The ‘Dream Gap Tour’ might be on a hiatus right now, but the PWHPA is not losing steam. Last week, Team USA and Team Canada took part in a training camp to get set for the upcoming Rivalry Series, which begins on December 14th in Hartford. As part of that training camp, the sides played a pair of exhibition games at the UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex. Both games were sold out, with a serious buzz on social media.
The excitement surrounding the events was just the latest in a long string of hyped up and sold out women’s hockey events. All three ‘Dream Gap Tour’ stops (Toronto, Hudson and Chicago) were huge successes. The camp and exhibition games were huge successes. The Rivalry Series is expected to be a huge hit, with attendance expected to be massive for the five-game series split between the US and Canada.
Hilary Knight spoke with the media over the weekend in Pittsburgh, setting the hockey world ablaze with comments surrounding the PWHPA and NWHL. She was asked flat out how long the PWHPA can hold out in their current state. In her typical fashion, Knight gave an honest assessment. “I don’t think there is a set answer to that. Obviously, as players, we want to compete. We want to play in a league right now. However, we don’t have a league right now to play in so my answer would be ‘Yesterday is too long’. But at the same time, it’s as long as it takes for us to fulfill our needs of finding a sustainable, viable solution.”
That’s been the PWHPA’s goal all along. They aren’t asking for salaries that match the stars of the NHL. These women are looking for a viable, sustainable league that will pay them competitive wages and allow them to make a living while playing the game they love professionally. It’s been a grind, and will continue to be one until an answer can be found.
Earlier this fall, rumors began to swirl that the NHL was considering options for a professional women’s league that they would back. It’s something still being discussed and something that, quite frankly, needs to happen. Gary Bettman and the NHL have an opportunity to grow the game to levels it has never seen before. They owe it to the sport to support these women and help provide a league similar to the WNBA, which has been a huge success with help from the NBA.
These women know that the NHL can help them. They know that the most powerful hockey league in the world has the power to step in and change the women’s game forever.
“If the NHL’s not going to step in, we could,” Kendall Coyne Schofield responded when asked if the PWHPA can create a league that is sustainable and viable without the NHL’s help. “I think we all have the understanding that the NHL would provide the resources that we would want to see in a true professional league. We have not seen a legitimate professional league to date and we know that the infrastructure that the NHL has, the resources it has, the building they have, the staff that they have is something that this game needs.”
Coyne Schofield is right. The NHL has the marketing reach, the media relationships and the facilities to help kick start a women’s league and help get it through the difficulties associated with any league’s first few years. She also pointed out that the WNBA, which just finished their 23rd season, gives here reason for optimism. From my view on the outside looking in, that’s the best model to follow moving forward. The NBA has done a terrific job backing them, and Bettman’s mentor David Stern was a big proponent to starting that league.
The PWHPA has gone through a wild journey in these last six months. No matter what side of the ledger you fall on, you cannot deny the progress made by these women and the attention they have brought to the sport. There is real momentum building here, and it feels like there is more steam building towards an NHL backed league than ever before.
Whatever happens next, these women know what they are doing is not just for them, but for all generations to come. Some of these players will sacrifice everything and not get to be part of the end product. They can take solace in knowing they are setting up countless generations of women to come.
“In terms of the sacrifice players are making, I think you can ask anyone, it’s 100% worth it knowing that we’re fighting for something that’s going to last forever,” Coyne Schofield told reporters this weekend. “And for me, my clock is ticking, but if I can leave this game better than it was, that’s what’s most important.”
The clock continues to tick, but as this past week in Pennsylvania proved yet again, it’s been time well spent.