By Avry Lewis-McDougall
It’s been a little bit since I’ve done a story under the “Thoughts” banner which in the summer been prominent for the past while on Avrysports.com but it’s time for another one.
Usually these types of articles are done for soccer and it allows me to get to a number of topics while also mixing humour with serious content, and I said why don’t we mix things up a bit as to what sports get put into these types of articles, women’s hockey is something that I’ve been paying more and more attention to outside of the Olympics over the past few seasons, so why not do a special piece on it?
1.The CWHL and NWHL put on successful All Star Games this past year with the CWHL’s 2nd annual game being held once again at the Air Canada Centre with the NWHL’s first at Buffalo’s HarborCentre. Attendance with the NWHL’s game had over 1000 fans while the CWHL’s had over 6000 in attendance with it being also the first time of fans paying to get in in Toronto.
All Star Games for both leagues allow the fans to see the players in a different light and quite frankly I like them, sure I love a hard fought playoff series but what’s wrong with a couple of days in which we don’t take things so seriously? I’m probably one of the few adults who likes All Star Games and hopefully for both leagues these games move around North America.
2.Will one GM last the full season with the Connecticut Whale? In their first season they went through four GMs, coaching changes and at one point were run by the NWHL. How Kate Cimini of Today’s Slapshot and Jen Neale of Puck Daddy were able to keep up with things for the site I’ll never know and they deserve a standing ovation for it.
Even with all of this the Whale finished with a mark of 13-5, the 2nd best in the league, trailing only the eventual inaugural league champs, the Boston Pride. Whale assistant coach Lisa Giovanelli has taken over as the General manager and here’s hoping that things are more stable in 2016-17.
3.The idea of the NWHL and the CWHL of one day merging is a really cool one into a single mega women’s league but right now things don’t sound all that meger-y. The NWHL has hinted at expansion into Toronto and Montreal two cities currently occupied by CWHL franchises and the Brampton Thunder are not that far away also.
IF and I say if because not a dang thing is confirmed, if the NWHL were to expand into Canada and into cities with CWHL teams, could they survive long term? Obviously you’ll have fans who’ll go to both CWHL and NWHL games in both cities but you’d think one league would eventually win out.
4. Sticking on Canadian expansion in the women’s pro game, I wonder if Western Canada is a market for either league? There’s only one team west of Ontario in the form of the Clarkson Cup champs, the Calgary Inferno. There’s three major hockey markets that I’d love to see teams in either the Canadian or National league the form of Edmonton, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
All three are steeped in women’s hockey tradition and the aforementioned Inferno we’re many moons and leagues ago known as the Edmonton Chimos, one of the most decorated women’s hockey teams that Canada has ever had.
We may be a few seasons away from either league really looking to go too far west with more franchises but I am curious to see which league attempts to go there first if at all.
5. The Boston Blades 2015-16 season on the ice in terms of results was a complete 180 from their Clarkson Cup campaign of last year. Many of their 2014-15 roster joined the NWHL’s Boston Pride and the Blades 2015-16 season was to put it lightly, not great on the ice.
Boston finished this year with the worst record in the CWHL with a mark of 1-23 but GM Krista Patronick deserves a heck of a lot praise in her role dealing with the dramatic roster changes, playing in multiple arenas and her team being blown out more than once this season.
There would be a cool storyline for Boston in this season as Genevieve Lacasse would play in the CWHL All Star Game and was also nominated for Goalie of the Year at the CWHL Awards and while she didn’t win it, she deserved the nomination as she certainly faced the most work of any goalie in the league while appearing in all but one game this year for the Blades.
Much like I hope the management of the NWHL’s Whale is stable next year, I hope Boston’s season is 1000x better in 2016-17.
6. Both women’s leagues are growing and TV deals on channels such as NESN, Sportsnet and free games on YouTube are awesome but there’s another way that I think you could help the visual prescene of women’s hockey in North America.
Before my time there was a show that aired during intermissions of Hockey Night in Canada called Showdown. Showdown you could say was an early version of what would become the NHL’s Skills competition at All Star weekend. You had accuracy contests, breakaway challenges etc and back in the 70s and 80s it involved the top NHL stars such as Lanny McDonald, Darryl Sittler, Billy Smith and many others.
Like the original version of this you’d need to most likely shoot this in the offseason and hold onto the footage for a bit but how cool would it be if we did this with NHL, CWHL and NWHL players?
Think of the exposure if there was a first to five goals breakaway challenge with the modern edition of Showdown between Hilary Knight and Connor McDavid? Or Marie Philip Poulin and Max Domi? You can’t tell me you wouldn’t even find it cool if we had Jaromir Jagr vs Haley Wickenheiser in a legend vs legend battle.
As for the netminders I think it would be cool if we kept it to those from the CWHL or NWHL, let Brianne McLaughlin or Christina Kessler or slam the door on shooters from all leagues including some of their teammates.
7. The Women’s World Championships are in Kamloops this year and on Monday night the US and Canada showed once again why this is hands down the strongest rivalry in the women’s game in the first round robin game for both sides which felt dang sure like the gold medal game!
With the game aired on TSN we saw a PACKED house in BC for this tilt. The Americans would get the 3-1 win on the strength of two goals from Hilary Knight and the game winner coming from Brianna Decker.
The US may have taken the victory but I have to give props to Emerance Maschmeyer the current Harvard goalie and Boston Pride draft pick made 35 saves in the loss but many of them were highlight reel saves that keep the red, white and blue frustrated for much and this one was mainly a goalie duel until the third between Maschmeyer and Alex Rigsby.
The world is getting stronger though, women’s programs in Russia, Switzerland and Japan are going to become real threats to the US and Canada and both pro leagues had players from overseas, in fact in the NWHL, Nana Fujimoto who’s a member of the Japanese national team started for the New York Riveters and was in net for all of the franchise’s wins this season.
If that’s not growth in the women’s game I don’t know how much more proof you need. I can’t wait to see what else the future has in store for us.