Mid-Week Links: Boston Blades update, Calgary’s All-Star Players

Update on Boston Blades Game Cancellations:

First off, we’ve heard from a couple different sources including the CWHL that the “player eligibility issues” (as the league put it) have been resolved, and Boston will play this upcoming weekend! Notably, the league also said that the All Stars Game would proceed as scheduled, which is great to hear.

If you bought tickets for the canceled games, email the CWHL about getting a refund. If you’re a Boston Blades season ticket holder, you’ll get a gift certificate; if you bought single game tickets, a direct refund.

Mid-Week Links Round-Up:

We don’t have a ton else for links this week– Most of us here at Watch This are Americans, and are getting ready for the Thanksgiving holiday. Expect some pretty normal content from us the rest of the week though– we should have another piece from Elena, and hopefully our first piece from Cait of Women’s Hockey News, as well as the normal weekend game previews.

If you’re American, we at Watch This Hockey hope you have a happy Thanksgiving, and if you’re not, we hope you enjoy the coming weekend of hockey!

The CWHL’s American Problem

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This picture is a joke. I don’t think the CWHL is magicJack levels of being close to collapse – though, honestly, we probably wouldn’t know if they were, and they’re not really significant enough for it to be a legitimate comparison. Still: jokes!]

So, this weekend, am I right?

I heard rumblings that something was going on with the Blades’ contracts – and American players in general – a little before the cancellations became public. My first reaction was worry, but it was followed very closely by irritation. We here at Watch This Hockey know a few things about the contract disputes:

  • American players are unsatisfied with the way labor and contracts are managed
  • American players may or may not play in the All Star Game
  • We had reached out to players for interviews, but they backed out, worried that speaking with bloggers would result in them being blackballed from the league
  • We contacted the CWHL for a statement regarding the rumors (and fact of game cancellations). We have not heard back.

Any statement I could make would be based on speculation. The safest speculation I can make is that American players in the CWHL are not satisfied with how the CWHL is treating their American contingent, so let’s go with that.

Obviously, most of the cities that were talked about as candidates for expansion are American. I think anyone with half a brain can see that the CWHL is very oriented towards Canada – and, you might say, why shouldn’t they be? They’re the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, after all. I’m an American and from North Carolina besides, which means I’ve done my fair share of mocking the “hockey is Canada’s game” stuff, but on some levels it’s true. Canada produces tons of hockey players, they fund their hockey programs extremely well, they have more rinks, they have a longer history with the game. So – why not? Why not focus on Canada?

A few reasons, actually. Minor things, such as: marketing, sustainability, visibility, sponsorships. Long-term success of the league. Long-term success of women’s hockey in general.

The United States is, as much as any country can make such a claim, a hotbed of activity for women’s sports. We have a functioning women’s basketball league, the WNBA, that is only partially owned by the NBA. We have a fledgling soccer league, the NWSL, that is largely the result of cooperation between Mexico, USA, and Canada’s soccer leagues. We have collegiate basketball, soccer, hockey, and other sports. The US Women’s National Team in soccer regularly sells out arenas on tours before or after international competition. Our bona fides are, well, bona fide. And that matters, because the CWHL is in the business of convincing a saturated sports market that women’s hockey is worth paying to see.

Hockey is undeniably more popular in Canada, but Canada still has only slightly more people than the state of Texas. The United States is home to both huge media markets and huge – comparatively speaking – women’s sports markets. And, perhaps most importantly, some of the biggest names in women’s hockey aren’t Canadian. Jincy Dunne will be playing for Team USA in a few years, Lord willing and the river don’t rise. Meghan Duggan is a huge name; the Lamoureux twins are well-known; Hilary Knight and Anne Schleper both suited up for NHL practices; Julie Chu’s narrative at the 2014 Olympics was both high-profile and landed her a Bounty endorsement. For sure, Shannon Szabados, Marie-Philip Poulin, Caroline Ouellette, Hayley Wickenheiser, and others are big names, and rightly so. They’re hugely talented. But the other major powerhouse in women’s hockey is the United States. And that’s leaving aside the fact that Noora Räty and Florence Schelling both were hugely visible in the Olympics, are both very talented – and are both not playing in the CWHL.

One of the best known facts about women’s sports at a high level is that the peak of competition is international; the Olympics is the biggest competition these women are likely to ever see. It’s not in the CWHL’s interest to embrace nationalism to the point of discouraging competition. The competitiveness of women’s hockey is regularly called into question; the way to fix that is not to deny regular practice and competition to everyone but Canadian players. Women’s hockey ebbs in visibility during Olympic years; the way to fix that is not to refuse to put teams in American markets. I’ve complained repeatedly about the CWHL’s lack of marketing smarts, Internet fluency, and so on, but I assumed that was them cleaving too closely to an outdated marketing model. This weekend’s events have made me wonder if the league is even being led by adults, much less business-savvy ones.

The CWHL is not a church or a non-profit. Their job is to sell a product, not adhere to a certain ideology. Obviously there are limits on this, such as “don’t kill someone”, but embracing the American side of women’s hockey is hardly tantamount to murder. I’m disappointed in the CWHL for their handling of these disputes – the lack of transparency, combined with the fact that players are hesitant to talk to us for fear of immature retaliation, is incredibly concerning. I don’t know what their roadmap is, but I can’t see a world where shutting out American players makes business sense. It’s amazing to me that the CWHL continues to insist on this ridiculous “for love of the game” narrative – with heavily implied nationalistic overtones – when the NHL, and in fact every major hockey organization, values practicality and profitability over pond hockey ethos. I don’t have a suggested solution, aside from hiring someone who knows how to update websites, put out regular press releases, and not treating American players like also-rans. But there are some very obvious holes in their business practices that need filling.

I’ve watched plenty of women’s sports leagues collapse due to shortsightedness. I’d like for the CWHL not to be the most recent in a long line of failures. I have no idea if that’s coming or not, but American players being this dissatisfied with their only current option to play even semi-professionally is really not promising.

Get it together, CWHL. Love, an American.

Weekend Recap: Calgary Inferno sweep Brampton Thunder, Boston games canceled.

Weekend Cancellations:

First off, let’s get this out of the way: This weekend’s Montreal @ Boston series was canceled. We don’t, officially, know why. The CWHL claims it was due to “unforeseen circumstances”. I have not heard back from the league if single-game ticket purchases for these games will be refunded.

Unofficially, Stanley Cup of Chowder’s recap is pretty consistent with our understanding of the situation, but in short, there are contract issues happening between the Blades players and the League. We’ll have more info out as we know it.

Calgary Inferno sweep Brampton Thunder in Three Game Series

So, the other series this weekend was three games between the Calgary Inferno and the Brampton Thunder. My preview was proven a bit optimistic– Brampton did not manage to steal a game, and were in fact kept to very few goals in general.

Continue reading Weekend Recap: Calgary Inferno sweep Brampton Thunder, Boston games canceled.

How Do International Tourneys Affect the CWHL?

The CWHL resumed regular play last weekend after spending the first half of November on hiatus, as 22 of its best players travelled to Kamloops, B.C. for the 4 Nations Cup — but don’t be fooled. The league was far from idle as it spent the tournament spreading the word about professional women’s hockey, both to its existing fans state-side and potential fans worldwide.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase our players,” said CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress of the tournament. “Any player [in the 4 Nations Cup] who isn’t playing in the CIS or NCAA is in our league. It’s a phenomenal opportunity to expose the game across the world.”

Some of the names on the rosters and scoresheets, like Boston’s Hilary Knight (USA; three goals in the tournament) and Calgary’s Rebecca Johnston (Canada; four points), were familiar from February’s Winter Olympics in Sochi. Others, like Brampton rookie Jamie Lee Rattray (Canada; three points), might be more familiar to those who watched her play in college. Regardless, the presence of these players help build a brand and strengthen what Andress refers to as a “grassroots” movement to make pro women’s hockey a successful venture for young girls growing up with the game.

Part of that effort includes working with hockey’s national bodies in North America — USA Hockey and Hockey Canada — to find out when camps and events are being held, in order to ensure the league’s players can participate. Another part of it is using the powers of social media, posting news and information about the tournament on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to reach the broadest audience possible. Lastly, the games were broadcast on TSN in Canada, giving the tournament and its players nationwide exposure and perhaps spurring new viewers to research the CWHL.

The combined approach has worked; through the first two weeks of November, the @cwhl_insider account saw a 5 percent growth in followers, and marketing and communications specialist Jennifer Smith said via email that the league expects that growth to eclipse 10 percent by the end of the month. That’s partly thanks to the announcement just after the 4 Nations Cup of the CWHL All-Star Game, to be held in Toronto on Dec. 13. Boston Blades GM Aronda Kirby also said she noticed the @BostonCWHL handle gain a couple of hundred followers during the tournament.

“The media is covering it more, there’s more attention being paid to women’s hockey,” she said. “They write more articles about it, and we post them to our websites. It feeds the marketing machine.”

All of this contributes to turning the CWHL into a viable league for young women and girls to aspire to play in, and eventually work (much like in the NHL) toward international tournaments, something Andress is excited about.

“We want our players to grow up through this grassroots movement,” she said. “We want them to say, ‘Hey, I want to become a professional women’s hockey player, and in doing so I will get the chance to represent my country.’”

Of course, with the positive exposure comes a set of challenges. These tournaments feature compressed schedules — the 4 Nations Cup in particular has teams playing four games in four days — and with that comes a risk of injury and fatigue. There is also the prospect of taking time away from work — it’s a known fact that CWHL players aren’t paid for their play, and thus have full-time jobs in order to eat and pay the bills. The fact that they sacrifice some things to participate, Andress said, is a testament to how much they are willing to do just to play the game.

On a team level, Kirby mentioned the timing of the tournament, just a couple of weeks after the start of the season, which doesn’t allow for a lot of time to build up steam. It hasn’t seemed to slow down the Blades much — they are currently in the midst of six straight weekends playing without a break, and started off with a convincing sweep of Toronto. However, the constant play could contribute to some fatigue later on.

Another disadvantage that comes with being in the States and trying to follow your players from Boston? Limited access to broadcasts. While FASTHockey provided free live streams of some of the games on Hockey Canada’s 4 Nations Cup page, others (mainly the games Canada was playing in) were unavailable for viewing in the U.S. without resorting to illegal streaming or a paid website — and not everyone has the money for those.

“The only option seemed to be to buy a live stream of the game,” Kirby said. “We were texting everyone, asking, ‘Where’d you get the game?’ It was a little inconvenient.”

With that said, the tournament did generate some good conversation about women’s hockey. So does that mean more of them could be a boost for the female game?

Yes and no. Andress mentioned that there are two different goals inherent in tournaments versus leagues like the CWHL or NHL. While a broader fanbase is created in international tournaments, which pit country against country, the fact that these leagues feature players from all over the world creates more of an individual following.

“If you’re watching a Team USA game, you’re more likely to root for a player from your favorite team,” she said. “If you’re, say, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, you’re going to be a Maple Leafs fan regardless of what player is wearing that jersey — Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, whoever.”

There’s also the idea of parity, something the CWHL can boast for the most part. There are plenty of talented players in the league who didn’t make the 4 Nations rosters, but could at any given time.

From a revenue standpoint, Kirby thinks tournaments featuring CWHL players stateside could have benefits, with some conditions.

“If the revenue could go somehow to the players or the clubs, that would be beneficial,” she said.

Overall, events like the 4 Nations Cup do their part to increase exposure of women’s hockey and the seven-year-old league that aims to become the premier place for female players to take their talents. Andress stressed the idea of retaining the fans that come to see these tournaments.

“It’s like, ‘Hey, you don’t have to wait once a year, or once every four years, for these games,’” she said. “They happen in your backyard every weekend.”

CWHL Weekend Preview: Brampton Thunder @ Calgary Inferno x 3, and Montreal Stars @ Boston Blades x 2!

We’ve got a full weekend of CWHL hockey ahead of us! Brampton will be going to Calgary for their three away games this season against the Inferno, and Montreal will be attempting to crack the Boston Blades, who are perfect so far on the season.
Continue reading CWHL Weekend Preview: Brampton Thunder @ Calgary Inferno x 3, and Montreal Stars @ Boston Blades x 2!

Mid-Week Link Round Up: All-Star roster, Räty interview, and early hockey specialization.

Mid-Week Link Round Up: All-Star roster, Räty interview, and early hockey specialization.

  • Remember, the players for the CWHL All-Star Game will be announced tomorrow, at 9 AM EST! Keep an eye out for that. 🙂
  • Noora Räty, former Finnish Olympic goaltender who made waves by retiring from the national team for financial reasons, was interviewed about her season so far with Kiekko-Vantaa, a men’s pro team in Finland’s Mestis league. She has some interesting comments on adapting to the men’s game, and on the process of how she got invited to try out with Kiekko-Vantaa.

New Writers Announcement

Hello hello! Long time no see, for me at least. This is a quick note to let readers know that we’ve undergone a bit of restructuring. Outlook Hockey will no longer be covering the CWHL (congratulations on the job with the Blades, Mike!), and so Kate and I are opening up the site to some of their writers. Kate and I have been sick and busy, life is a process, etc., but in the next couple weeks we’ll be setting them up here and they’ll be posting pieces. That means, among other things, that we’ll probably be fostering greater diversity of opinions. We are no longer the borg: exciting times. Kate and I will, of course, still be writing.

To the Outlook Hockey writers – welcome aboard! We’re happy to have you.

CWHL Weekend Round-Up: Boston remains perfect, Montreal and Brampton split series!

Toronto @ Boston: Blades sweep the Furies!

Boston’s home opening weekend was a rousing success, with the Blades sweeping defending Clarkson Cup champions, the Toronto Furies.

Saturday’s game was fast, high scoring, and low on penalties– the final score was 2-6 Boston, and there were three penalties in the entire game. Jillian Dempsey got a hat trick for Boston, with Janine Weber, Rachel Llanes, and Monique Lameroux making up the rest. Toronto’s Mallory Deluce converted on Toronto’s sole power-play opportunity, with Jenelle Kohanchuk adding the only other tally for them that night in the third. (Boston didn’t score on either of their power-play chances, despite having the top ranked power play % in the season so far.)

Sunday’s game, however, got a lot more physical, although it still remained high scoring. The game ended 2-5 Boston, with nine penalties between the two teams. Most of the scoring happened in the first two periods– going into the third, the score was 2-4, with Jillian Dempsey adding an insurance goal in the third. However, in the third, Boston picked up two penalties early on, and Toronto’s Tessa Bonhomme picked up three toward the end. (Cross-checking, hooking, and finally body checking, if you’re curious. 🙂 ) The increased physicality however, didn’t lead to a goal for either side– Dempsey’s was not a power-play goal.
Sunday was also Meghan Duggan’s first game for the Blades this season! She finished the game with an assist, and was a +1.

Montreal @ Brampton: Split Series!

Brampton took Saturday’s game, 4-2, for their first win this season. Going in, I would have been kind of surprised if you’d told me that Brampton would pretty much dominate this game– but they did. Both of Montreal’s goals came in the first period, the first from CWHL founding member Lisa-Marie Breton-Lebreux, and the second from last year’s Angela James Bowl winner, Ann-Sophie Bettez. Despite this early burst of life in the first period, Montreal spent a lot of the game looking pretty lifeless, and for such a speedy team, they spent a lot of time standing around. Even in the first, the game looked more like a tennis match than any sort of maintained offensive pressure. Brampton’s Laura Fortino, who went first overall in the 2014 Draft, got her first goal in the CWHL at the end of the first period.

Brampton was able to carry this momentum into the second, and really dominated in the second. In the second period, Lauriane Rougeau picked up a couple of penalties, and Brampton’s Jess Jones managed to convert on one. Lindsay Vine got the other goal for Brampton this period. Erica Howe, in net for the second time for Brampton, spent a lot of this period being ever so slightly too aggressive, I felt like– she seemed to be constantly scrambling to get back into position and make the save. There were a lot of really heart stopping moments where I’d think a puck had gone in, and then a Brampton player came up with it and got it out.

The third was a bit rougher, and a touch sloppier– I think players were more tired. Things got a bit more physical as well, and Brampton picked up four penalties in the period. Their penalty kill, however, was excellent, and all were killed without any goals given to Montreal. Howe was really on top of things this period, and was a large component of the PK. During one of these penalty kills, Fielding Montgomery got a short-handed goal for Brampton. A short-handed goal can sometimes be a sign of a disordered penalty kill– if you’re in position to score, you’re not in the right position to keep the other team from scoring– but in this case, I think it was more of a flub on the part of Montreal.

Charline Labonté came up HUGE for Montreal in this game, despite the eventual loss. This one definitely wasn’t on her. She made 30 saves on 34 shots, while Howe made 19 saves.

Check out the highlight reel from this game!

However, on Sunday, Montreal came back and won in a very physical game, breaking their losing streak with a 3-2 victory. The victory hinged hugely on their power play, specifically the top PP unit of Julie Chu, Cathy Chartrand, Caroline Oullette, and Ann-Sophie Bettez.

The first goal of the game came in the last minutes of the first, despite several power play opportunities for both sides. It was actually a power-play goal for Ann-Sophie Bettez, assisted by Cathy Chartrand and Julie Chu.

Penalty-wise, things calmed down in the second, with only one tripping call against Brampton very early in the first. Brampton also tied it up 1-1 with Laura Fortino’s second goal of her CWHL career.

In the third, Carly Mercer capitalized on a power play opportunity for Brampton early in the period to make things 2-1 Brampton. They held this thin lead until a penalty fairly late in the period led to a Caroline Ouellette power-play goal, assisted by Chartrand and Chu. Bettez got another assurance goal, this time at even strength, a few minutes later, to finish things off 3-2 Montreal.

CWHL League Standings:

  • At the end of this weekend’s action, Calgary remains on top of the league with 7 points in 5 games, but Boston is in second with a perfect record of 6 points in 3 games, two games in hand on Calgary.
  • Toronto and Montreal are tied with 4 points each, but Toronto has two games in hand against Montreal, and thus are 3rd.
  • Brampton remains at the bottom of the league, with 3 points in 4 games.

CWHL Weekend Preview: Boston’s first home games, and Montreal visits Brampton!

CWHL Weekend Preview: Boston’s first home games vs. Toronto, and Montreal visits Brampton!

It feels so long since we’ve had a CWHL game! Coming back from the break for the Four Nations Cup, we have the Blades kicking off this weekend’s slate of games with their first home game.

Saturday, November 15th

Toronto Furies @ Boston Blades (6:30 PM EDT, UMASS-Boston)

Boston’s first home game of the season! The Blades have only played one game this season, a shutout win against Montreal. Toronto has only played two, against Calgary and Brampton, but both have been wins. Both teams sent a solid handful of their players to the Four Nations Cup– Boston sent 6, while Toronto sent 3– so they might be feeling a bit stiff, but between these two teams, we can still expect some good hockey.

This game will also have a special meet and greet for Cornell alumni– check out the details on the Blades’ website.

This game will not be streamed.

Montreal Stars @ Brampton Thunder (6:50 PM EDT, Century Gardens)

Both of these teams come into this weekend trying to break some early season skids– Montreal has only won one of their four games so far, while Brampton hasn’t won either of their games. It’s obviously early days yet, but Montreal has to be feeling the pressure– they finished last season first in the rankings, before losing earlier than expected in the Clarkson Cup tournament. They need their younger players to become the leaders on this team, consistently and in every game. Five of Brampton’s players and one of Montreal’s are returning from the Four Nations Cup with a gold medal.

This game will be streamed.

Sunday, November 16th

Toronto Furies @ Boston Blades (12:30 PM EDT, UMASS -Boston)

Second of the two meetings these teams will have this weekend. This game will be streamed.

Montreal Stars @ Brampton Thunder (2:05 PM EDT, Century Gardens)

Second of the two games these two have this weekend. This game will not be streamed.

Mid-Week Link Roundup: 4 Nations outcomes, Japan qualifies for Women’s World Championship, and an ALL-STAR GAME!!

Mid-Week Link Round-up: 4 Nations outcomes, Japan qualifies for Women’s World Championship, and an ALL-STAR GAME!!

  • Japan beat the Czech Republic in the qualifiers series for a spot in the Women’s World Championship in Malmo! Japan will be in Group B, along with Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden, while Group A will have the US, Canada, Russia, and Finland. Aina Takeuchi of the Calgary Inferno had 1 assist, 2 PIM, and was a +2 after three games in the qualifiers for Team Japan.
  • Well, the Four Nations Cup is over, and Canada walked home with the gold (again). The US took silver, and the Finns took bronze. The Canadian Jennifer Wakefield tied with the Americans Shiann Darkangelo and Dani Cameranesi for points leader, with Wakefield, Rebecca Johnston, and Hilary Knight tying for goals leader. While I didn’t manage to catch all of the games, I’m excited (as a hockey fan) and more than a little concerned (as an American hockey fan) to see Canada starting to play to the strengths of their young players, in a roster bursting with young talent. The US continues to be unable to finish a game strong, and I was incredibly impressed with Sweden’s goaltenders, in Sara Grahn and Kim Marti’n Hasson, who saved 76 of the 80 shots and 67 of 70 shots, respectively, that they faced this tournament. If Sweden could have capitalized at all on their offensive chances, I really feel like they could have been a much more credible threat in this tournament.
  • As we’ve suspected for a while, there will be a CWHL All-Star game come December 13th at the Air Canada Centre! Admission will be free, and there will be a period of skills competitions, followed by two full periods of hockey. 40 players from the CWHL will go, and have already been selected, however fans will be able to vote online for the Captains of each team from November 29th to December 10th. Captains will draft their top five players in a private draft on December 12th, and the rest will be assigned out of a hat. Look for more info on that as we know it!