Entering its sixth season of existence, the NWHL announced they were expanding north of the border to Toronto last week. It has the potential to be a perfect spot to have a new franchise.
Toronto is recognized as the center of the hockey world. Not only that, they already have natural rivals with the Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride already in the NWHL. Granted, these teams have never played a game against each other. That said, the NWHL purposely went to Toronto to feed off the rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins to go along with the Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres rivalry. The NWHL hopes that formula carries over for them. There is no reason it shouldn’t. Toronto is a natural hockey market, and fans from other markets love to hate on Boston.
One has to wonder what is next for the NWHL in terms of expansion. In speaking with NWHLPA Executive Director Anya Packer, the best places to go are Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. Why? The game is embraced by the fans there.
“I can give you my personal opinion. On the league level, there are probably more decisions and more actuality and truth to it. In my opinion, I think Pittsburgh is always a great market,” said Anya Packer. “We have done a lot of great things with the innovators at the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a phenomenal rink in Cranbury. They have a great fan base, super progressive. So that, I think all signs leading to a great franchise there. I think you have the same type of feeling in Washington. The D.C. market is hungry for women’s sports. I love DC and Pittsburgh for those reasons.”
However, these spots are not the only places the league could go according to Packer. As we mentioned earlier, why not continue to embrace natural rivalries? That is why Montreal makes sense.
“Naturally, Montreal sounds like a really appealing market,” Packer continued. “The Canadiens have always been a great supporter of the growth of the women’s game and I think that is something that we can’t forget. If the Montreal Canadiens are behind it, you have to think it makes perfect sense. As we said, in the beginning, playing off some natural rivals, that is another team people want to hate. That is a great spot to put a team.”
What about the Southern markets? Is there potential for that?
“Our national team was centralized down there (Florida), the NWHL sent a team down to play some games against them,” Packer added. “I think Florida would be a great place. It is also a very easy place to live in. Even Nashville. The Nashville Predators, along with their fans, are so progressive and that is another thing we have to account for… fans in the arena.”
Regardless of where the NWHL goes next, the place they go to has to be ready for women’s hockey.
“You can’t forget about the fans you have in that market. They have to be ready for women’s hockey,” Packer continued. “I could say all day long, I want XYZ team to get in, but we might know their fans may not be super accepting or open to be the idea of something different. Then it could all make sense and it wouldn’t be right. Throw it to left field and what about Seattle? They are adding a men’s team. We can parlay that support into a women’s team.”
The idea of the NWHL expanding probably won’t come for another couple of years. Having a team in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia would make the most sense. Both are natural rivals. That’s not to mention adding Detroit and Montreal after that makes perfect sense. Go to markets where women’s hockey has the support and those cities want the game.
The fans have shown they will come if the product is there. The demand for women’s hockey is real. It is just a matter of time before we see even more teams in the NWHL.
Full Interview with NWHLPA Executive Director Anya Packer Can Be Found Here: