Game on: Women’s hockey union takes 1st tangible step

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TORONTO — The reality of what the new women’s pro hockey union was launching didn’t resonate with Brianne Jenner until she came out of the locker room and saw the crowd – many of them young girls – in the stands of the 700-seat arena.

The leap of faith taken by the Canadian national team forward and more than 200 other top players – a pledged in May to not compete professionally in North America this season while demanding a single economically viable league – took its first tangible step in Toronto over the weekend.

The stars played in the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association “Dream Gap Tour” stop, which featured some 80 Canadian players split over four teams for a two-day tournament.

“I think going into today I underestimated how special it was going to be, being on the ice and when you felt the crowd,” Jenner said after the team named after her defeated Team (Rebecca) Johnston 4-3 in the opening game.

“I think the cheers that we heard were something bigger than just a hockey game. There was a lot of passion in that rink,” she added. “Last spring, when we had the announcement of the (Canadian Women’s Hockey League) folding, I don’t think too many of us thought we’d have this kind of event put together in the short time that we did. So to see the talent out there, to see the fans supporting us, it was a pretty special day.”

Historic, perhaps as well, Jenner added, because it provided players validation that they just might be on to something.

“It’s knowing what we’re doing is something that’s bigger than ourselves,” said fellow national team member Kacey Bellamy. “And 50 years from now, we’re going to look back and say, ‘Wow, we started this.'”

Though it might be premature for anyone to get ahead of themselves, the tour got off to a solid start.

The game began with a ceremonial faceoff featuring Hockey Night in Canada television fixtures Don Cherry and Ron MacLean, and PWHPA executive and Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford. And it ended with Jenna McParland stuffing in a rebound to break a 3-3 tie with 3:20 remaining.

Just as important was the turnout, both games were played in front of a mostly packed arena with single-game tickets costing $15.

More impressive was the large collection of corporate sponsors the union assembled to not only pay for the players’ travel, lodging and food, but also outfit them with jerseys and track suits emblazoned with the PWHPA logo.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, served as the title sponsor, and has also committed to paying for the four Canada-based teams’ practice times. Adidas provided the clothes. Budweiser was on board, while also offering up a lounge for fans. The NHL Players’ Association provided enough of a commitment to have its logo placed on the upper right chest of the jerseys.

Other sponsors included Secret, Bauer, Tim Hortons and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The “Dream Gap” name of the barn-storming tour represents the missing link for young girls who fear being limited to competing in college or the Olympics while never having a shot to play professionally.

The PWHPA is also made up of U.S. and European players and has already scheduled tour stops in New Hampshire and Chicago next month with more in the planning stages. American players also made their union debuts this weekend by playing games against Boston College and San Jose Sharks alumni.

Hefford, who served as the CWHL interim commissioner when it folded last spring, estimated the PWHPA has already attracted more financial support from sponsors than the Canadian league did in its final year.

“Companies are coming on I believe because they’ve come to understand the current circumstance of the game where you have a player like Marie-Philip Poulin or a Hilary Knight making $3,000 a year. People didn’t understand that,” Hefford said.

The players’ movement was borne out of the CWHL’s demise after a 12-year run in which it out-grew its limitations in relying on volunteers and how much it could pay players under Canadian tax laws. Another issue was players accepting the status quo of little-to-no compensation, with players spending their own money on everything from tape to airport parking for away games.

Sarah Nurse was dismayed by the playing conditions during her one CWHL season after completing her four-year college career at Wisconsin. She noted Badgers players were treated far better than the pros.

“When I came to the CWHL and I saw everybody so satisfied with what they had, it shocked me and it made me sad because it was like, ‘You guys, we’re so much better than this,'” Nurse said. “So when the CWHL folded it was honestly just the kick in the butt we needed to really put this thing in motion.”

What remains unclear is what the women’s pro hockey landscape will resemble a year from now, and whether the PWHPA can generate enough momentum to gain the attention of the game’s stakeholders, in particular Hockey Canada, USA Hockey and the NHL. Another question is the stability of the five-team, U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League, which is embarking on its fifth season without many of its most high-profile players.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has repeatedly said he doesn’t want to be viewed as “a bully” in pushing a women’s league out of business. He’s also said the NHL doesn’t believe in either of the league’s business models. Though the NHL provides funds to the NWHL, the league is mostly backed by private investors.

The players are pushing for the NHL to step in because it can provide them stability and the necessary infrastructure – from marketing to man-power – to promote and grow women’s hockey.

“It’s not about them just doing us a favor,” Hefford said of the NHL. “We bring content. We bring diversity and inclusion. We bring some entertainment value that people love.”

Though Jenner said every option is on the table, the NWHL isn’t considered a realistic option with players having already gone through the disappointment of the CWHL folding.

“It’s not about someone coming in and saying, ‘I have $20 million. I want to start a pro league, beautiful'” Hefford said. “That’s not what these players want. They want something that they know in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years down the road is going to be there, and it’s going to continue to grow and it’s going to be strong. So to me, you need that infrastructure and we never had that with the CWHL.”

Space Needle time capsule includes NHL Seattle’s final five name choices

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Seattle NHL’s expansion franchise will have an official name sometime in 2020, but as of Monday the team is down to five choices ahead of their entry to the league for the 2021-22 season.

On Monday, a time capsule that was sealed and won’t be opened until the famed Seattle Space Needle’s 100th birthday included items such as Nirvana records, Twinkies, one share of Amazon stock, and signed baseballs from Seattle Mariners legends.

The stainless steel and aluminum capsule stands over three feet tall and weighs more than 160 pounds. It will hold over 100 items, including one hockey-related inside.

While we’ll know what the NHL Seattle franchise will be called some time next year, come April 21, 2062, when the time capsule is opened, inside will be an envelope featuring the final five options for the team’s nickname. The odds are low, but we may have a long wait to learn what choices were debated before the ownership group landed on something like Emeralds, Sockeyes, Cougars, Kraken, Rainiers, Totems, or something else.

“Every name has a nuance,” NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke told the team’s website in August. “Our job is to think through the nuances. Sometimes the best intended names can mean one thing to one group and another thing to another group. It is important the name reflects the values of the Pacific Northwest.”

“Those who think we are sitting on a predetermined name, nope,” Leiweke added. “We work on this every day. We are right on time with the naming process. We are still on a journey of self-identity but also on a journey to understand not just what we are but what we aren’t. Names that might have made sense a year ago, today don’t make as much sense.”

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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.

Boyle ready for ‘great opportunity’ with Panthers

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Life threw Brian Boyle another curveball.

Expecting to be signed this summer when he was an unrestricted free agent, the 34-year-old forward did not latch on with any NHL teams, either through a contract or a tryout. Boyle had planned to be in a training camp somewhere with his family settled, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he had to wait for a call from a serious suitor.

Working with a trainer back home in Massachusetts, Boyle kept in shape as best he could all while keeping in contact with teams, including the Panthers, who signed the veteran to a one-year deal on Sunday.

“This is a great opportunity,” Boyle said Monday. “This checks so many boxes. Ultimately, I’ve been around, I’ve played a lot of games, I’ve played in playoff games. I really just want to win. That’s really all that’s left to do.”

The 3-2-3 Panthers aren’t off to the start they hoped, but Boyle’s experience will serve them well in a season where expectations are high following a summer where Joel Quenneville and Sergei Bobrovsky were among their big additions.

“He played a lot of playoff games, meaningful games,” Quenneville said. “Big games are something that we want to get to. There’s some veteran experience that’s going to come out as we go through the season. He wants to be here, and I think it’s a good fit in a lot of ways.”

Boyle, who beat leukemia after a 2017 diagnosis and dealt with severe medical issues with his young son as well that season, has 766 regular season games and 114 playoff games, which includes back-to-back Stanley Cup Final appearances in 2014 and 2015, under his belt. It was a bit of a surprise he went unsigned for so long, but now he’s relishing the opportunity to be back in the NHL.

“It worked out. There were waves,” Boyle said. “I was up and I was down, some days when you’re bummed out wondering if you’re going to get the call and other days that you’re excited. I’ve had a great career. I’m not owed anything by this league. It’s a privilege to be in, and I’m happy I’m back.”

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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.

PHT Morning Skate: Hawerchuk’s cancer fight; NHLers on rules

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk is undergoing chemotherapy after being diagnosed with stomach cancer in August, saying he is optimistic as he battles “the fight of my life.” [TSN]

• Before Monday night’s game against Columbus, Mitch Marner paid tribute to seven-year-old Hayden Foulon, who passed away over the weekend after battling leukemia for the past six years. [Sportsnet]

• NHL players talk about the current rules they’d love to see changed: “Losing in a shootout, it’s probably the worst feeling ever. I’d rather, you know, lose it going against your opponents and fighting for it.” [Toronto Star]

Ben Bishop‘s home was damaged turned a tornado that hit the Dallas area on Sunday. A house that Tyler Seguin is currently selling was also damaged. The Stars forward moved to a different home last November. [Dallas Morning News]

• Why the struggling Blues need to find the “buy-in” again. [Post-Dispatch]

• Trade winds may be swirling around Kyle Turris, but his play has been strong for the Predators. [Nashville Post]

• Local boy Sam Lafferty is authoring a really nice story with the Penguins. [Tribune-Review]

• Flames defenseman Travis Hamonic has a lot of “old school” in him. [Calgary Herald]

• Should the Flyers trust Alain Vigneault’s process? [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

• Paul Maurice on how the Jets want to approach shot blocking. [Jets]

• A ranking of “worst to first” jerseys for the Jets. [Hockey by Design]

• The Rangers are “struggling” to find out what’s gone wrong during their current losing streak. [NHL.com]

• Andrew MacDonald has signed a one-year deal with SC Bern of the Swiss league. [Swiss Hockey News]

• Explaining Todd McLellan’s system for the LA Kings. [Frozen Royalty]

• Colby Saganiuk making impression with U.S. Under-17 team. [NHL.com]

• Ovie the Bulldog talks friendships, snacks and what he’d do as NHL commissioner for a day. [Dog o’Day]

• Finally, what’s a number worth? A pretty good haul for the Panthers’ Frank Vatrano:

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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.

Russian hockey team fined for coach’s arson threat

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MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian hockey team has been fined after its coach threatened to set fire to a referee’s car.

The Kontinental Hockey League fined Amur Khabarovsk 300,000 rubles ($4,700) after coach Alexander Gulyavtsev shouted ”I’m going to set fire to your car in Perm,” a reference to the Russian city where both he and referee Viktor Gashilov are from.

Gulyavtsev was protesting a penalty awarded against his team in Monday’s game against Dynamo Moscow.

Gulyavtsev later claimed he meant the comments as ”a joke,” adding that ”I just said car, it’s not as if I said apartment.”

However, the KHL ruled the comments breached its rules on insulting and threatening officials. The league warned Amur that cases like this ”tarnish the image” of the league.

Dynamo Moscow won 5-1.