PWHPA

Women’s players hope NHL All-Star Weekend helps their cause

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ST. LOUIS — Annie Pankowski got an email from the NHL asking if she’d like to be a part of its All-Star Weekend and jumped at the opportunity.

Then she found out she wouldn’t be alone.

A year after U.S. teammate Kendall Coyne Schofield grabbed the spotlight by becoming the first woman to take part in the fastest skater event, she and Pankowski will be among the 20 women’s hockey players participating in a 3-on-3 game during the NHL All-Star Skills Competition on Friday night. It’s the NHL’s biggest showcase of women’s hockey thus far, though it’s still unclear what it means for the future of the sport.

“Everything we do all the time is to build women’s hockey,” Pankowski said Thursday. “We’re excited to be here and (have this) showcase. It’s going to be great for women’s hockey in general, great for visibility.”

The NHL invited 19 players who are part of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association – and Alex Carpenter, who’s playing in China – in large part because they’re some of the top U.S. and Canadian national team players. But it has also been careful not to choose sides in the ongoing stalemate between the PWHPA and the National Women’s Hockey League, whose members pledged to boycott in an attempt to force a move toward a more sustainable league that pays players enough to make a living.

Players are being paid to be a part of All-Star festivities, and there’s hope that including them in a marquee NHL event advances women’s hockey.

“We’re honored and delighted to have them participating because I believe that our platform shines an even greater light on them,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

The U.S. will face Canada in a 20-minute 3-on-3 game, and two players will join NHL counterparts in a new event shooting pucks from the stands at targets on the ice. But after the likes of Hilary Knight, Amanda Kessel and Marie-Philip Poulin leave St. Louis, the challenge continues to map out what women’s hockey will look like in the years and decades ahead.

Some in the women’s hockey community would like the NHL to start its own league, like the NBA did with the WNBA. The NHL has said repeatedly it would not interfere while a league currently exists, and officials say All-Star Weekend isn’t evidence of choosing the PWHPA over the NWHL.

“We want to continue to be at the forefront of positioning and showcasing the best and the brightest women in our sport,” NHL executive vice president Kim Davis said. “Our role is to really be that North Star to ensure that all up and down the hockey spine understands the importance of women and girls in the sport and that when ultimately decisions are made about one, two or however many leagues ultimately happen, that there’s a pipeline of talent, pipeline of girls and women in the sport so that we continue to grow that sport in a successful way.”

At the very least, women’s players see their high-profile role in All-Star Weekend as a sign that the NHL is on their side.

“That platform, I think it’s going to be huge,” Poulin said. “It’s all about women’s hockey. We want to grow it together. We want to grow all of this together.”

That could take some time. The NWHL is in the midst of its fifth season with five teams and none of the 150-plus players in the PWHPA, which is staging exhibitions around North America and attempting to raise awareness about the game.

This is another chance to do that.

“I think we’ve got to keep going,” Pankowski said. “Pick up momentum through this weekend, maybe even make it even bigger, and with this showcase, there may be more people joining in in our movement and having something set in the next couple years.”

AP Source: NHL All-Star game to feature women 3-on-3 event

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Women’s national team players representing the United States and Canada will compete in a 3-on-3 event at the NHL All-Star game in St. Louis in two weeks, a person with direct knowledge of the plan said Monday.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the NHL isn’t scheduled to make an announcement until later this week. ESPN.com first reported the development Sunday night.

It’s unclear when the scrimmage will be held during the weekend of festivities. The All-Star game, featuring a series of 3-on-3 games, is Jan. 25, a day after the skills competition.

The addition of a women’s 3-on-3 game is seen as the latest step in the league’s bid to promote women’s hockey.

Last year, four women were invited to take part in All-Star weekend events in San Jose, California. American forward Kendall Coyne Schofield became the first woman to participate in the skills competition. She replaced injured Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon and finished seventh of eight in the fastest-skater competition.

In December 2015, teams representing the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League played an exhibition game leading to the 2016 Winter Classic in Boston.

The 3-on-3 scrimmage will feature some of the world’s highest-profile players. The event comes at a time the women’s game is in flux after the six-team CWHL folded last spring, leaving only the five-team NWHL.

The CWHL’s demise eventually led to more than 200 of the world’s top players announcing they wouldn’t play professionally this season in North America, including the NWHL. They also formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association to push for establishing a single league with a sustainable economic model.

The PWHPA has since launched a series of barnstorming tours around North America, its most recent stop in Toronto last weekend. The NWHL is in the middle of its fifth season, with teams made up of patchwork rosters.

A large majority – if not all – of the players taking part in the NHL All-Star scrimmage will be PWHPA members.

Latest PWHPA ‘Dream Gap Tour’ stop to be held in Toronto

TORONTO — The Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association’s latest barn-storming stop will be back in Toronto and feature six teams.

The PWHPA on Wednesday announced its fourth Dream Gap Tour stop will be held January 11-12 in northern Toronto. There will be 120 players participating, representing the largest turnout of the association’s four stops to date.

The series was launched in Toronto in September, followed by weekend events in New Hampshire and Chicago last month.

The PWHPA is made up of about 200 of the world’s top players and was established in May after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded. The players have pledged not to play professionally in North America this season in a bid to gain support to establish a single league with a sustainable economic model.

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.”

Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford to oversee new women’s hockey union

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The Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association has selected Hockey Hall of Fame player Jayna Hefford to oversee its daily operations in a leadership shuffle three months after the union was founded.

Hefford becomes the operations consultant and succeeds Bryan Hicks, who was hired on July 1. Her duties will include generating revenue and attracting sponsors. The PWHPA didn’t provide details on why the change was made in its news release Wednesday.

Hefford was the interim commissioner of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before it ceased operations this spring. Hefford is among just three female players to win four Olympic gold medals during her 17 years with Canada’s national team.

The union was formed in May in the wake of the CWHL folding, followed by more than 200 players pledging to sit out the upcoming season in North America in a bid to establish a single, economically viable professional league.

The CWHL’s demise left the U.S.-based, five-team National Women’s Hockey League as North America’s only pro league.