The National Women’s Hockey League’s Inaugural Season Is Finally Here!

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This is huge news for women’s professional sports! The National Women’s Hockey League is finally here and it is set to make a big difference for the lives and careers of women who have long dreamed of becoming the next Wayne Gretzky, but have never seen any opportunity for them before.

For most female hockey players who are talented enough to play at college level, that’s about as far as they can go in the sport, unless they happen to make it to the Olympics. But a sporting league is where real money is to be made, yet that has not been possible until now.

Just to put things into perspective, the NHL is considered the premier professional ice hockey league in the world, consisting of teams of men from the US and Canada. It has been around since 1917. The women’s national hockey league dropped it’s first puck in 2015. Should we even bother doing the math?

But let’s not get caught up in the unsurprising ways women are still finding equal footing with men in certain industries, instead we will focus on celebrating the achievements and the women who make it happen. Speaking of which, Dani Rylan is the person we have to thank for the NWHL.

In an article for The Player’s Tribune titled ‘So We Started A Hockey League’ former college hockey player Dani shares in depth how the league came about and her motivation behind starting it. She begins by explaining the usual route female hockey players take after playing at the collegiate level. Many of them end up having to get regular jobs because there is no pro league for them to ply their trade on a daily basis and make a living wage.

Dani wanted to change this, knowing how it would impact so many young girls given the prominent women in many different sports right now (Ronda Rousey in UFC, Serena Williams in tennis, just as an example).

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“We know there’s thousands of girls and young women in those cities who love hockey and want to watch their heroes up close. The NWHL was created with them in mind,” she said.

The entrepreneurial woman set out to create the league from scratch, and says it was started the way many new businesses are started, with investors, smart people with a great idea, and a plan of attack.

“A lot of progress has been made for female athletes, but the vast majority of hockey players are still in the wilderness at age 22. So then, the question: How do you create a professional sports league? How do you deal with market research, labor laws, visa issues, logistics, advertising, business incorporation and hundreds of other questions? You Google it. The National Women’s Hockey League was born the way a lot of startups are born in 2015,” she explained.

One of the things they focused on was location. In her research, Dani found 33% of female youth hockey players are registered in 3 states alone. She also found from researching cost effective measures from other pro women’s sporting leagues that transportation costs could be a huge drain. As a result, they began with only 4 teams from a concentrated area (the Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale, New York Riveters and Buffalo Beauts) and have decided to transport teams on buses instead of plains to keep costs down.

Because of investors, the women will make on average $15,000 a year. It’s still not enough for the women to quit their other day jobs, but the hope is that in time this will change.

“In time we hope to have corporate sponsorship, but we know that the strength of our league will be the grassroots support from the hockey community. One of the core elements of our model is to transition players seamlessly from college to life in the real world. Our players are drafted before their senior NCAA season, so they have a full year to find a job, an apartment and a social network in the city that drafts them. We have nurses, teachers, and mechanical engineers on our rosters,” she said.

With the experience fans will get seeing these female hockey players up close and personal on the ice as they can do at NHL games, Dani believes this will go a long way to increasing the amount of media attention, ticket sales and in turn sponsorship. The League officially kicked off on Sunday, Oct 11 (which fittingly was also International Day Of The Girl!) and the reactions from fans excited the NWHL commissioner.

“I had so many young girls come up to me to say, ‘This is so awesome!'” she shared.

CBS News reports they overheard some young girls exclaiming: “Oh my god! Look how fast they are. Like look at them they’re just so fast!”

The fact that these women on the ice are playing just as fast and ferocious as any of the men in the NHL could be a major factor in eliminating any sort of gender criticism toward the NWHL.

“People will say they can’t really notice a difference between the men’s and the women’s until they zoom in,” said Dani.

Overall it is about respect, she says. The women of the NWHL should be treated and paid the same way as male hockey players, and also seen as talented professional athletes.

NHL.com reported on the opening games of the inaugural season where Connecticut Whale played the New York Riveters, and Boston Pride played the Buffalo Beauts, calling it “historic”, most notably because of the presence of one woman in particular.

“Manon Rheaume, the first woman to appear in an NHL preseason game when she played for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992, dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff in Buffalo, where the Pride defeated the Beauts 4-1 before close to 1,800 fans,” they reported.

Manon Rheaume wasn’t just a random pick, she has played a very significant role in Dani Rylan’s life and in the lead up to her creating the NWHL.

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“Growing up in Tampa in the early 90s, my hero wasn’t Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. It was Manon Rhéaume, the first and only woman to play an exhibition game in the NHL. I remember seeing her in net for the Lightning and thinking, Whoa. This is awesome. This is possible.” she wrote in her op-ed.

In a full circle-moment, what Dani started has now enabled a whole generation of younger girls to realize “it is possible” in a much bigger way.

“It’s going to be some outstanding hockey. Our players may not be paid like their male counterparts, but they will be paid. They will be treated like stars, especially by the little girls who will be positively freaking out seeing them in person. And that’s a good start,” she added.

“It’s a dream come true. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine 800 tickets sold, kids screaming [in the stands] and girls on the ice. We had so much support,” said Whale goalie Jaimie Leonoff about her historic opening game.

The end goal is for the initial 18 game season, which culminates in the winning team being awarded the Isobel Cup (Isobel is the daughter of Lord Stanley Preston, former Governor-General of Canada who awarded it to Canada’s top-ranking amateur ice hockey club, in 1892 when the original inception of the league was commissioned), to turn a profit for the investors and then gain bigger sponsorships. Dani believes women’s sports in general is a largely untapped market meaning it can potentially mean big business in the future.

If it achieves its goals of inspiring a new generation of young female fans, in our eyes that is already considered a success.

“I think it’s so important for a younger girl to see an older girl in a position of leadership…it gives them a realization that they can do that,” said hockey player Celeste Brown.

It. Is. Possible.

Listen to Dani Rylan talk to Bloomberg News about the NWHL and what fans can expect:

One Comment

  1. Pingback: After Taking On Sexism In U.S. Hockey, These Olympian Sisters Are Just Getting Started - GirlTalkHQ

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