Thomas: 3-on-3 Game a Start, But NHL Must Step Up Financially

Thomas: 3-on-3 Game a Start, But NHL Must Step Up Financially
January 16, 2020

Next Friday night will be an extremely exciting one for women’s hockey. As part of NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, an elite women’s three-on-three game will take place during the NHL Skills Competition. The 20-minute game will be played between Team America and Team Canada.

The rosters, coaches and format for the contest were announced last night. The NHL, NBC and Sportsnet did a terrific job putting real star power in this game. The American All-Star team will feature forwards Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianna Decker, Amanda Kessel, Hilary Knight, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Annie Pankowski, and Alex Carpenter, defensemen Kacey Bellamy and Lee Stecklein, and goalie Alex Rigsby Cavallini. 2010 Hockey Hall of Fame member Cammi Granato will coach the United States.

Meanwhile, the Canadian All-Star team will be comprised of forwards Meghan Agosta, Melodie Daoust, Rebecca Johnston, Sarah Nurse, Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner, and Blayre Turnbull, defensemen Renata Fast and Laura Fortino, and goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens. 2018 Hockey Hall of Fame member Jayna Hefford will coach Team Canada. Hefford, of course, is the PWHPA’s Operations Consultant.

The event is both exciting and important. Three-on-three hockey has been a huge hit since it was introduced on a more mainstream basis with the NHL’s use of the game state in overtime. It features speed and skill, and promotes those aspects of the game. It’s exciting and it showcases the most talented players. That’s exactly what you want from an All-Star event that is trying to gain the attention of fans.

It’s also important because, quite frankly, this is a major stage. The Enterprise Center is bound to be sold out next Friday and Saturday night for both events. The 19,150-seat arena will give these women a major audience to perform in front of. If that isn’t enough, the event will be broadcast on national TV across the world. NBCSN will carry it in the United States, while Sportsnet does the honors in Canada.

There is real exposure here, exposure that these women seem to only get every four years at the Winter Olympics. There is a real chance to catch the eye of fans next weekend and to make a mark to a wide-spread audience. That’s extremely important. These women, for one night at least, are getting the platform that they are working towards. Quite frankly, it is the platform that they deserve.

The NHL has done a great job incorporating women into All-Star weekend in recent years. No, it isn’t perfect but it is improving by the year. This will be the third straight season that women take part in the skills, and the addition of a three-on-three game is a huge step. That is all it is, however. A step.

The NHL can do all these little things, but to be honest it isn’t enough. Gary Bettman and the owners need to step up much in the way that the late David Stern and the NBA’s owners did in the 1990’s when they formed the WNBA. Growing the game has always been Bettman’s mantra. Is there a better way to grow the game right now than forming a sustainable women’s league?

In the end, while next Friday will be fun and exciting, it still isn’t enough. Having the platform for one night is great, but these women are striving for and deserve more. The NHL has the ability to help form and build a sustainable league that gives women fair wages and the platform to play the game at a professional level.

Until the NHL steps up financially and supports such an endeavor, events like this will always feel like a nice gesture that just isn’t enough. The NHL has the money and the power to step in and help push the women’s game forward. It’s time to stop dragging their feet and do the right thing.

Hopefully the hype and success of this three-on-three game on the NHL’s biggest regular season stage will prove once and for all that there is a real audience and market for women’s hockey.

Come on Mr. Bettman, cement your legacy as someone who truly wanted to build this sport.