Women’s Hockey Notebook: Cup finals, parity, Knight on leagues cooperating

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LINE RUSHES

1. Parity in women’s pro-hockey.

One of the most common issues discussed in the past few weeks is parity in the CWHL and NWHL. Teams like the Boston Pride and Montreal Les Canadiennes are full of national team players; whereas, the exodus of US national team players from the Boston Blades weakened the team significantly.

The issue isn’t an easy fix.

Forcing national team players to spread themselves out among the teams in their respective league isn’t fair to them. Most of them can make a living without having to play in a league like the NWHL for a small salary, or for free (for now) in the CWHL.

Their star power and skill drives high skilled, competitive hockey; thus, drawing in the fans and sponsors. The leagues are going to do their best to keep them in house – wherever the players want to play – and fill around them. It’s on the players themselves to make sure they’re not all the same team.

Kelli Stack did just that when she chose to sign with the Connecticut Whale, despite living Western Massachusetts and having the option of signing with the Pride. In an interview with USA Hockey, Stack said, “I want the league to survive and do well and be competitive … Boston is loaded with talent. I want the league to be competitive and I want it to succeed, so I thought Connecticut would be the best place for me.”

Those not currently on a national team roster face an even more uphill battle to continue their careers after college.

When asked about her team having home ice advantage over Buffalo before Sunday’s game, Connecticut Whale captain Jessica Koizumi said something interesting, “We are at home, but some of us live a bit further than home. Some of us have to drive like an hour and a half [to the rink].”

Brianne McLaughlin, Buffalo Beauts goaltender, lives in Pittsburgh and drives to Buffalo – over three hours each way – to practice and compete with her team.

There are countless stories like these throughout both leagues of women who just want to play hockey, and the lengths they’re willing to go in order to do so.

Survival of a team (or league) shouldn’t be on the shoulders of national team players only. It’s on the leagues to position their teams in locations where they can draw the most talent, and offer rewards, like compensation, that makes the sacrifice worth it. 

1A. Really good piece to consider when thinking about parity is by Seth Berkman of The New York Times. International players in the NWHL face uncertain futures with the league. Citizen or not, living in America is expensive.  Players are limited to what they can do for work, outside of hockey, due to their visas.

2. Clarkson Cup and Isobel Cup.

The CWHL and NWHL seasons have flown by. Both leagues are set to have their final game(s) this weekend. We’ll run previews of each league’s final game(s) as we get closer to the contests.

Brief recap of what happened in order to reach the final matchups.

CWHL – Les Canadiennes de Montreal swept their series against the Toronto Furies in two games. The Calgary Inferno did the same against the Brampton Thunder.

It’ll be Montreal versus Calgary in a winner take all Clarkson Cup game on Sunday, March 13 in Ottawa at Canadian Tire Centre.

NWHL – The Boston Pride completed the sweep of the New York Riveters this past weekend. In a three game upset, the Buffalo Beauts overcame the 1-0 series deficit to the Connecticut Whale to advance to the finals.

In a best of three series for the Isobel Cup, it’s Boston versus Buffalo starting Friday, March 11 through Sunday, March 13 in Newark at AmeriHealth Pavilion (practice rink attached to Prudential Center).

3. Hilary Knight. 

For all intents and purposes, Hilary Knight is the face of the NWHL. 

She is also one of the loudest voices throughout women’s hockey. She is willing to do interviews with media outlets big and small, and she doesn’t hold back.

Here are two recent interviews that had particularly pointed messages from Knight.

From Jared Book at Eyes on the Prize:

“We want to play the best in the CWHL, and you can’t say that the best in the CWHL don’t want to play us. That would be an awesome competition just because now the fans are forced to decide which league is better, which championship is worth more, so I just think it would be a fun way to really bring that competitiveness, get it to bubble up even more and spread the social awareness of these championships and of women’s professional hockey, and inspire young girls to say ‘I want to win the Clarkson Cup’ or ‘I want to win the Isobel Cup.’ We’re just more visible that way.”

As Book notes, Knight went on to tweet the idea to the NHL.

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Let’s take it step further. Why not have this game at, say, at the Winter Classic (or one of the other 243873298 outdoor games scheduled for the 2016-17 season)? What better way to celebrate the NHL’s centennial than having their support in growing the sport by showcasing each league’s champions on a huge stage.

The most pointed comment Knight makes on EOTP is why she and many others decided to jump ship from the CWHL to the NWHL:

“The intention of the second league was to force growth and force development, and in some rights it has done that,” Knight said. “Now that we’ve seen such a crazy amount of growth in such very infant stages, why can’t we figure out a collaboration among both sides of the border and figure out how to get the fans the best experience, combine competitions, and give the players the best competitive experience. It shouldn’t be one or the other. It’s never an either-or.”

She backs up this point in an interview with Kate Cimini of Today’s Slapshot. Frequently she mentions collaborating with the CWHL in some aspect.

“I think we forced a lot of progress in our sport and it’s frustrating when you know you’ve got a great product but you’re hitting the wall every time and it’s not evolving in any way. So I think that it was really our only option, was to force growth.

“Now that we have two separate leagues and we’ve proven that there’s a spark and an interest in women’s hockey, how do we now collaborate? I don’t know what that collaboration looks like in the future but I know it especially needs to happen and I’m certain it needs to happen on behalf of the sport to grow to the level that it can.”

Her insight in both articles is fascinating. It shows the balance both leagues are forced to find to keep players happy and money rolling in. Knight also reveals how personally she takes the growth of the sport and the risks she’s willing to take for others.

4. Denna Laing update!

Jerilyn Laing, Denna’s mom, tweeted out a link to a YouTube video showing the progress Denna has made in her recovery.

The fight in this woman knows no end. Continue to donate to her recovery at DennaLaing.org.

AROUND THE RINKS 

— Friend of the blog, and current CWHL Director of Media & Communications, Sasky Stewart, went on The Hockey House to talk about the CWHL and the growth of women’s hockey. [The Hockey House]

— Behind the scenes on an NWHL road trip with the New York Riveters. [SI
— Hockey Canada’s women’s program is showing some worrying trends. [EOTP]
— Game changers: Dani Rylan and the NWHL have grand plans for women’s hockey. [NBC Sports]
— The Brampton Thunder were the first team in professional hockey history to wear POV helmet-mounted cameras during live play. [Minnesota Hockey Magazine]
— Tatiana Rafter of the Buffalo Beauts: My life as a pro (Part II) [THW]
— MUST READ: Amid Erin Andrew trial, female reporters open up about safety. [SI]

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