What was once an elite league for women’s ice hockey, the Western Women’s Hockey League has descended into a downward spiral. The league’s greatest moment was when the Minnesota Whitecaps won the 2010 Clarkson Cup against the Brampton Thunder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Since then, the league has contracted, with the Minnesota Whitecaps and Manitoba Maple Leafs left to pick up the pieces.
In reality, the time is now to either lift the league out of the doldrums or start a brand-new league and begin to pick up momentum. While the rival CWHL features some of the finest women’s hockey talent in North America, the five-team league does not have all the talent. During the 2013 CWHL Draft, legendary WCHA players such as Megan Bozek, Brianna Decker, Noora Raty and the Lamoureux Twins were eligible for selection but did not declare.
Although the Sochi Winter Games likely had a small factor, the reality is that a new-look WWHL (or a new league altogether) with additional teams in the Midwest would provide these remarkable women with a place to keep playing after their NCAA careers while staying close to home. Preserving talent rather than wasting it, the initiative would pay huge dividends for the development of women’s hockey in the United States.
The current reality is that some former WCHA stars including Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin and Jen Schoullis made the sojourn eastward to compete with the CWHL’s Boston Blades franchise. While it has proven successful for them, not every player is willing to uproot and relocate across the country. Considering the amount of women’s hockey talent in New England, there is no reason that stars from the Midwest need to make such a commitment to continue playing.
Based on the number of Fortune 500 companies that have corporate headquarters in states such as Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, there must be an opportunity for sponsorships in order for a league to fund operating expenses. In the near future, players such as Hannah Brandt, Amanda Kessel and Alex Rigsby will no longer have a place to play as their NCAA careers will have reached its end. An elite league would not only benefit from their presence but it might also prove attractive to potential sponsors.
The added benefit of a league is the possibility that USA Hockey and/or Minnesota Hockey could provide consultation. Opportunities for collaboration along with helping to develop more women as coaches are a win-win situation. Women like Winny Brodt and Jenny Potter that helped build the modern rebirth of the game in Minnesota would also be key assets. As the quality of women’s hockey continues to grow, along with the increasing number of registered players in the Midwest, an elite league for women’s hockey needs to develop and grow after the Sochi Winter Games.
Considering how the Whitecaps have existed for years on a shoestring budget, surely, there must be some other individuals willing to commit towards forming some new teams and establishing an elite league. If no league exists, many of these players will just compete in a beer league, so why not go the extra mile?