The National Women’s Hockey League is the first paid professional hockey league for female players. (Courtesy photo)
Have you ever dreamt of playing a professional sport? For female hockey players, this dream is finally becoming a reality. This past weekend saw a notable day for both hockey and for female athletes with the inaugural games of the NWHL, the National Women’s Hockey League.
Four teams currently make up the NWHL, all based in the Northeast. Connecticut is home to the Whale, New York has two teams, the Buffalo Beauts and the New York Riveters, and Massachusetts is home to the Boston Pride. What is it that makes this particular league impressive? These players are actually paid.
Paid women’s hockey has long been a dream for players, but it has remained just that. The CWHL, Canadian Women’s Hockey League, was established in 2007, has teams in Canada and the United States, and has been the one of the main proponents of growing the game. However, the players are not paid. Olympians and national team members, silver and gold medalists at the international stage, receive no compensation for their participation in the CWHL. The NWHL saw to fix that problem.
For female players, the NWHL is the future. Finally these athletes can be paid to play what they love. Before the NWHL, players were only paid if they achieved national team status. If not, they were left with years of high intensity hockey experience and nowhere or way to use it. The CWHL is an option, but not one with longevity as players pay for their own gear and forfeit their time for no salary. The NWHL allows female hockey players to be professional hockey players. National team members and fresh college graduates alike can finally get paid for their play.
So how can the NWHL be paid whereas other women’s leagues could not be? The NWHL, founded by current commissioner of the league Dani Ryland, is set up like a business and is designed to bring in money and fund its staff, including the players. Of course, some revenue will be generated from fan apparel sold, especially the jerseys which directly fund players and ticket sales, but the biggest component is the NWHL Foundation. The NWHL Foundation accepts donations which then go towards players salaries and growing female hockey programs.
The league already has some well-known names on it too. The United States Women’s National Team captain, Meghan Duggan, plays for the Buffalo Beauts. Two-time Olympic silver medalist Hilary Knight plays for the Boston Pride. Fourteen current national team players can be found throughout the league, and that’s just from the United States. A few Canadian national team members have joined the league so far, though many other Canadian players have opted to remain in the already established CWHL while the NWHL is still growing.
This past weekend was a weekend of firsts for the league. It was the home opener for the Beauts, who squared off against the Pride, and for the Whale, who faced off against the Riveters in the first regular season game. First franchise wins went to the Connecticut Whale and the Boston Pride, with Jessica Koizumi of the Connecticut Whale scoring the first goal in the history of the league, and Boston’s own Hilary Knight achieved the first multi-goal game. And the players have received paychecks for their play
Women’s sports, especially at the professional level, are growing across the U.S. The professional women’s soccer league is on its third year, and female fighters like Ronda Rousey are making headlines and headway in their sport. Women’s hockey is another step for women’s sports. The best way to keep this momentum going is to get involved in the league by checking out your local NWHL team, getting to a game, buying a jersey, and turning to social media. Spread the word and grow the game.