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.

Which CWHL players generated the most offense?

Knowing how many points a player has is usually an effective means of showing how well they have generated offense. However included in those points can be goals, first assists and second assists. It can be argued that first assists have more value because they led directly to a goal while a second assist may have a higher relation to luck.

With that in mind we will compare the top ten CWHL players in terms of overall points and first points (goals and first assists only).

graph
tP= total points, tPr2= total points rank, P1r-= first points rank, rDiff= points ranking difference

As can be seen based on the above table some players received more “help” from their teammates than others did. Both Cathy Chartrand and Julie Chu of the Montreal Stars were ranked seven spots lower in terms of first points. While Kim Deschenes and Jessica Campbell were nine and six spots higher respectively in terms of first points.

These types of statistics help to give a better idea of which players to key in on in order to shut down the opposition offense. Players that have larger differences in ranks may have misleading point totals and more time should be spent checking others.

The best CWHL Players to have on the ice in close games

This past season I was very excited to have worked directly with both the Head Coach and General Manager of the Boston Blades to provide analytics reports to help win games. I was able to develop a number of metrics based on the statistics tracked in the CWHL to assist with coaching decisions.

An interesting one is Close Goals For Percentage. This is a measure of the percentage of goals the player was on the ice for while the score was within one goal in the first and second periods and when tied in the third period. This helps to give a better idea of which players should be sent over the boards in tight games when you are looking for a win.

The table pictured below has the top 20 skaters on the ice for at least five total close goals listed by their Close Goals for percentage relative to their teammates.

The column headers are defined as follows:

  • GP – games played
  • tP – total points
  • GFc – close goals for on ice
  • tGc – close goals for and against on ice
  • cGF% – close goals for percentage
  • cGF%rel – close goals for percentage relative to their teammates
The top player for each team:
  • Boston Blades – Kacey Bellamy
  • Brampton Thunder – Leah Whittaker
  • Calgary Inferno – Jenna Cunningham
  • Montreal Stars – Marieve Provost
  • Toronto Furies – Kelly Terry
It is worth noting that the Clarkson Cup winning goal scorer Janine Weber is ranked fourth overall and second on the Boston Blades in terms of this metric. While the other forwards on her line, Jordan Smelker and Corinne Buie, ranked sixth and tenth overall in the CWHL, as well as fourth and seventh on the Boston Blades.

best players to have on ice

 

The Boston Pride: Media Day and First Practice

Yesterday, the players trickled into Allied Veterans Memorial Rink in Everett slowly from the outside world. Forward Emily Field was the first to arrive, showing up around 2pm along with the media contingent; defender Marissa Gedman was one of the last, delayed by an organic chemistry class according to a league representative. In addition to limited press duties, players were outfitted with new gear (including pads, skates, and sticks) and spotted filling out W-4s,  a form for employers in the US to withhold taxes from employee income (yes!) before they hit the ice.

The NWHL supplied press with a detailed roster of the players on the ice; notably missing from both the roster and practice were star players who have been confirmed by an internal source but not yet publicly acknowledged by the league: Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, Gigi Marvin, and Hilary Knight (#knightwatch continues)? Zoe Hickel was also absent. GM Hayley Moore, head coach Bobby Jay, and assistant coach Lauren McAuliffe were also present for the media and player equipment fittings.

Alyssa Gagliardi trying on a new Bauer helmet.
Alyssa Gagliardi getting a helmet fitted.

Representatives from Bauer and Base Hockey were present to fit players from a wide selection of gear and sticks. (Base Hockey brought a heat gun and hand-saw to the party, which was very exciting for this incurably handy blogger.) While clarification is still forthcoming on Bauer’s relationship to the NWHL as a sponsor, Bauer sales representative Tom Quinn confirmed that the league is purchasing equipment for players and it will not be provided outright as part of a sponsorship. A few players declined to be fitting for various items, including Alyssa Gagliardi, who has recently purchased new skates; a league representative said that players are not required to use league-provided gear.

New Bauer bags, gloves, and helmets, lined up on a bench in a locker room.
Some of the new gear, all lined up.

Mid-afternoon, the press convened in a warm side room for two press conferences, one with players and the other with the GM and head coach. (Forward Amanda Pelkey generously brought us a fan in the short interval between the two.) Pelkey, goalie Brittany Ott, and goalie Kelsie Fralick represented the Pride in the player press conference and spoke to their excitement about the upcoming season and the new team. They remained neutral when I asked about future team rivalries: we’ll see how they feel by the end of the season.

 

GM Hayley Moore and head coach Bobby Jay discussed the thrill of coaching and assembling the roster of such an elite group of players, as well as future involvement with the Boston sports community (yes: look for further interaction with the Lowell Spinners and the Boston Breakers).

A league representative also addressed my question about the NWHL’s use of social media.

 

Overall, it was a full day for players and media alike. On a personal level, it was great to meet up with Kat Hemming (@KatHemming), Kate Cimini (@lightsthelamp), and Sarah Connors (@sarah_connors), and I felt the Boston Pride truly made us as welcome as the members of the mainstream media present. The friendliness and positivity energy from the players were also palpable.

Watch the players hit the ice:

[vimeo 138701999 w=500 h=281]

The Boston Pride: Media Day & First Practice from Erin Bartuska on Vimeo.

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.

Bauer Renews CWHL Equipment Sponsorship, Now Provides Goalie Equipment!

Exciting update on the CWHL equipment front! I’ve been told that Bauer has renewed their sponsorship of the CWHL for another year, and has expanded the gear that will be provided to players! Especially for goaltenders. 🙂

An engraved image of the Furies as winged, terrifying women, with snakes wrapped around their bodies.
Wouldn’t these strike fear into the heart of any opposing team? No?

You may recall our post last season about the CWHL equipment situation. At that time, the CWHL’s Bauer sponsorship provided helmets, pants, and gloves for skaters, and all players, skaters or goaltenders, could get a discount on skates and sticks.

This year, the equipment provided includes helmets, pants,  gloves, and elbow pads for skaters, but also Bauer will provide goalie masks to each team. Sadly, no word on if teams will cover custom paint-jobs for those masks, so my dream of some terrifying Furies on Kessler’s mask doesn’t look close to fruition. (Possibly never if the Furies change their name…) Additionally, any starting goaltender who does not have an equipment sponsor will be provided with complimentary Bauer goaltender equipment. No more old pads from college for the CWHL! (Speaking of, no more baby blue for Ott with the Pride! I’ll actually be kind of sad to see them go.)

This is great for the CWHL. I’m really glad to see them expanding the equipment that they offer, and especially expanding to provide equipment for goaltenders, for whom equipment is proportionally more expensive and faces a lot more direct wear and tear than most of a skater’s protective gear.

Aside from the ideal that is all gear provided, I still have a couple concerns about this new equipment policy expansion. What, exactly, makes a goaltender the starting goaltender? Do they just mean that a goaltender starts games? Or that the goaltender starts the majority of games? I get the desire to keep costs down by not providing gear for every goaltender who just plays one game for you, but most CWHL teams play their goaltenders pretty evenly. Toronto and Calgary less so, but I suspect scheduling availability plays at least some role in how evenly teams can split playing time. It’s not that there’s one goaltender who starts 90% of games, and one who sits on the bench most of the times– that’s just not practical with the density of games, concentrated on the weekends, that team have to play. So, going to be interesting to see how that plays out, and who shows up in new pads this season.

I’m also still WILDLY curious to hear what the discount amount is for players on sticks and skates. Sticks and skates are, hands down, the gear that gets the most wear, and they’re also the most expensive items, generally.

Overall, this is a good move that I’m really glad to see the CWHL undertake. I suspect that we’re also seeing the hand of market competition at play– with the NWHL providing all players gear, this looks like the CWHL stepping up their game in response. Hopefully, the competition between the leagues will continue to provide motivation for both to improve.

CWHL Rebranding & New Events

With the flurry of information out there about potential rebranding of some CWHL teams I felt it was time to look into this a bit deeper. The Toronto Furies have been on the block for an actual team logo for quite some time now. So will this be the year?

According to CWHL Director of Marketing & Communications, it will be. “The CWHL is proud to have called the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs a partner for the past three years. This summer the League and the Team have worked closely with Maple Leafs on a branding project for the Furies. The results of this initiative will be announced before the regular season gets underway.”

From what I can gather, the Furies will get a new logo and an updated jersey as a result. It will not doubt be a great improvement and give the team a much greater brand identity as a result. A couple seasons ago, the Furies did have an unofficial logo; however I have not been able to track down the image.

Moving on to the Brampton Thunder, who will also be getting a “new” logo this season and updated jerseys. “Last season the League soft-launched a new logo for the Thunder, which, this season, will be married with new uniforms for a complete visual rebrand of the team.” What does this logo look like and will the color scheme be changing, you may be thinking in your head. This image comes directly from the CWHL website.

a possible new brampton logo? logo is a thundercloud behind the word "thunder", with a lightning bolt for the N. Colors are navy and grey.

It appears that the Thunder will be rebranding to a blue and grey color template with the logo pictured here. This will be a great improvement for a team in need of a brand identity to sell in the large Toronto market.

Along with the new logo, colors and jersey the Thunder will be moving their home dates to Brampton Centennial Arena and we are told that more details regarding this will be announced shortly.

There has also been a great deal of rumors surrounding the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the potential changing of the name, specifically the “Canadian” reference. In response to these rumors, “We don’t, as you are aware, respond to rumors. However, it is common knowledge that the CWHL has been exploring a name change for the last few seasons, in order to better reflect the truly international composition of our League. For the past five years the CWHL has offered the best American players the opportunity to compete at the highest level at home in Boston.  With the league’s recent announcement that it is exploring further expansion in the US market, the prospect of a name change remains front of mind.”

There are three additional things to look forward to for all CWHL fans. First the CWHL will be expanding its relationship with the You Can Play Project, “In 2012, the CWHL was the first professional sports league to partner with the You Can Play Project and continues to be a proud supporter of LGBT rights. In 2016 we will hold our first Pride games in conjunction with You Can Play and other community LGBT organizations.  More details in these games will follow in the weeks ahead. 

The other two things to look forward to are 2016 All Star Game and a new merchandise partnership, “The league will also announce its plans for the 2nd CWHL All Star Game. Lastly, we have a big announcement on the horizon related to our new merchandise partnership.”

Clearly it has been a very busy off-season for the CWHL, with many initiatives on the go. Lots of excitement will be had by the varying level of rebranding that the Brampton Thunder, Toronto Furies and Montreal are undergoing.