Daily Egyptian

Column: Hockey next in line for women’s sports in America

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

A new women’s hockey league was announced on March 26 and will place four teams in the northeast United States.

The National Women’s Hockey League will consist of the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters. With all four teams in the northeast, travel costs will be low and regional rivalries will develop.

The league was started by Dani Rylan and Angela Ruggiero—a four-time Olympic medalist—after they could not bring a New York expansion team to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

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The NWHL will use sponsorships and donations to the NWHL Foundation to support each team’s salary cap of $270,000. On an 18-woman roster, each player would receive an average of $15,000 and players will have the option to negotiate contracts with their general managers.

While the CWHL does not pay players, it does cover hockey-related expenses.

Meghan Duggan—a two-time American Olympic silver medalist—worked as an assistant coach with Clarkson University’s women’s hockey team while training to stay on Team USA.

In an interview with Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times, Duggan said working a full-time job is something all female hockey players have to do.

“We’ve had girls that are juggling full-time jobs while they’re training,” she said. “It’s the reality of our situation. It’s certainly something I would like to see improve in the future, but at this point it’s what we know.”

Duggan plays for the Boston Blades in the CWHL, which is the only American-based team in the league. The team has won the last three league championships and has mirrored the National Hockey League in the recent success of American teams. In the NHL, American-based teams have won every Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

The NWHL has a better chance of garnering a fan base than the Women’s National Basketball Association. Since the WNBA’s inception in 1996, it has failed miserably at putting fans in the seats. The fan base grew by an average of 327 fans from 2013 to 2014 but is only at a league average of 7,348 as of 2014. Last season marked the highest average viewership for the WNBA Finals—according to sportsmediawatch.com—with an average of 659,000 viewers.

The NWHL is developing as the WCHL is at its prime. Last season the WCHL—founded in 2007—featured its first all-star game and struck a television deal with SportsNet, a Canadian media outlet.

With NWHL teams popping up in Buffalo, Boston and New York, cities that already house an NHL team, the NWHL may be able to play off of the NHL fan base. Nielsen reports show the NHL has 32 percent of the female fans among the four major sports leagues behind the National Football League’s 35 percent.

The NWHL season will consist of 18 games beginning in October and ending in March including preseason and playoff games.

To cut down on expenses, the league will use ice time donated by their respective arenas and have a partnership with a bus line company US Coachways. The WNHL will stream games on its own website.

Current college juniors and seniors will be eligible for the 2015 NWHL Entry Draft and will be considered free agents able to negotiate one-year deals until Aug. 25. The league will also be open to foreign players signing contracts with teams.

In an interview with Ray Hardman from WNPR—a Connecticut public radio station—Rylan said the league has several verbal commitments and will announce the first team owner soon.

“Since it is a paid league, we can offer visas for international players,” Rylan, Northeastern University’s captain for the 2011-2012 season, said. “The women who may have gone to college in Boston, and want to stay in the Boston area, will still have the ability to do that, because they’ll have the visa.”

With the NHL’s female popularity, the success of WCHL last season and the need for a popular women’s sport in America, the NWHL should be a success.

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269. 

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