The NHL, IHL, AHL, ECHL; here at Good Night, Good Hockey, we’ve written about it all.
Or have we?
Contemplating the plethora of hockey leagues, almost overwhelmed with the amount of topics I could cover, I reached to the depths of the hockey universe, a place where almost no one has reached to cover: The NWHL, or the National Women’s Hockey League.
It’s young. It’s fresh. And if you’re anything short of a hockey fanatic, you probably haven’t heard of it. But this is important. Why? Because there’s apparently enough demand to warrant an expansion of such a league. The history it creates, new pathways it builds, and experiences it’s giving allows many to argue for the validity of the NWHL itself.
Established ever so recently (2015), the NWHL has broken new barriers in the female sector of United States professional sports. Sure, we had the CWHL, but no female could truly call themselves a “professional athlete” in that league, as the players are only paid in bonuses, not salaries. Yet, while salaries are included in the NWHL, luxuries are not common to participants. According to financial information released by NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan, each team operates under a $270,000 salary cap, with the minimum salary for a player hitting $10,000 a year. While all teams reach pretty close to the maximum cap, the ladies receive very little financial compensation, with the highest contract awarded to two-time Olympian Kelli Stack ($25,000 a year).
— Sean Tierney (@ChartingHockey) September 29, 2015
The players, of course, can operate outside of the league’s financial constraints with merchandise, advertisements, and sponsorships. While advertisements and sponsorships are not common to a player participating in such a small market professional sports league, the women do receive 15% of all profits on jerseys sold containing their name. And yet, while these figures all point toward practically a state of financial misery, it’s in fact these dollar signs that make the league so historic and groundbreaking. As I previously mentioned, the only other US women’s league to even exist was the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which only operated on merit-based bonuses, giving the women little to no regulated funds and often led to lack of motivation for continuing in the league. The NWHL however, continues to pay players regulated salaries and uplift the players, giving them the ability to say “Yes, I play professional ice hockey!” This is why the NWHL is so important in the advancement of all women’s sports; it contains pioneers who are willing to endure difficult conditions in order to take that title of professional and further the sport for the next generation of young women.
As financial compensation is not strong, neither is convenience. According to wbur.org, players like Buffalo Beauts’ goalie Brianne McLaughlin venture three and a half hours to a Friday practice and won’t return home until after a Sunday game. This life is shared by most NWHL players, and they still continuously persevere despite long commutes and low monetary allowances.
Four teams support the structure that is the NWHL: The Buffalo Beauts, Boston Pride, New York Riveters, and Connecticut Whale. With only two seasons under its belt, the league has an average amount of teams but with more exposure and boosted viewing could expand in the next few decades.
Most recently, the Buffalo Beauts became NWHL champions, on March 19th clinching the win 3-2 against the Boston Pride.
— NWHL (@NWHL) March 20, 2017
— Emily Pfalzer (@EmilyPfalzer) March 20, 2017
All in all, what many may view as pure misery when putting together all the pro’s and con’s of playing in the NWHL, the players view these facts as irrelevant and would give anything to have a life where they are paid to do what they love. McLaughlin speaking on her passion says,”I think just playing professional hockey in general for women is awesome, so then to get a paycheck on top of that is just kind of over the top.” Regardless of all financial limitations, long commutes, and limited audiences, these women are giving their all and living a dream. And personally, I can’t help but respect someone who gives it all up to fulfill a dream.
So here’s to you talented ladies. I tip my hat, raise my glass, and raise my eyes at the passion and dedication you infuse into the NWHL. May the fire in your hearts and the league itself never die. A true inspiration to all.
Drew Bishop is the “Hockey America” columnist for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can contact him on his email: firstname.lastname@example.org