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Need for one pro league the new focus for women’s hockey

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By Stephen Whyno and John Wawrow (AP Sports)

Liz Knox didn’t get a chance to rest.

A day after making 24 saves to backstop her team to a road win and then flying home from Boston, the goaltender for the Markham Thunder worked her day job as a carpenter from 6 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, took a 10-minute nap, went for a four-mile run and squeezed in a workout before dinner.

”If we were making a living wage, it’s not a big deal because I can sleep in today and go to the gym when I’m ready and have the facilities there to train,” Knox said. ”If it’s your full-time job, then that’s your full-time job and you can pay for your rent and everything else on top of that.”

For now, playing women’s hockey professionally in North America isn’t lucrative enough to be a full-time job, save for the U.S. and Canadian Olympians who earn money from their national federations. In the aftermath of the U.S. winning gold at the Winter Games, several players have used their platform on a whirlwind victory tour to make the case for one professional league where there are currently two competitors: the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and National Women’s Hockey League.

”I don’t play in the CWHL or the NWHL so I have no personal preference,” U.S. shootout hero Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said. ”For women’s hockey to continue its traction is to have one league, whether that’s a merger or an entirely new league that supports both the U.S. and Canada in one league, I think is going to be really important in the next season to somehow make that happen.”

Current and former players have taken to social media to promote the concept of (hash)OneLeague that could pay long-term dividends for the sport. It’s a complicated issue muddled in the uncertainty between the CWHL, NHWL and NHL with, so far, no obvious path forward.

The compelling journey of the U.S. team from its fight for a better contract from USA Hockey to its thrilling victory against Canada at the Olympics brought positive attention to women’s hockey that is now in danger of being cut short.

”After the Olympics, all the conversation was: ‘Why can’t I watch this on a day-to-day basis? Why can’t I watch this every weekend?’ Well, you can’t because the talent is split right now between two leagues,” said Knox, one of the co-chairs of the CWHL Players Association. ”Merging is probably never going to work. There’s just too many differences between the two leagues and that’s been evident from the very beginning.”

The CWHL , now in its 11th season, has seven teams split between the U.S., Canada and China. The NWHL began in 2015 and has four U.S.-based teams.

What also divides the two are salary and bonus structures.

The NWHL has paid its players a salary from its inception: Between $10,000 and $26,000 in its first season to between $5,000 and $7,000 now. The CWHL previously focused on paying staff and player travel costs before committing to paying players starting this past year – anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, with a team salary cap of $100,000.

”Our framework has allowed for us to maintain sustainability and measured growth, and that trend will continue,” said Brenda Andress, commissioner of the nonprofit CWHL, which has partnered with NHL teams in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary. Partnerships can include financial assistance, marketing and promotions, ice time and office space.

The NHWL is on better financial footing than it was last season, when the league was forced to cut player salaries in half to avoid the risk of folding. It now has an affiliation with the New Jersey Devils for financial and other support, and Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the Buffalo Beauts to make them the first team not owned and managed by the league.

”Team USA’s thrilling victory over Canada for the gold medal captivated the nation and showed a glimpse of the potential for women’s hockey in our country,” a Pegula Sports & Entertainment spokesman said. ”We believe that women’s hockey has an extremely bright future and are heavily committed to doing our part to continue its advancement.”

Neither league would address any notion of specific merger talks.

”One of the founding principles of the NWHL is to advance women’s hockey,” NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said. ”If anyone has a formal plan or ever wants to discuss how we can take the business of professional women’s hockey to the next level, the NWHL will always engage with them and do what’s best for the game, the players, our supporters and fans.”

Knox and others would love for the NHL to step in and run a league like the NBA has with the WNBA.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s stance on women’s pro hockey hasn’t changed since the NWHL was established. It’s a position he recently reiterated on Calgary’s 960-Radio by saying the two leagues must first sort out their situations.

”Having two leagues makes it more difficult for us to get involved,” Bettman said. ”If there were no leagues, we’d probably start one under the NHL umbrella, and I’ve told both leagues that. But I have no interest in competing with the existing leagues. I think that would be counterproductive.”

Andress said the CWHL has always believed in the need for one league called it ”where the future of the women’s professional game has always been heading.”

No one’s quite sure what that would look like.

”Your guess is as good as mine,” said U.S. captain Meghan Duggan, who has played in the CWHL and NWHL. ”It would be awesome if we could work together and if they could work together and figure out a way to get everyone playing under the same umbrella.”

U.S. forward Hilary Knight, who is back in the CWHL playing for Les Canadiennes in Montreal after two seasons with the NWHL’s Boston Pride, said whatever it looks like, it’s vital for the growth of the game to have a single league that pays a living wage.

”If I have a child and I’m going to sign them up, if they were to take this seriously, what’s the career path? If they fall in love with the game, what career path are they going to have?” said Knight, who signed with Montreal last week. ”Is there going to be a place for them to play after college if they’re not going to be in the national team program or whatnot?”

Right now, those are unanswered questions. Even though Knox is Canadian, she can’t help but be happy that the Olympic championship won by the Americans has put the one-league conundrum in the spotlight.

”That’s the biggest voice that we have right now in North America,” Knox said. ”The stuff that they’re doing right now and helping to promote the idea that we could all play in one league is really, really important for the growth of women’s hockey here in North America.”

It’s an effort borne out of frustration for players who want nothing more than to play with and against each other in the same league instead of being forced to choose. They know fans also have to split their attention, which isn’t necessarily a sustainable way to build the popularity of women’s hockey.

”A lot of people only discover women’s hockey every four years at the Olympics,” Knight said. ”We’re here every single year, every single day training and there’s places that you can come see us, but we just don’t have those marketing dollars, those resources behind us to really bridge the gap between a product and the consumer. Hopefully combining efforts would help take care of that and we can get some big names on board to help fix that problem.”

Bruins will way to Game 7 win against Maple Leafs

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Once again, the Boston Bruins finished a Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, riding an overpowering third period. In the case of Wednesday’s game, the end result was a 7-4 win for the Bruins.

The 2018 edition featured some similarities to the Bruins’ 5-4 win back in 2013.

  • A Maple Leafs team headed for the summer shaking their heads and with some serious soul-searching to do.
  • The heartache that comes with the Leafs giving up leads. Toronto was up 1-0, 2-1, and 4-3. This wasn’t a collapse of the “It was 4-1” variety, but the Maple Leafs squandered multiple leads nonetheless.

  • The Bruins simply ran away with things in the third period. Boston went from being down 4-3 to winning 7-4. That domination included the Bruins keeping the Maple Leafs from registering a shot on goal through the first eight minutes of the final frame.

In the case of this latest Game 7, there were times when it seemed like the last shot on goal might be the winner.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Really, it was a nightmare game for both goalies. Frederik Andersen‘s Game 7 heartache is no longer limited to his time with the Anaheim Ducks, as he gave up six goals, including a few that are likely to haunt him during the off-season. The Lightning must be licking their chops at the prospect of exploiting what might be a fragile goalie in Tuukka Rask; the Bruins ended up on top in this one, yet Rask gave up four goals on 24 shots.

(Maybe a solid finish will help bolster his self-esteem? Rask stopped all eight Maple Leafs SOG in the third period after giving up those four goals on the first 18 shots he faced.)

If you want to summarize Game 7 in one video clip, Jake DeBrusk‘s second goal of the night (and eventual game-winner) could suffice. The Bruins simply demanded this win, showing off their skill and will while flabbergasting the overmatched Maple Leafs and a struggling Andersen:

Several players came up big on each side. DeBrusk scored those two goals and was quite the presence overall. Charlie McAvoy logged 26:43 of ice time with a +1 rating, while a blocked shot apparently didn’t really throw off Zdeno Chara, who managed a +2 rating and 28:38 TOI. Despite some warranted criticisms, David Krejci did manage to generate three assists, adding to a substantial playoff resume for his career. Patrick Marleau provided more than just a “veteran presence” for the Maple Leafs, scoring two goals during a zany first period.

Still, when it comes to the Maple Leafs, many will linger on those who fell short.

Andersen’s struggles were considerable, rounding out a remarkably hot-and-cold series overall. Auston Matthews failed to score a point despite firing four SOG, finishing the series with just a single goal and single assist. Jake Gardiner had an awful Game 7, suffering a -5 rating and absorbing some of the blame for multiple bad moments.

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Gardiner said “most” of the loss was on him and that the defenseman had tears in his eyes while asking questions.

“I didn’t show up,” Gardiner said.

The Bruins eliminated the Maple Leafs in an exhilarating fashion, carrying over an impressive regular season of puck-hogging play. They have plenty of room for improvement, something Jack Adams finalist Bruce Cassidy will surely emphasize as they turn their sights to a rested, versatile opponent in the Lightning.

If it’s anything like Bruins – Leafs, it should be thrilling … and maybe a goalie’s nightmare.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info

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The second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs is now set, thanks to the Boston Bruins winning Game 7 over the Toronto Maple Leafs, 7-4. The Bruins will move on to face the Tampa Bay Lightning, while the Pittsburgh Penguins will meet the Washington Capitals to complete the Eastern Conference bracket. Out West, the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets will battle out of the Central Division and the Vegas Golden Knights take on the San Jose Sharks.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Here’s the full second round schedule, which kicks off with two games on Thursday night:

* if necessary
TBD – To Be Determined

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Kapanen overwhelms Marchand, scores ridiculous goal

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To the chagrin of the coaches and goalies, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are keeping things hectic during the second period of Game 7.

Kasperi Kapanen seems like he’s perpetually battling for a permanent/more prominent spot with the Maple Leafs, but it’s not for a lack of trying or moxie. He’s been hitting posts on some near-misses lately, but saved some magic for tonight.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

You can see that in a 4-3 goal that currently stands as the Maple Leafs’ lead. Kapanen overpowers Brad Marchand and then outwaits Tuukka Rask for an absolutely tremendous shorthanded goal.

(Check out that goal in the video above this post’s headline.)

Impressive, especially considering who that came against. At one point, the Maple Leafs had converted on both of their shots on goal early in the second period to go from being down 3-2 to up 4-3. As mentioned after that wild first period, you have to wonder about both goalies’ confidence, but that’s especially true of Rask right now.

To be fair, Kapanen’s showed a real knack for scoring big goals so far during his brief NHL career. As you may remember, he scored the game-winner in double overtime of Game 2 against the Washington Capitals during that tight series to start the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also helped them punch their ticket to the postseason in 2016-17 with his first NHL goal.

Then again, maybe this sort of goal is in the blood? Kasperi Kapanen’s shorthanded goal feels reminiscent of a great goal by his father Sami Kapanen:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins – Leafs Game 7 off to wild start, Reilly hit by puck

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You can forgive fans of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for hyperventilating right now, unless they’re merely staring blankly at their screens.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

Game 7 accelerated to 100 mph seemingly in mere seconds on Wednesday:

  • After a Sean Kuraly penalty, Patrick Marleau deflected a puck past Tuukka Rask to give Toronto a stunning 1-0 lead off of a power-play goal just 2:05 into the contest.
  • A delay of game infraction gave the Bruins a chance to tie things up on the power play, and they did just that as David Krejci and David Pastrnak set up Jake DeBrusk. That happened 4:47 into the game.
  • Less than two minutes later, Patrick Marleau scored again, giving Toronto a 2-1 edge that wouldn’t last.
  • The two teams combined for four goals through less than half of the first period, as Danton Heinen showed why he should be playing with the 2-2 goal with 11:50 remaining in the opening frame.
  • The Bruins took their first lead (3-2) of Game 7 with less than a minute left in the first period thanks to a goal by Patrice Bergeron.

Those were just the goals, too, as there were some close calls, making you wonder about the confidence of Rask and Frederik Andersen:

The two teams are also accruing some bumps and bruises, which must be to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s liking.

In the most dramatic instance, Brad Marchand ducked a high Zdeno Chara shot, leaving an unsuspecting Morgan Rielly to take a puck to the face. It’s a scary moment, although the good news is that Rielly was able to return for the beginning of the second period.

Yikes.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Chara also seemed stung by a blocked shot during the first period, as he took a puck to his ankle/foot area. He didn’t appear to miss any time, and it would be tough to imagine him not fighting through it during a Game 7, yet you wonder if the hulking defenseman’s mobility might be hindered after that.

The Bruins and Leafs already put on a show through 20 minutes. We’ll see who’s left standing to face the Bolts, whether this game ends in regulation or hits sudden death in a Game 7.

*Gulp*

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.