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.


The NWHL is playing this weekend!


  • 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.


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


  • 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:

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.

A Few Non-Predictions For The CWHL’s 2015-2016 Season

We here at Watch This will not be posting a draft recap/season preview of the CWHL this year, because season/team previews suck to write and we don’t want to do them†. Personally, I am perennially in awe of people who manage to write well-researched posts about moves, prospects, etc etc., or even really any post at all, because I hate predicting the future and generally refuse to learn rosters until the players are actually playing. Having a work ethic is for suckers.

Anyway, here are some thoughts:

  • Historically the Blades have been really good, but their team has been gutted and now consists of like, 2 Team Canada players and some dryer lint, and possibly a curse-controlled Hilary Knight, so maybe they’ll be bad? Maybe not though. Who knows.
  • Brampton will continue to be an also-ran. This is a prediction based on history. Please don’t tell me if they actually drafted someone team-changingly amazing. My pride can’t take it.
  • Speaking of drafting, Calgary drafted Hayley Wickenheiser: Canadian legend, multi-gold-medal-winning Olympian, member of the Canadian Walk of Fame…37-year-old? This one’s a bit baffling. Who knows how it’ll go! As we’ve established, not me. (Brianne Jenner, however, is someone to watch on Calgary.)
  • The Stars are still the Stars. They’ll be in the final (probably).

OK that’s enough. For actual, substantive info, here are some links:

Have a good Wednesday. Stay safe out there.

† There will be previews of the NWHL, due to us having some new writers covering those teams. New blood! Less lazy blood! Somewhere a vampire is very excited.

CWHL vs NWHL: The Soundtrack

It’s time to face facts, women’s hockey fans.

FACT: no sport in the history of North America, nay, THE WORLD, has ever survived with more than one major league.
FACT: women’s sports leagues are doomed to fail, because feelings.
FACT: Brian Burke picked members of the men’s USA hockey team based on a dream he had. That doesn’t really have anything to do with this piece, but seriously, what the hell, Brian Burke? I think about this every day. Why did he do that? Do you think he has dreams now where Bobby Ryan gently lisps at him, chastising him for believing in the truth of dreams? Do you think he looks into the mirror and wonders what life would be like if he hadn’t LITERALLY followed his dreams? Do you think he called a priest on suspicion that a weird hockey-obsessed CANADIAN succubus snuck into his room at night and seduced him into making such bad choices? I WANT ANSWERS
FACT: the NWHL should have asked the CWHL to expand. Or maybe they shouldn’t have? This is the Quantum Fact. Both are both true and false.
FACT: the CWHL and the NWHL have gone past the point of no return. They are enemies now. Brenda Andress is probably building a death laser as we speak. Eventually there will be a war, and Hilary Knight, flanked by the Lamoureux twins*, will storm the CWHL headquarters, screaming and waving broken hockey sticks.
FACT: before the war comes sadness. Betrayal. Friend against friend. The painful certainty of knowing that your heart is broken and you’ve been left alone.
FACT: after the sadness comes the knowledge that you’ll be okay, because you’ve got friends




And so I present: the soundtrack of a broken-hearted, broken-leagued summer. You can listen along here: CWHL vs NWHL Soundtrack

(Note: this tracklisting is not totally accurate because I’m bad at saving things to cloud services, so you may get a few fun surprises. How exciting!)


1) Mean – Taylor Swift
2) I Hope He Breaks Your Heart – American Aquarium
3) Boots Were Made For Walking – Nancy Sinatra
4) Short Life Of Trouble – Carolina Chocolate Drops
5) How Was California – Reckless Kelly


1) Whiskey – Billy + Joe
2) Tennessee – American Aquarium
3) Trailer for Rent – Pistol Annies
4) Drinkin – Holly Williams
5) Worst Day Of My Life – Carolyn Wonderland
6) Mama’s Broken Hear – Miranda Lambert


1) Bring On The Rain – Jo Dee Messina & Tim McGraw
2) Friends In Low Places – Garth Brooks
3) 7 and 7 – Turnpike Troubadours
4) You Can’t Be Told – Valerie June


1) New Strings – Miranda Lambert
2) Best Thing I Never Had – Beyonce (A GENRE DEPARTURE)
3) Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
4) Steve Earle – Lydia Loveless
5) That Don’t Impress Me Much – Shania Twain
6) Why Should I Care For The Men Of Thames – Martha Redbone


  • NOTE: I’m basing this conjecture entirely on my perception that the twins would be down for chaos, not on any actual knowledge about when/if they’ll sign with either league. THANX

A Clarification of the CWHL Player Equipment Situation

Over the past season, we’ve seen a lot of incomplete and sometimes contradictory information on what the CWHL players get from the league, in terms of player equipment. Things on Twitter and other spaces came to a boil when Janine Weber, who won the Clarkson Cup for the Boston Blades in overtime, was asked to donate her stick to the Hockey Hall of Fame. This put Weber in a bit of a quandary– if she donated her stick, she’d only have one left when she went to play at Worlds for the Austrian national team.

Weber’s story has a happy outcome– STX, a hockey equipment company, reached out to her on Twitter, and sent her several sticks and a pair of gloves. Weber will take the ice with Team Austria at the Div. I Group A Women’s World Championship on Sunday in Rouen, France.

So, why did Weber have only one stick left? What, exactly, is the equipment provided to CWHL players?

We reached out to the CWHL, and were told that the league provides helmets, pants, and gloves to players, in addition to team jerseys and socks. Notably, those are skater helmets, pants, and gloves. Goaltenders, whose equipment is notorious for being much more expensive than skater’s, appear to be on their own. Players also had the option buy sticks and skates as a discount from Bauer, a league sponsor. I was kind of surprised to hear that Bauer was a player equipment sponsor– I feel like I never see them mentioned by the league, nor have I seen Bauer mention the CWHL. Digging in the archives, I found a couple brief mentions of Bauer as a sponsor, but not a lot.

When we reached out to Bauer for some clarification, we got a lot more information. Turns out, Bauer provides the league with the aforementioned helmets, pants, and gloves, but also bags. All of this is at no cost to the league.

According to the rep I talked to, they work with the players to make sure that they have the best gear for them from Bauer’s various lines. If you’re not familiar with the intricacies of buying hockey equipment, it’s exactly like buying clothes– everyone has their preferences for how they want things to fit, according to their specific body and the needs of their specific style of game. The way Bauer handles this kind of thing is by having different lines of equipment with different cuts. For example, there are three lines of pants– Supreme, Nexus, and Vapor– each with their own cut– an anatomical fit that is tighter at the waist, a classic fit that is looser through the waist, and a tapered fit that is tighter at the hips. It works similarly for the rest of their gear, for gloves, etc.

Bauer’s fit guide for gloves [Bauer]

Bauer's fit guide for pants [Bauer]
Bauer’s fit guide for pants [Bauer]
Bauer has had this program in place with the CWHL for the past three seasons, and plan to continue this partnership in the future. What they get out of this deal is that they are the league’s equipment supplier– the CWHL mentions them sometimes, and in league advertisements, Bauer can be the only featured brand. Under the terms of their contracts, players have to wear the provided Bauer gear unless they have a paid endorsement with another manufacturer. If a player does have a paid endorsement for equipment, such as Hilary Knight’s deal with STX, the league does ask that the supplier attempt to keep the product consistent with the team’s branding. No custom red, white, and blue breezers for Hilary Knight. 🙂

So, Bauer, one of the biggest and most well-known hockey equipment companies, is supplying some, but not all, of the equipment for skaters. Goaltenders are apparently on their own, answering the question of why Britany Ott is still rocking those baby blue pads from her time at the University of Maine.

Brittany Ott, in her baby blue pads, playing for the University of Maine. [University of Maine]
Brittany Ott, in her baby blue pads, playing for the University of Maine. [University of Maine]
Aside from goaltenders, this still leaves a lot of gear uncovered. What about shin-pads, chest protectors, and elbow pads, among others?

In a little experiment, I went to HockeyMonkey, a large online retailer for hockey equipment, and pulled together a cart of what I would consider a full set of equipment for a skater, including two sticks. I stuck within the Bauer line when possible, and tried to pick not the cheapest but also not the most expensive options. In addition to the typical protective gear, I also included a mouth guard, a neck guard, and a jill.

Retrieved from HockeyMonkey on 4/10/2015
Retrieved from HockeyMonkey on 4/10/2015

The total price of the equipment all together was $2,069.87. The total of what Bauer/the CWHL covers entirely is $489.97. We’re not sure what the discount on Bauer sticks/skates is, so we did a couple different scenarios to calculate possible cost to the player.

  • If the player bought similarly priced sticks and skates from a non-Bauer retailer, the total equipment cost to the player would be ~$1500.
  • If the player didn’t buy sticks or skates (not really practical, but maybe they have a deal with someone else) the total equipment cost to the player is $600.00.
  • If the discount on Bauer sticks/skates is 20%, a number that we totally made up, the equipment cost to a player is $929.92.

Now, that’s not going to be the cost a player faces every season, but a full season of professional-level competition and practice is going to put wear on gear, FAST. Also, two sticks for a season is possibly optimistic for some players, depending on how they play.

Some players have a stipend from their national team for gear and training, but most non-Team USA or Team Canada players don’t. Hockey ain’t a cheap sport, and while the Bauer equipment deal is a start, I sincerely hope the CWHL expands what player equipment is covered in the future.

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.

You Give Love A Bad Name: The CWHL, Marketing, And Me

CWHL logo


I’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to tease out my frustration with the CWHL. I am a supporter of the CWHL, both in the more nebulous blog-writing way and the more concrete “encourage people to contribute financially to it” way. But that doesn’t mean I think there’s no room for them to improve. They are, unfortunately, a league that has placed itself in the shadow of the NHL, without much actual support from said league.

Continue reading You Give Love A Bad Name: The CWHL, Marketing, And Me