Thursday, 29 December 2016

Could a merger really work between the NWHL and the CWHL?

Since the NWHL’s opening faceoff, there is an appearance of serious undercurrents about tensions and/or hatred taking place between them and the CWHL. While the Women’s Winter Classic should have been a brilliant showcase highlighting the talents between both leagues, significant media coverage leading up to the event only focused on the animosity between the existences of both leagues.

Unfortunately, that black cloud was an ominous harbinger of things to come. Not only did the contest end in a 1-1 tie, as relations between the league remained in stasis, a devastating injury to Denna Laing (who played in both leagues), cutting such a promising career short, is a tragic legacy of the event. Through no fault of her own, said injury also held symbolic connotations, as both leagues should have worked together in a collaborative victory, using their platforms to raise funds for medical expenses, along with increased awareness on injury prevention, but only one league exerted such measures while the other opted to remain somewhat neutral.

Sadly, a sophomore slump plagued the NWHL as reduced attendance and dwindling revenues forced a re-evaluation of their salary structure, bringing about very painful cuts. Undoubtedly, said cuts have brought out the cynics and the skeptics, eagerly predicting the ambitious league’s demise.

Taking into account that the players have displayed tremendous professionalism, taking to the ice and remaining loyal to the game and their gracious fans, it reinforces the notion that the players are the heartbeat of any league. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest aspects to the NWHL’s inaugural season was an emphasis on recognizing the world class efforts of the non-Olympic talent, subsequently extending their careers.

Such players (like Brittany Ott, Madison Packer, Kelley Steadman and Shelby Bram among others) not only got a chance to shine, proving that they could be ambassadors for the league, but fan favorites as well. Fittingly, many of these non-Olympic stars made their mark at the NWHL All-Star Game in Buffalo.

Even though the NWHL should stay the course and find ways to be more innovative going forward, the harsh reality is that the spectre of merging shall not go away anytime soon. If the NWHL is unable to regroup and folds, there is no question it will set the professional women’s game in the United States will be set back at least a decade, evaporating any momentum that may have been built, while extinguishing many promising careers.

For a surviving league to not pick up the remnants (it could probably do so with unpaid players), it would likely work against them. Not only does it open the door for another rival league to take place in the future, such a league could have more financial clout and a more ruthless approach, potentially haunting the cautious league into a regrettable oblivion.

Considering that the season (2017-18) to follow shall be an indicator of each league’s viability, with hockey superpowers Canada and the US both holding centralization in preparation for the Winter Games, it will be a challenge to see which league can recruit, and retain, the best talent available.

Traditionally, professionally sports cannot exist with the presence of rival leagues. Football saw the NFL absorb the entire AFL, while portions of the ABA and WHA were granted entry into the NBA and the NHL. These mergers were based on the existing (and escalating) fight for talent, while increasing salaries cripple cash flow and certain markets become battlegrounds, such as Boston has become with clubs in both professional women’s leagues. 

Considering that a significant aspect to the game’s future shall take place in the United States, the admirable efforts of the NWHL to establish strong markets, especially in New York State, along with bringing its second All-Star Game to Pittsburgh, not only comprise part of the league’s legacy, it is a platform upon which to keep building the game.

One could argue that there is no obligation between these two leagues to merge, regardless of which league is better operated, but if either league were to collapse, there is an argument that the other would need to provide an assist for the greater good of the game.  Realistically, there are components from both leagues that could be applied to one amalgamated super league and put it in the proper direction.

Not only did the dedication of the players prevent the NWHL from folding after its visceral announcement concerning salary reductions, the reality is that the CWHL is an unpaid league, which survives because of the loyalty of its players. While the NWHL’s biggest criticism was its secret investor (which may emerge as its Achilles heel), it did many great things, including the arrival of Dunkin Donuts as a premier sponsor, along with a remarkable amount of media exposure in its inaugural season. One could argue that such attention in one season was more than its Canadian counterparts ever accumulated in its entire existence.

Should a merger actually take place, the reality is that it needs to be one that works not only for the players, but for the fans as well. A list of ground rules should be established that all parties can agree to:

Hire a new commissioner that both sides can agree on

Neither CWHL czar Brenda Andress nor NWHL founder Dani Rylan should be allowed to run a new amalgamated league, simply because it would make it appear that one league won over another or that one individual holds more influence, altering the perceived balance of power among fans.

Both individuals could still remain involved, either contributing as heads of divisions, board members, or even be allowed to pull double duty and also be granted GM positions. Realistically, Rylan would bring a much more visually appealing approach helping to promote a superleague in a PR role, while Andress is likely better suited in an administrative capacity.

Someone with a strong background in women’s sports, but not hockey (seriously) would have to be agreed upon as a new commissioner. If a new hire is brought in with a hockey background, it may create further tensions, likely perceiving them as influencing and/or manipulative. A name that comes to mind as a possible candidate (or compromise choice) for commissioner would be Val Ackerman, who worked tirelessly during the early years of the WNBA.

Give the league a new name

Even if the CWHL were to rename a merged league as the Continental Women’s Hockey League, it would not work because the acronym would suggest that it is the superior league to the former NWHL. Once again, no league can appear to be a winner. A complete rebranding would have to take place, such as the WNHA – Women’s National Hockey Association. There would be one Canadian division comprising the CWHL teams and an American division with the NWHL teams.

Compensation structure would have to change

Undoubtedly, the efforts of the NWHL to provide a living wage to its players hit an unfortunate snag in its second season. In a merged league, compensation would have to exist but in a much different way. In an 18-game season, each player could earn $225 per game ($4050 per season). For a roster of 20 players, that would comprise $81,000 per team.

Financial incentives could be provided for whichever player captures the league scoring title, rookie scoring title, goaltending title, along with compensation for appearances at the All-Star Game and in the championship game.

No interdivision travel

In order to control costs, Canadian and American teams would no longer play each other. One of the Boston teams could either relocate to Canada or fold altogether. The division champions (determined by postseason play) would play each other for the Clarkson Cup in a neutral site, preferably an NHL arena. Both teams would receive compensation for appearing in the finals. An exception to this rule would be participation in an outdoor game.

Keep the Isobel Cup

Taking into account that the Isobel Cup represents a proud chapter in professional American women’s hockey, it deserves to survive in a merged league. The American-based team that finishes with the best regular season record could be awarded the Isobel Cup in recognition.

Have no more than 10 teams in the league and just 1 in Boston

So much of the dysfunction between these leagues took place because of Boston having two teams.  It altered the talent pool and decimated the Blades. One team should remain while the other could relocate to Winnipeg, providing the Calgary Inferno with a much needed Western-based rival. The American division could welcome the Minnesota Whitecaps, giving the team a long overdue place in a professional league.

Consider a closer relationship with both the AHL and the OHL

There seems to be this fantasy that one day, the NHL shall be the white knight for women’s hockey, transforming pro hockey into a WNHL, making it flush with cash and providing everyone with a living wage. Sadly, this appears to be a pipe dream at the moment.

Realistically, women’s hockey needs to make itself more appealing in order to attract big league interest. For now, a merged league would have to look at building relationships with leagues such as the American Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League.

With the impact of the Buffalo Beauts and the New York Riveters, they could easily align themselves with multiple teams in the AHL because so many are based in New York State. Between Albany, Binghamton, Rochester and Utica, the opportunities for promotion are endless.

As a side note, the Toronto Furies have participated in women’s hockey day with the AHL’s Marlies and it is an important event on each team’s hockey calendar. If the Furies and Thunder could work more closely with teams in the Ontario Hockey League, it could work beneficially for both sides as each league markets itself as value for families, which could result in increased marketing and brand awareness for both.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Raty vs. Raisanen the greatest moment in 2015-16 season

In a season filled with many exciting moments, from the inaugural NWHL season to Boston College going undefeated in the regular season, an unknown Valerie Lamenta claiming the Brodrick Trophy, two overtime thrillers for the US in IIHF play, plus a historic Clarkson Cup for the Calgary Inferno, one moment shone above all. Taking place in Finland, it was an event that truly signified the growth of women’s ice hockey and the potential for this generation of players (and the next) to keep breaking barriers.

Having both competed with Finland’s national team, goaltenders Noora Raty, 26, and Meeri Raisanen, 25, are among two of the world’s finest. Among Raisanen’s finest accomplishments, she backstopped Finland to a bronze medal at the 2015 IIHF Women’s Worlds, while Raty also obtained bronze at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

Although both played at the NCAA level in the United States, neither had played each other there. Raty with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, helped the team to an undefeated season as a senior. Raisanen would spend the 2010-11 season with the Robert Morris Colonials (based near Pittsburgh), but struggled with a 3-8-4 record.

In November 2015, Raty and Raisanen would become opponents, but not in the expected setting of a women’s league. Instead, the two were on opposite ends of the ice during a contest in the Suomi-Sarja (men’s third league in Finland), an unprecedented first in hockey history.

Considering that professional hockey in North America has never seen two women’s goaltenders go head-to-head in regular season or playoff competition, it was a match that generated headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. Sadly, only 70 people were in attendance for the historic match.

According to Finnish outlet Ilta-Sanomat, both team’s head coaches were in agreement that the two would play each other when the two teams faced off for the first time in the season. Ironically, both coaches, Joni Petrell (KJT) and Tommi Nekkula (D-Kiekko) were no longer with the team by the time that the game took place. Instead, Jarmo Raiha (KJT) and Jari Tapper (D-Kiekko) occupied the position but remained faithful to the decision of their predecessors.

Standing between the pipes for KJT, Raty, who fought the flu and nearly did not play, would emerge victorious against D-Kiekko, which saw Raisanen guard their crease. Despite a 5-2 final, it was a closely contested game throughout the first two periods. As a side note, the referees for this historic match were Pekka Kemppinen, Tom Lonnqvist, Jussi Hanninen

Otto Leppanen would make his mark in this historic contest. From the outset, he scored the game’s opening goal, as KJT enjoyed a 1-0 lead after one period of play.

During the second stanza, both teams managed to find the back of the net, adding to the intensity. Saku Piha would bury the puck past Raisanen as KJT enjoyed a 2-0 advantage. With Raty continuously denying D-Kiekko of scoring opportunities, the opportunity of a shutout would have only added to the feeling of history.

Such momentum was not meant to be. With 2:01 left, D-Kiekko broke Raty’s shutout bid as Aku Palsola scored. Assists were credited to Henri Niemi and Joni Kumpulainen as KJT’s lead was reduced. The third period would result in more scoring, although the outcome in the game’s final minutes was entirely unforeseen.

Merely 37 seconds into the third period, Kumpulainen aided his own cause, tying the score at 2-apiece. It marked the first time in the game that D-Kiekko was able to overcome a deficit and tie the score. Tomi Martikainen and Samuli Paananen logged the assists in a valiant effort.

With the tie score, the result was a defensive stalemate for over 10 minutes of play. Raty continued to provide KJT with an opportunity to remain competitive, as D-Kiekko tried to gain its first lead of the game.

Instead, the momentum would turn in KJT’s favor as Leppanen scored his second goal of the game. Scored at the 51:56 mark, said goal would stand as the game winner, with Piha gaining the assist for his second point of the game.

Raty would continue to be tested as the period progressed. With less than three minutes remaining, the score was still 3-2 in favor of KJT. Opting for an extra attacker, D-Kiekko played with an empty net, removing Raisanen from the game.

Capitalizing on the empty net, Leppanen would get the hat trick on an unassisted goal at the 58:15 mark. Undeterred, D-Kiekko continued to play with the extra attacker, leaving Raisanen on the bench. The result was another KJT goal, as Joel Narhi buried the puck with only 13 seconds remaining in a 5-2 final.

Undoubtedly, Raty proved to be the most valuable player of the game. She was crucial throughout as D-Kiekko outshot KJT by an astounding 17-2 margin in the third period. Of note, KJT was also outshot in the first two periods, 7-5 in the first, followed by a 12-7 mark in the second. Raty would record 36 saves, compared to just 14 for Raisanen.

Last season, Raty had also played in Finnish men’s hockey. Starting with the Mestis-league (second division play), Raty stood between the pipes for Kiekko-Vantaa, seeing action in 8 games. Before season’s end, she would also make six appearances with Bewe Tuus Ki, a club in the Suomi-Sarja league. Perhaps the most unique aspect of her season was the fact that her Minions-themed hockey mask was considered one of the most stylish masks in all of hockey, male and female.

Raisanen has seen action for two clubs this season, although different from Raty’s experience. Of note, she is competing in both men’s and women’s hockey leagues in her native Finland, another rare and admirable feat, making her one of the most intriguing figures in women’s hockey.

In addition to competing with D-Kiekko, she also occupies the goaltending position for JYP in the women’s Liiga. Last season, she played in the Russian women’s league. As a side note, Raty did start the 2015-16 season with the Minnesota Whitecaps, a professional women's team in the United States, appearing in a series of exhibition games.

Such a feat has never been accomplished in North America. Although Shannon Szabados, who plays men’s hockey in the SPHL, had her playing rights acquired by the CWHL’s Calgary Inferno, she has never managed both leagues in one season.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Howe Amazing a team close to elite goaltender's heart

Among the rookie class on Canada’s national women’s team at the 2016 IIHF Women’s Worlds, goaltender Erica Howe has experienced a season filled with milestones. Standing between the pipes for the CWHL’s Brampton Thunder, she also backstopped the club to its first postseason appearance since 2013. Of all the teams she has played with this season, the one that may carry the most emotion goes by the sobriquet, Howe Amazing.
The core of Team Howe Amazing starts with her mom Jane, along with siblings Kathleen and Kevin, among others. Part of a group of friends and family that shall be running in the Brain Tumor Walk on June 18, it is Erica’s opportunity to pay tribute to her late father, Peter. Diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforma in March 2005, it is one of 120 variations of brain tumors. Her father would fight valiantly for over three years, before succumbing in November 2008 at 58 years young.

Sadly, brain tumors have taken the lives of many notable names in sport. Most recently, basketball player Lauren Hill, who played one season with Mount St. Joseph University, lost her battle after 16 months of her diagnosis. Pro football running back Craig "Ironhead" Hayward suffered from chordoma while legendary baseball player and Hall of Famer Gary Carter passed away in 2012 after fighting glioblastoma multiforme.
Throughout a superlative hockey career already filled with many milestones, Peter Howe always holds a special place in Erica’s heart. Undoubtedly, he was Erica’s biggest fan and would have continued to be so as she progressed in the sport. Responsible for getting her to gruelling morning practices, he was a positive influence in those formative years, definitely a significant source of support. Considering that her father loved sport, he also proudly donated his time in soccer, a sport that saw all of the children in the Howe family; Kathleen (currently an educator), Kevin (a former competitor on So You Think You Can Dance Canada) and Erica participate.
From helping Canada capture its first-ever gold medal at the 2010 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds, to Clarkson becoming the first non-WCHA team to win a Frozen Four national title, along with being credited for the first win in CWHL All-Star Game history, Howe is one of the game’s most promising stars. As a side note, she also appeared on a trading card, gaining cardboard immortality in Upper Deck’s 2011 World of Sport card set. Through it all, perhaps Erica’s greatest achievement is her ability to remain positive and refuse to wallow in self-pity.
The presence of an exceptional athlete such as Erica helps increase awareness of this outstanding initiative. Running in the hopes of raising funds for research and support, the goal is to ensure that the future is one where no family has to suffer the loss of a member gone far too soon.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Could the CWHL become home to unsigned NWHL free agents?

While no one likes the idea of being “sloppy seconds”, the hockey landscape may undergo another tremendous change this offseason resulting in more player movement, potentially between both leagues (again). Although the CWHL managed to hold its own against the NWHL in 2015-16, simultaneously continuing to build its brand, there may be a new reality to consider this offseason.


As the inaugural NWHL Draft Class from 2015 becomes eligible for play (only players that have completed their junior season of college are eligible for the NWHL Draft), that results in another 25 players being part of the league’s talent pool. Although Emerance Maschmeyer became the first player from that draft class to register for the 2016 CWHL Draft, determining whether other picks, especially Canadian-born players, shall make the same decision will gain clarity after July 31, the final day of NWHL free agency.

Should players become draft picks in both leagues (albeit in different years as the NWHL drafts players after their junior season of university hockey), it will draw comparisons to the rivalry for talent that existed between the NHL and the WHA in the 1970s. Taking into account that the NWHL featured a small handful of Canadian-born players on three of its rosters, an eventual migration north of the border is something to consider in the seasons to come.


Signing the picks definitely represents the next step in the process of shaping the rosters for the 2016-17 NWHL season. It is likely safe to assume that at least 10-15 picks will sign, resulting in several players looking for a new team, and perhaps a new league.


The beneficiary may prove to be the CWHL’s Boston Blades, who endured one of the worst seasons in league history, managing only one victory. Compounding such woes was the fact that the franchise captured the Clarkson Cup in 2015 (albeit with a much different roster), suffering a horrible fall from first to worst.


Considering that the likes of Alex Carpenter and Kendall Coyne are now members of the NWHL’s Boston Pride, it will drastically alter the makeup of the team’s roster. In addition, the Connecticut Whale signed Kaliya Johnson (Carpenter’s teammate at Boston College) along with three Canadian-born players that all played for Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT. Theoretically, all of these players could have been prospects in the CWHL Draft. Undoubtedly, the result shall be that some skaters, especially practice players, from the 2015-16 NWHL rosters will possibly be looking for new places to play in 2016-17.


As so many of the players on the Pride and Whale had grown up in Massachusetts and other regions of New England, any unsigned free agents may quickly look to the Blades as an alternative, allowing them to remain in the game while hoping to catch on with another NWHL club. Although this may not be how the Blades envisioned themselves, such talent could help prevent another one-win season and ensure that a postseason berth in the 2017 Clarkson Cup playoffs is a strong possibility.


For a Blades roster that was nothing short of decimated in the previous off-season, the franchise must place itself in a position to consider all possibilities, even if it means signing players discarded from the rival league. With due deference, the upcoming season shall prove crucial in determining the future of the Blades franchise and more possible CWHL hockey in America. Another one win season could only seal its fate, therefore, attracting the best talent available, regardless where they played last season, will need to be the reality of doing business.


Once again, the landscape of professional women’s hockey is poised to undergo another significant change. While the arrival of the NWHL in 2015 resulted in a highly viable and successful situation for the women’s game in the United States, providing four new teams to extend player’s careers, the possibility of many players looking for a place to play in 2016 leads to a sort of double cohort. Despite the growing number of available players, there are only so many teams in each league to accommodate talent.


Although professional sports, male and female, is truly survival of the fittest, there has been so much significant change in the women’s game that there will be some casualties that are part of the growing pains. Even though both leagues have casually discussed expansion, such ambitions have proven to be a downfall for so many other leagues in numerous sports. A painful reality in the growth of female pro hockey may be the lack of spots available, similar to the days of the NHL’s Original Six. While it ensures that the quality of the game shall be high, part of the contingency plan for the future may include determining if a developmental league for displaced players makes sense.

Buffalo Beauts bring back two significant leaders for promising second season

Having appeared in the inaugural Isobel Cup finals, the Buffalo Beauts were the NWHL’s Cinderella team. Despite a third-place finish, the club continued to work hard as the season progressed, gaining the admiration of their devoted fans, subsequently developing a stronger chemistry that paid dividends in the playoffs.
With a solid draft class from 2015 eligible to compete, the Beauts are determined to build on their solid season and lay the foundation towards contender status in 2016-17. With unrestricted free agency poised to alter the landscape of the NWHL, the Beauts managed to retain two of their top talents, setting a positive tone.
Undoubtedly, the most influential player on the Beauts roster for 2015-16, Kelley Steadman has signed another one-year contract with the club worth $15,000 USD. Considering her impact with the club during the season, becoming the league’s Cinderella Story, the dollar amount seems surprisingly low, as she was worthy of a $20,000 contract.
One element that is assured in the contract is that Steadman shall no longer be classified as a practice player. Despite her status as a Most Valuable Player in College Hockey America and her gold medal at the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds, she was a practice player during the Beauts’ inaugural season. As a side note, Steadman becomes the first practice player from last season to sign a contract.
Steadman proved to be the feel-good story of the NWHL season, leaving her mark not just on Beauts history but the league as well. During the league’s opening day, many of the Beauts’ Canadian-born players were inactive due to work visa issues. Propelled into the starting lineup, Steadman would score the first goal in franchise history.
Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Steadman logged the first goal in the history of the NWHL All-Star Game, which was hosted in Buffalo. In the postseason, Steadman would continue her magic, logging the club’s first playoff goal in a 4-1 win against the Connecticut Whale, where she was recognized as the First Star of the Game. She would continue to add to her legacy by scoring Buffalo’s first-ever goal in the Isobel Cup finals.
Appearing in only 10 regular season games, Steadman led the team in scoring with 20 points, three points ahead of Kourtney Kunichika. With an average of 2 points per game, it paced all skaters in league play, including scoring champion Hilary Knight. Had Steadman played a full season, she may have eclipsed Knight in the race for the top scorer.
Steadman’s astounding 13 goals were four better than Kunichika and Devon Skeats, who led all Canadian born skaters in points. Steadman’s five power play goals and two short-handed goals were also team highs. In addition, she led the Beauts with 78 shots, while Megan Bozek ranked second with 62.
Returning to the fold with Steadman is sensational Shelby Bram. Having also agreed to a one-year, $15,000 contract, her work ethic and team-first approach contributed a positive attitude throughout the locker room. It was no surprise that when the team captains were named, Bram was bestowed the honor of serving as assistant captain. Along with Megan Bozek, Meghan Duggan and Brianne McLaughlin, they formed the team’s leadership core.
Like Steadman, Bram also played with the Mercyhurst Lakers in College Hockey America and has also experienced her share of international hockey. Prior to the Beauts home opener, she made history as the first player signed to an NWHL contract to be invited to Hockey Canada’s Fall Festival.
Registering a respectable 10 points in 15 games played, Bram emerged as the club’s faceoff specialist, leading the team with 117 faceoffs won.  As a side note, she was one of only four Beauts to log a game-winning goal during the season.
Part of Bram’s legacy during that first season of Beauts hockey was exemplified by several milestones. In addition to playing in the NWHL All-Star Game (on home ice), she was the first Canadian-born player in franchise history to log a point. She would also make franchise history as the first Canadian-born player to log a point in the playoffs and the first Canadian ever to score a goal in the Isobel Cup finals.
Perhaps Bram’s most impressive statistic is the fact that she had no penalties all season. Such a disciplined style of play defined her overall approach to the Beauts, working tirelessly towards giving them a chance to succeed. It is that kind of effort that has enamored Bram with the fan base, making her one of the Beauts’ most popular players.
The opportunity for general manager Ric Seiling (who once played for the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres) to re-sign such cornerstones of the franchise sends a positive message to its fan base. Although each team’s roster will look somewhat different this season, especially due to the impact of arriving draft picks, the ability to retain two such important players ensures the Beauts will maintain an exceptional team culture built on collaboration and respect while players like Bram and Steadman shall set the positive example for the new faces to follow.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Brittney Fouracres continues proud McGill legacy in CWHL Draft

As the number of registered prospects continues to increase for the 2016 CWHL Draft, it presents another opportunity for the McGill Martlets women’s hockey program to extend its legacy. One of the most successful programs in the history of Canadian Interuniversity Sport, the Martlets has graduated many players to the CWHL.
With momentum building for the draft, Martlets blueliner Brittany Fouracres holds the potential to be a first-round pick. Recognized as the Martlets blueliner of the year in 2015-16, she was also named to the CIS Second-Team All-Canadians. Joining her on the list of draft prospects is goaltender Taylor Hough, who gained the start in multiple CIS national tournaments for the Martlets. As a side note, Fouracres and Hough were part of a graduating class that also included Joanne Cagianos, Elizabeth Hillier, Kelsie Moffatt, Stephanie Pohlod, Erika Pyke and Olivia Sutter, who played two seasons in the CWHL when the Inferno were once known as Team Alberta.
Embodying the empowering role of being a student-athlete at one of Canada’s most prestigious universities, the highly cerebral Fouracres majored in Chemical Engineering. Undoubtedly, her strong analytical skills make her a key component to any defensive unit in hockey. With Hough, these two exceptional Martlets are poised to build on the list of CWHL success stories that only continues to grow for the Martlets.
Three of McGill’s greatest alums, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Cathy Chartrand and Charline Labonte have all won major awards at the CWHL level, each members of Les Canadiennes de Montreal. In addition, Chartrand inherited Montreal’s team captaincy from Liz Breton, making her the first woman to serve as a captain in both the CIS and CWHL.
Fouracres definitely brings maturity and a solid team-first approach, all qualities which shall make her a perfect fit for whichever team selects her. Taking into account that she was raised in Airdrie, Alberta, where she played with her sister Brooke, Fouracres would hone her skills at The Edge School. Having also represented Alberta in a gold medal effort at the 2011 Canada Winter Games, the opportunity to return home and play for the defending Clarkson Cup champions would definitely hold significant appeal. During her McGill career, she returned to Calgary once to play for Canada’s Under-22 women’s team in an exhibition series against their eternal rivals, the United States.
In the aftermath of the 2016 Clarkson Cup, which saw Calgary defeat Montreal in an 8-3 final, charter member (and blueliner) Kelsey Webster announced her retirement. A talent such as Fouracres would help ease such loss, while ensuring that the Inferno still had significant depth on the blueline. As a side note, another teammate from Alberta’s entry in the Canada Winter Games, Emerance Maschmeyer is also part of the list of CWHL Draft prospects, which would only add to that team’s growing legend.
On the other hand, McGill is based in Montreal and the city has become a second home to Fouracres. Having played Montreal in multiple preseason games over the seasons, she is definitely familiar with their style of play and would blend in perfectly as so many McGill alums have extended their careers with Les Canadiennes, resulting in strong chemistry.
There is no question that Fouracres has shown offensive flair during her years on the Martlet defensive unit. Such flair would add a strong dimension to Les Canadiennes, while relieving the burden of responsibility on Chartrand, who accounted for more than half the points logged by blueliners. Fouracres could provide Montreal with another solid playmaking blueliner that can serve as a quarterback on the power play and feed the puck.
During the 2015-16 season, when Fouracres logged at least one point, the Martlets enjoyed a sterling 13-3 mark. Having logged three multi-point efforts in her final season, the last point of her Martlets career was a goal on February 27 against the upstart Ottawa Gee-Gees.
The possibility of Les Canadiennes drafting a Martlets star for the second straight season in the first round is a possible one. During the 2015 CWHL Draft, les Canadiennes opted for Martlets alum Katia Clement-Heydra with their first-round pick. Selecting Fouracres in 2016 would be another solid pick for the squad. Not only have Clement-Heydra and Fouracres captured a national championship together as teammates in 2014, which saw Fouracres score the championship winning goal in overtime against Les Carabins de Montreal, the two were also part of the Canadian national team that won the gold medal at the 2013 Winter Universiade (recording a combined 30 points). If the two could help Les Canadiennes capture an elusive Clarkson Cup, it would be the ultimate pinnacle to their hockey friendship.

CWHL needs a second team in Western Canada….ASAP

In the aftermath of a historic Clarkson Cup that resulted in the Calgary Inferno becoming the first team based in Western Canada to triumph in the finals, such success may signal the need for the CWHL to add a second team in the West. Although past expansion talks involved US outposts such as Chicago and Minnesota, with a key focus to ensure that the Inferno have a rival, it may be best to look towards the future with Prairie Canada in mind.


With due deference, any CWHL expansion into the US would likely lead to some sort of dysfunction with its American counterparts, possibly becoming a battleground that does not benefit anyone in the game.  In theory, it would be more practical if each league stayed in its respective country and worked towards strengthening the game on its side of the border.


Undoubtedly, Winnipeg would serve as an ideal location for a second CWHL team in Western Canada. Taking into account the city’s proud hockey legacy, which has included unwavering support for the Jets in both the WHA and both of its incarnations in the NHL, along with the IHL’s Manitoba Moose, and overwhelming support for Hockey Canada events, both male and female, the time is right for the city to extend said legacy and welcome professional women’s hockey into the fold.

While provinces like Alberta, Ontario and Quebec have dominated women’s hockey for decades, Manitoba has quickly risen towards prominence. Solid showings at the Canada Winter Games and at the Canadian Under-18 nationals, complemented by the excellent University of Manitoba Bisons program, speak volumes about the elite homegrown talent that could stock an expansion roster in Winnipeg.


Although Jennifer Botterill and Sami Jo Small (part of the CWHL’s Sensational Seven) are the two most famous women’s hockey players to have grown up in Manitoba, they are quickly being joined by many other promising stars. Of note, a trio of Manitobans were among the jubilant members of the Inferno to hoist the Clarkson Cup; Bailey Bram, Delayne Brian and Brigitte Lacquette. In addition, Jocelyne Larocque, who grew up in the same community as Bram, and played with her older sister for the WWHL’s Manitoba Maple Leafs, is currently the captain for the Brampton Thunder.


A pair of Manitoba-raised blueliners currently with North Dakota holds the potential to be future stars in the CWHL. Halli Krzyzaniak, also a member of Canada’s national team, and Meghan Dufault, could easily become the foundation for a defensive unit on an expansion team for Winnipeg. Along with Brooke Langlois, a stay-at-home blueliner who recently graduated from the University of Maine, and Jasmine Levesque, a former competitor with the Carleton Ravens in Canadian Interuniversity Sport play, each could be key contributors on the blueline.


Currently, any female player from Western Canada must look to the Calgary Inferno as their only option to extend their careers. The reality is that Calgary is also home to Hockey Canada and all its national teams. Therefore, many national team members have suited up for the Inferno, conveniently staying in close proximity to the national team headquarters, which is completely understandable.


Unfortunately, with only so many spots on the Inferno roster, many Western Canadian prospects may never realize their dream of pro hockey. Just like the days of the NHL’s Original Six, where so many prospects were the “could have”, “should have” and “would have” been types, there is an element of history repeating itself in the women’s game.


Placing a team in Winnipeg would not only extend several careers, it would also ensure a competitive balance. National team players or elite stars from Manitoba could opt to stay home rather than make the trek to Calgary (or Toronto) and uproot their lives. In so doing, it would ensure that no one team is stocked with too much talent from the national team.


Although the league has always been cautious about expansion, opting to do things properly, such a decision may quickly become an obligation. Should the Boston Blades endure another one-win season in 2016-17, it may be a harbinger indicating that the black and gold no longer have a place in the league, possibly forcing relocation.


For now, the league may consider having the Inferno play preseason games in Winnipeg, either against CIS teams or a CWHL opponent. Another option is to contemplate having the next CWHL All-Star Game at MTS Centre in Winnipeg, or possibly holding the 2018 Clarkson Cup there.


Inevitably, another team will need to be placed in Canada. As the number of registered players continues to grow, along with the quality of hockey in CIS play, the talent pool will eventually swell. Although Western expansion was not successful in the original NWHL, as teams in Alberta and British Columbia contracted, while scheduling struggles were compounded by travel costs, there is more stability in the game and better controls in place to not repeat the failures of the past.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Great contingent of Quinnipiac’s Canadian stars find new home in NWHL

In the aftermath of a breakthrough season for the Quinnipiac Bobcats, from their first postseason crown to hosting their first-ever NCAA tournament game, the jubilation continues for the proud program as three members of their season class extend their careers into the professional ranks.

Team captain Cydney Roesler, raised west of Ottawa in Stittsville, Ontario, along with forwards Nicole Connery and Nicole Kosta shall get the opportunity to become teammates once again. Having all signed with the Connecticut Whale, it increases the number of Bobcats alums into the NWHL to an impressive eight.
Considering that Quinnipiac is based in Hamden, Connecticut, the success of the program over the last few seasons has proven to be a boon for the Whale. These three titanic stars shall join the likes of fellow alums Kelly Babstock, Shiann Darkangelo, Morgan Fritz-Ward, Chelsea Laden and Elena Orlando into the league.

One of the unique qualities among the three new acquisitions for the Whale is that each was recognized as members of the ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team. Such an achievement is testament to the players maturity and ability to juggle responsibilities as both student-athletes and role models for younger players. As a side note, each have alos played with the Canadian national team at the Under-18 level.
General Manager Lisa Giovanelli announced that Roesler was signed to a one-year agreement valued at $15,500 USD. Similar deals were handed out to Kosta and Connery, both raised in the Greater Toronto Area, who shall each be paid $15,000 USD for one season.
One of the premier shot blockers in the NCAA, Roesler shall definitely be a welcome presence on the blueline. With the club’s goaltending situation in doubt, after the loss of Jaimie Leonoff to free agency, Roelser will be counted on to contribute immediately on the blueline. Taking into account that the most recent Bobcats season was one where new benchmarks were set for highest penalty kill and fewest goals allowed, Roesler was a key contributor to such success.
Despite being a stay-at-home blueliner, Roesler does have the capacity for offensive flair. As one of the quarterbacks on the Bobcats power play over the seasons, she has scored the majority of her goals on special teams. Having been recognized with the Coaches' Award in her senior season, along with serving as team captain, the 14th in program history, Roesler brings a likeability and maturity that should enable to quickly emerge as a leader in NWHL play.
For a Whale offense that sputtered towards the end of the season, slipping out of first place after what appeared to be a vice-like grip on the position, Kosta is poised to provide some solid offensive punch. A three-time ECAC Hockey Third Team selection (2013, 15, 16), she would also impress in the classroom, earning ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team selections in every season.
Recognized as the Quinnipiac Rookie of the Year in 2011-12, she would amass a program-record 11-game point streak over the course of two seasons, rewaching its end on October 13, 2012. Her offensive skills would only continue to flourish as her career progressed.
Graduating with 123 points, second all-time in program history, Kosta achieved this through consistency. In every season at Quinnipiac, she never logged worse than 25 points in a season. Along with Connery, who were both among the Bobcats leaders in scoring, it would not be surprising if the two played on a line together with the Whale, rekindling some offensive chemistry.

Said chemistry was evident during Bobcats senior night as Connery and Kosta would deliver on all accounts, making their mark in a 4-0 win against RPI. Both would provide three-point efforts as a new program record was set for most conference wins in one season.
Undoubtedly, Connery shall be a key addition as the Whale looks to add offensive depth. One of the most prolific scorers in Bobcats history, her senior season was one to behold. Her playmaking wizardry would result in career highs for both assists (24) and points (37). Reaching the century club in career points, she would become only the fourth player in Bobcats history to do so.
For a Bobcats team that experienced a breakthrough 2015-16 season, as new program records were set for most wins, wins in conference play, most goals scored, highest power play and longest unbeaten streak, among others, Connery, Kosta and Roesler were integral components. The Whale are optimistic that they can duplicate their achievements at the NWHL level, bringing the club one step closer to an Isobel Cup.  

Monday, 2 May 2016

Emerance Maschmeyer may set unique precedent on CWHL Draft day

After a valiant performance in the gold medal game of the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championships, Emerance Maschmeyer has established herself as the top goaltender prospect in all of hockey. Poised to be a first round pick in the upcoming CWHL Draft, Maschmeyer is in a rather unique situation. Should she be drafted by the Calgary Inferno, it would mean that each league’s respective champion owns her playing rights, an unprecedented first in women’s hockey history.
In the aftermath of her junior season with the Harvard Crimson (where she helped lead the club to the NCAA Frozen Four championship game), she was the first goaltender selected in the history of the NWHL Draft, nabbed by the Boston Pride. Strategically, it was a stroke of genius by the Pride, as Maschmeyer is the type of competitor that can anchor a team’s goaltending for a decade. With the Pride having played their home games at Harvard’s Bright Center, as Brittany Ott established herself as the NWHL’s Goaltender of the Year, the chance to continue her career there at the NWHL level would appear to be an ideal situation.
Yet, there is also an ideal situation with the Calgary Inferno. Raised in Alberta, it would be the perfect pick for the Inferno, solidifying their already impressive goaltending. With Delayne Brian having established herself as the greatest goaltender in franchise history, she backstopped the club to an upset win over Les Canadiennes de Montreal in the 2016 Clarkson Cup, the first ever held on NHL ice.
Ideally, Brian and Maschmeyer would place the Inferno in the position of favorites for next year’s Clarkson Cup. Even though Brian deserves to be the starter, considering her run to the championship, it would be an opportunity to not rush Maschmeyer, while having her adjust to the CWHL style of play in a way that speaks of confident development and not urgent detriment for the team’s future.
Considering that Maschmeyer will likely be part of Canada’s centralization camp in the autumn of 2017 (in preparation for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, it would avoid any type of goaltending controversy for the 2017-18 with whichever team she chooses to sign with. Eventually, Maschmeyer will earn a starting role and it will mean a transitional one for whichever goaltender she calls a teammate in her pro career.
Although one team will lose out on Maschmeyer, allowing their current goaltender to remain a starter, it speaks volumes to the quality of goaltending in women’s hockey and the limited playing spaces. Each team in the CWHL and the NWHL features a world class goaltender between the pipes. As the game evolves, it is inevitable that even the backup goaltenders shall be equally talented.
As the existence of two leagues represents a learning curve for all teams, as dealing with player personnel takes on a whole new dimension, the signing of Maschmeyer will certainly represent a completely different aspect to the game, as this may determine how future prospects are handled by both leagues. Undoubtedly, it must avoid the kind of rivalry that defined pro football in the 1960s as the AFL and NFL were at war over top prospects, which continuously resulted in players drafted by both leagues. Considering that NWHL clubs face penalties to their salary cap for unsigned picks, Canadian superstars may be taken only in later rounds or go undrafted altogether, with clubs willing to wait for free agency.
The Maschmeyer signing will certainly result in a significant influence long term on the hockey landscape. Whether it signifies that elite players will opt to stay home in order to continue their pro careers, possibly complemented by expansion, or that rules may need to be put in place regarding non-American or non-Canadian draft prospects, the only agreed upon point is that such a situation was bound to happen. What happens afterwards shall be the defining moment in the growth of pro women’s hockey in North America.

Whirlwind of trades during highly active NWHL off-season

Although free agency has not yet resulted in any player turnover, with all signed players retaining with their club team from the 2015-16 season, there have been winds of change on another front. Three of the founding four franchises (Boston, Connecticut, New York) have all engaged in a series of trades. Uniquely, each of these trades does not involve rostered players. Instead, players selected in the inaugural 2015 NWHL Draft are changing teams before even gracing the ice.

The first trade of the offseason took place between the New York Riveters and the Connecticut Whale. Swapping their second-round picks, it marked the beginning of a trend.
Taking into account that unsigned picks will result in a penalty on the salary cap for the upcoming season, it may be a case of prioritizing. Regardless, such trades will definitely alter the strategy in the method used for selecting players in this year’s draft.

Haley Skarupa, who recently captured a gold medal with the US national team at the 2016 IIHF Women’s Worlds, was the second draft pick in Riveters history. Coincidentally, Alex Carpenter, one of Skarupa’s teammates at Boston College, who scored the gold medal clinching goal for the US at the 2016 Worlds was the Riveters’ first-ever pick.

The Connecticut Whale represents Skarupa’s new home, traded for Harvard alum Michelle Picard. Both exceptional blueliners in their NCAA careers, Skarupa has more offensive flair, an element that may prove beneficial for the Whale in case they lose All-Star Kaleigh Fratkin to free agency. Should neither player sign with their new team, they will enter unrestricted free agency on May 1.

Another Boston College alum was part of the second offseason trade. Once again featuring the Riveters and the Whale, Trivigno, a fourth round pick of the Riveters was shipped to the Whale in a move with financial implications. Of note, the Whale received a $2000 draft tax towards their upcoming season’s salary cap. Considering that Trivigno and Skarupa played together for four seasons at Boston College, the Whale are anticipating that such chemistry may translate into a first place finish.

Hannah Brandt, the first-ever draft pick in Whale history becomes a member of the New York Riveters. For a team that was offensively starved in their inaugural season, Brandt may prove to be the offensive catalyst that the club sorely requires. Having won three NCAA Frozen Four titles with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Brandt amassed an astonishing 285 points on the strength of 170 assists. Her strong playmaking skills should transform her into the centerpiece of the Riveters offense, if she can be signed to a contract.

Strategically, Brandt’s acquisition makes sense for the Riveters. With the first overall pick in the 2016 NWHL Draft, the Riveters could aim towards realigning Brandt with a former Gophers player (or two). Of note, the top prospects include Golden Gophers forward Dani Cameranesi and blueliner Lee Stecklein. Brandt and Cameranesi would definitely have offensive synergy in the NWHL, ensuring that the club goes from the basement to the top sooner rather than later.

The third trade was the most shocking of all as Alex Carpenter was traded from the New York Riveters. Undoubtedly, Carpenter and her world-class skills would have made her the focal point for the Riveters and a key figure in their marketing and team strategy. Instead, she joins the Boston Pride, continuing her hockey legacy in Beantown. Having recorded 279 career points for the Boston College Eagles, part of her legacy with the program includes a Patty Kazmaier Award and an undefeated regular season in 2015-16.

Surprisingly, the Riveters only received fourth-round pick Miye D’Oench and a $2000 addition towards their salary cap. Taking into account the significant loss of Carpenter, a member of the US team at the 2014 Winter Games, the club should have pushed for a draft pick in 2016 and perhaps another player. With the extra salary cap room attributed by the trade, it is possible that the Riveters have plans to acquire top talent in free agency. For Riveters fans, they are now left to ponder “what if” concerning Carpenter.

For an excited Pride organization, the reality of a player like Carpenter is that she can have an impact on the balance of power in the league. With fellow Winter Games teammate Kendall Coyne’s rights owned by the Pride as well, these two could prove to be a titanic force, propelling the club into a dynasty status.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Sensational sophomore Valerie Lamenta captures the Brodrick Trophy

Emerging as one of the surprises of the 2015-16 hockey season, Valeria Lamenta’s fairy tale season continues with recognition as the most outstanding player in Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s ice hockey. Only in her second year with the Guelph Gryphons, the resident of Montreal has made a significant impression.

From the outset, her nod as the Brodrick Trophy winner makes her the first recipient in Guelph program history. In addition, she is only the third goaltender honored, joining a class that includes former Canadian national team members Kim St. Pierre, who starred at McGill in 2003 when she won the trophy, and Wilfrid Laurier’s Liz Knox, who garnered the honor in 2010. As a side note, the other nominees for the honor included AUS representative Kelty Apperson of St. Thomas and a pair of former Brodrick Trophy winners, Sochi Winter Games gold medalist Melodie Daoust (2013) with RSEQ powerhouse McGill and Iya Gavrilova (2015), a superstar with Canada West’s Calgary Dinos.

Adding to the momentum of the trophy win is the fact that Lamenta not only gained a spot on the CIS First-Team All-Stars, she was also recognized as the OUA’s Most Valuable Player. Lamenta was joined on the CIS First-Team All-Stars by Gavrilova and Daoust. Julia Flinton, a blueliner with the Saskatchewan Huskies, Katelyn Gosling, who won a national title with Western in 2015 and Alexandra Vafina, a teammate of Gavrilova with Calgary were the other honored players on the group of First-Team All-Stars.

Fourth year forward Averi Nooren, who paced the Gryphons with 14 goals, along with blueliner Legih Shilton, a fifth year player who recorded a respectable 16 points, were named to the CIS Second-Team All-Stars. As a side note, head coach Rachel Flanagan was a finalist for the Coach of the Year Award.

Having competed at Le College Edouard-Montpetit, Lamenta had also stood between the pipes for Quebec’s Under-18 Provincial Team. Surprisingly, none of Montreal’s three major universities recruited Lamenta.

Opting to continue her career in Ontario, she began her career with the Guelph Gryphons third on their depth chart. Despite her role as a third-string goalie, serving in a backup capacity to senior goaltender Stephanie Nehring, Lamenta had already shown signs of brilliance, with a sparkling 1.21 goals against average and a .943 save percentage.

Gaining the opportunity to assume the starting role in 2015-16 after an injury to the projected number 1 goaltender, Lamenta was nothing short of sensational, improving on the solid numbers from her freshman season. While she logged a .957 save percentage and an .889 winning percentage, the number that stands out is her remarkable 0.99 goals against average, which led all goaltenders in CIS play.

Starting in 18 games, Lamenta would win 16 of them, while the Gryphons assembled the best record in the nation with 21 wins, compared to just two losses and a tie. Such a strong run was complemented by close to four straight months on top of the CIS national rankings, beginning on November 17, 2015, and the OUA postseason crown, the first for the program since 1998. 

Historic firsts part of championship weekend

As professional women’s hockey experienced its first season since 2010-11 (dating back to the CWHL and the now-defunct WWHL) which saw two championships contested, the result was an exceptional number of historic firsts. Adding to the sense of history was the fact that there were many unique coincidences and connections, contributing to a new chapter of six degrees of separation in women’s hockey.

The inaugural Isobel Cup was contested in Newark, New Jersey, home of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, and captured by the NWHL’s Boston Pride. With the win, Boston became the first women’s hockey city to capture women’s hockey titles in two separate leagues. The Blades captured the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup in 2013 and 2015, while the Pride became the NWHL’s first-ever champions.

Although the Pride enjoyed the jubilation of being crowned as champions, it was an event noted by compassion as the squad dedicated their Cup victory to Denna Laing, who suffered a career-ending injury at the inaugural Women’s Winter Classic. The Pride would visit Laing in the hospital, kindly bringing the Cup with them for her to hold. Of note, Laing was also part of the Blades team that won the 2015 Clarkson Cup.

Meanwhile, the Clarkson Cup was contested for the eighth time, with no shortage of historic firsts. From the outset, it was contested on NHL ice for the first time, with Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre serving as the historic backdrop.

Taking into account that Ottawa’s impact on women’s ice hockey, from the inaugural IIHF Women’s Worlds, the first game for Canada’s U18 national team, and the debut of the Canadian women’s ice sledge hockey team, it was only fitting that it was the host city for the Clarkson. As a side note, the Clarkson shall return to Ottawa in 2017, part of the city’s celebrations for Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary.

The Cup final also saw the Calgary Inferno become the first team from Western Canada to capture the historic prize. On the other side, Montreal would become the first team to lose three Cup finals. Despite their status as the first dynasty in CWHL history, winning three of the first four Cup finals, they have equally become the first team labeled with the losing tag.

Of note, the first Isobel Cup also held a unique connection to the Clarkson. An astonishing 14 members of the Boston Pride’s roster enjoyed the prestige of being part of the 2015 Boston Blades championship roster. Among them was Brittany Ott, who became the first goaltender to win both the Isobel and the Clarkson Cups in a career.

Coincidentally, the players who scored the Isobel and Clarkson Cup winning goals were both alums from the Wisconsin Badgers. Brianna Decker, the CWHL’s Rookie of the Year in 2015, and Clarkson champion with the Blades, scored the Isobel-winning goal against Brianne McLaughlin. Former Badgers teammate, Blayre Turnbull scored the Inferno’s fourth goal of the game, which stood as the Clarkson winning tally.

Even more intriguing is the fact that the Buffalo Beauts, who were swept in the Isobel Cup finals by the Pride, featured a pair of Clarkson Cup champions on their roster. Kelley Steadman, who logged the Cup winning goal in 2013, along with the Beauts’ first-ever regular season and playoff goals (along with the first goal in NWHL All-Star Game history) was joined by Meghan Duggan, who served as Team USA’s captain at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

There were other unique aspects to the Beauts and their Cinderella-run to the Clarkson Cup, coming from behind to eliminate the Connecticut Whale, who spent a significant part of the NWHL season first overall in the league standings. The first Canadians to appear in an Isobel Cup final were all part of the Beauts roster. Among them were Shelby Bram, Tatiana Rafter and Devon Skeats.

Coincidentally, Bram’s sister, Bailey was a member of the Calgary Inferno’s Clarkson Cup winning roster. They would become the first pair of sisters to play for the Isobel and Clarkson Cups during the same season. Having both played at the NCAA level for Mercyhurst College, part of the CHA conference, the coincidence only continued for these sensational sisters.

Based in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, the Robert Morris Colonials are one of Mercyhurst’s biggest rivals. Both Bram sisters called a former Colonial goaltender their teammate during the weekend. Brianne McLaughlin, a two-time Winter Games silver medalist stood between the pipes for the Beauts, while Delayne Brian was recognized as the Clarkson Cup playoff MVP for the Inferno. It marked the only NCAA program to feature goaltenders appear in both Cup finals.


First Isobel Cup goal: Blake Bolden, Boston Pride, Game 1

            Of note, Bolden also became the first African-American to score an Isobel Cup goal. The second goal of the game was scored by Gigi Marvin, making her the first Caucasian to score in the Cup finals. Both were also Clarkson Cup champions for the Boston Blades in 2015.

First forward to score an Isobel Cup goal: Hilary Knight, Boston Pride, Game 1

First Isobel Cup goal scored on a penalty shot: Hilary Knight, Boston Pride, Game 1

First Canadian to score an Isobel Cup goal: Shelby Bram, Buffalo Beauts, Game 1

First player to score an Isobel Cup-clinching goal: Brianna Decker, Boston Pride, Game 2

First goaltenders to start an Isobel Cup Finals: Brittany Ott (winning goaltender), Boston Pride, Brianne McLaughlin, Buffalo Beauts

First team to appear in six Clarkson Cup Finals: Montreal (2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016)

First team to lose three Clarkson Cup Finals: Montreal (2013, 2015, 2016)

Players from first Clarkson Cup championship team to appear in 2016 finals: Leslie Oles, Caroline Ouellette, Marie-Philip Poulin, Lauriane Rougeau

First players from Japan to appear in a Clarkson Cup final: Aoki and Takeuchi, Calgary 2016

First player from Newfoundland to appear in a Clarkson Cup final: Sarah Davis, Calgary 2016

First players from Nova Scotia to appear in a Clarkson Cup final: Jillian Sauliner and Blayre Turnbull, Calgary 2016

First player from Nova Scotia to score a Clarkson Cup clinching goal: Blayre Turnbull, Calgary 2016

First coach to become part of Triple Gold Club for women: Gina Kingsbury, Calgary 2016 (she would win the IIHF Women’s Worlds for the first time as a player in 2001, while capturing Winter Games gold in 2006 and 2010)

Record number of new members in the Triple Gold Club for women: Five, 2016 Clarkson Cup – Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Gina Kingsbury, Meaghan Mikkelson, Hayley Wickenheiser (Note: The Isobel Cup champions did not feature any new members in the Triple Gold Club)

Monday, 14 March 2016

NWHL in Canada? Why not!

While the weekend of March 12-13 was defined by a historic time that saw two women’s hockey championships contested in the same weekend, the inaugural Isobel Cup and the eighth annual Clarkson Cup, it may also be defined as a turning point in the game’s professional history in North America. In the aftermath of the weekend, an image showed up on social media with a map displaying where the NWHL currently has teams. Although this image was not sent by the NWHL, there was something unique in the fact that two Canadian flags in geographic proximity to hockey hotbeds Toronto and Montreal were also part of said image.
Although it is just speculation, the idea that those flags may foreshadow expansion into Canada is one of tremendous excitement. While there is no question that such an image on social media was highly strategic, it has made a powerful statement as media outlets have speculated on the future. It is one that captivated the interest of those with authority in the Canadian league.
The gist of their statement was one where the goal is one league. Well the reality is that one league would enhance marketing strategies and pool resources, possibly bringing about a living wage much sooner, but such a league does not need to exist via merger. Considering that one league is socialist in its approach, while the other is capitalist, wisely building its brand and establishing strong relationships with media, it is very possible that one league may simply eradicate the other.
Considering that the Canadian league has existed for nine years, it had ample opportunities to expand and create a brand that could have been the basis for an empire. Instead, there are some who look at it with a sad history of conceited individuals whose delusional grandeurs of glory tarnished the league’s image by burning bridges, fostering a country club mentality and displaying an independent arrogance. Having been founded as a player-run league, practice and theory are quite different as one could argue that a small group of gatekeepers are not looking at the bigger picture and stroking egos by making claims as the greatest run league in the world.
Despite their ability to gain support from big league hockey, one could argue that the Canadian league has not lived up to expectation. Said support does not even add up to the minimum salary of a big league player, hardly the basis to build a league upon. Taking into account that the IIHF does not recognize the Canadian league as a true professional league, it is another aspect that takes away from its supposed prestige. While several Canadian national team players have shown their support by remaining north of the border this season, their loyalty shall truly be tested should there is true expansion this autumn.
Even if such players remain loyal to the Canadian brand, the league should not be fooled as these players occupy nothing more than a dinosaur mentality. When the first women’s ice hockey tournament in the Winter Games was organized in 1998, the Canadian roster was composed of players who had competed at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport level. By 2006, the vast majority has been players with experience in the NCAA.

History is repeating itself again. Just as a generation of elite Canadian talent became part of a new movement where their first goal in post-secondary hockey was the NCAA, there will be a new generation of Canadian talent willing listen to the overtures of the NWHL before making any decision, even if the Canadian league engages in compensation.
The lesson learned from that experience was that Hockey Canada did not interfere in this generational change, respecting the wishes of its elite players to compete south of the border at the NCAA level. The harsh reality is that this will also be the case if expansion teams emerge in Toronto and Montreal. Hockey Canada’s only priority is to recruit the greatest talent available in order to win gold medals, not engage in petty disputes. Should that talent come from a league other than the existing Canadian league, then so be it. 
One could argue that the establishment of an American league was truly an “I told you so” moment in modern women’s hockey history. Even if one could make a valid argument that the Canadian league was too cautious concerning their own expansion ambitions, the reality is that an American league would have eventually started up, even if the Canadian league had multiple teams in the United States.
Over the last few seasons, players such as Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan have become household names and role models, only increasing the awareness of women’s ice hockey in the United States. As a new generation features Alex Carpenter and Kendall Coyne, they bring the potential to carve similar legacies. Should the United States capture the gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, there is no question that it will only lead to an increased interest in the game, which would have not included plans to be part of a Canadian league.  
With due deference to the Canadian league, it may weather the storm and survive, but it needs to acknowledge the fact that it may exist in the same way that the CFL exists in comparison to the NFL. While the Clarkson Cup is an important part of sporting Canadiana, one that deserves to be contested in Canada, it may find itself evolving into the Grey Cup rather than the Stanley Cup, while the Isobel Cup could become the prime challenge cup in professional women’s hockey.
Although competition creates a better product, competition can also expose weaknesses, giving another the advantage to dominate the market. In a world where borders are disappearing and business becomes more sophisticated, just appealing to fans on patriotism will not allow a league to thrive. Just like on the ice, the cream rises to the top, and that shall be the case in the board room of the growing women’s hockey business.