don’t explicitly benefit us”.

It’s fairly common knowledge that last year’s canceled Blades games were related to a work stoppage. This summer, we’ve experienced near-continuous changes that relate to another league, the NWHL, starting up. The CWHL initially reacted to the NWHL’s existence with some language that hinted at litigiousness; since then, we’ve seen lower-profile players sign with the NWHL, while higher profile players like Duggan and Knight remain mostly mum about their intentions, attempted actions with the CWHL, and so on.

I’ve heard reports from various places, including sources of this blog’s writers, that the CWHL is blocking big name players. Their contracts allow for release with adequate notification. This is, according to a lawyer we spoke with, fairly common language for non-paying contracts. It basically opens the way for people to leave should a paying opportunity arise. It’s possible, I suppose, that the people who failed to notify the CWHL of their intentions in a timely manner are all big-name, valuable players. It’s possible that the CWHL fighting to retain people like Hilary Knight is only related to genuine respect for legality, and has nothing to do with Knight’s own reputation as someone who’s struggled with the CWHL, her high profile in the world of women’s hockey, or her presumed value in name recognition for any team she plays for. It’s possible – but not likely, because the CWHL hasn’t invented underhanded tactics to try to control players. They’re simply following in the footsteps of the big men’s leagues that have come before.

Again, the NHL is the most recent example of this. They had a work stoppage only 3 years ago. The negotiations that each side made during that work stoppage are largely the stuff of rumor, but each side made some negotiations public, and thus, a matter of public opinion. As previously mentioned, the NHL has its own problems with player health as well. They’re currently facing a class action lawsuit specifically citing mishandling of concussions.

But – and this is a big but – the NHL at least pays its players and has a union. They continue to react strongly to the possibility of competition, and that includes becoming combative with their employees – the players – when the time to renegotiate the CBA comes around. This behavior might be less than ideal, but it at least is accompanied by the players’ union having representation for their side. The CWHL, in contrast, appears to want the benefits of a competitive market without ever having to have substantive competition – for players or for fans.

In short, it’s wrong. Pressuring players to sign long-term, restrictive, non-paying contracts is wrong. Using those contracts to try and control big-name players is wrong. Obfuscating the role of labor representation – a union – is wrong. And the fact that the CWHL is a non-paying league, full of highly skilled Olympians who play in games resembling rec league matches more than professional bouts, only makes their refusal to treat their players fairly more cruel. I have long held that the CWHL doesn’t seem to think women’s hockey is a product that can be profitably sold; they’ve historically skimped on marketing and promotion. Seeing their reaction to a league that clearly disagrees with that business plan has been profoundly disappointing. Female athletes already encounter disrespect from various institutions and people. They shouldn’t get it from their own tiny leagues, as well.

Of course, this isn’t a non-fixable problem. The CWHL should be releasing players on equal footing if they’re not already. The CWHL has a players association (not a union, as the players are unpaid), and that PA should have a more visible voice. Information on player issues shouldn’t just come from the league, but also from the CWHLPA. And, of course, they should try to compete with what the NWHL has to offer players. There are signs that the CWHL is trying to do the latter, including increased front-of-office communication and better equipment supply for players, but they’ll need to sustain that momentum and build on it. As both a blogger and a fan, the single most exciting thing about the NWHL has been their willingness to sell their product: women’s hockey and the people who play it.

Promote the players. Promote the game. Make players feel valued and excited by what you have to offer them, and make fans feel respected and catered to. If you want to hold on to “role model” lingo, then by all means do, but go beyond being a charity league for little girls to cheer on. Women’s hockey is valuable because it’s fun to watch. Sell me on that idea, then sell me on the people I’ll be watching. And also, treat them like people whose work you value. It’s very, very possible to move beyond the current player-rights gridlock, and I’d be delighted to see the CWHL do so.

Jenny Scrivens’ Husband Congratulates Her On Signing

Jenny Scrivens’ husband, who plays for a local men’s hockey league, took to Twitter today to congratulate her for signing with the NWHL’s New York Riveters. “Couldn’t be prouder”, he tweeted, “happy to see Jenny going to a team destined for greatness”. Jenny’s husband has played hockey for some number of years, and based on reports, is a very energetic and amusing goaltender.

When asked about how Jenny’s husband might fit into the culture of the NWHL, Jenny’s new teammates responded, “Who?”