Hockey World Blog

National Women’s Hockey League off to strong start

profile-hillary-interiorThe league only boasts four team and 72 players, and their salaries range from a $10,000 minimum to $25,000 per season—far below that of their male counterparts—but the National Women’s Hockey League, or NWHL, has already achieved sellout crowds in its inaugural season.

“We were in the locker room the other day and one of the girls was like, ‘Yo, one of my friends texted me and thought that’s what we’re getting paid per game,'” said Hilary Knight of the Boston Pride, a two-time Olympic silver medalist.

“It’s funny. Just announcing salaries opened people’s eyes. It was like, oh my God, this is a real thing.”

The league comes at a time when interest in women’s hockey is at an all-time high, which was highlighted by the fact that a game in Buffalo’s HarborCenter drew a crowd of 1,231—which exceeded the average attendance of every NCAA Division I team last season except for two. Knight scored the first two goals of the game as the Boston Pride downed the Buffalo Beauts 4-1.

The Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters round out the league.

Knight is one of eight players from the 2014 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team who jumped ship from the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which doesn’t currently pay its players but plans to begin in 2016-17. Brenda Andress, commissioner of the CWHL, said her league generated $1.8 million in revenue last year, which was a $600,000 increase over the year before.

“The reason we made the decision to go into (the NWHL) is because we believed in (league founder Dani Rylon’s) vision for women’s hockey,” said Meghan Duggan, one of Knight’s Olympic teammates who currently plays for the Buffalo Beauts. “We were willing to take this risk and explore this new option. We think she’s created something great. It’s a step forward in the world of women’s hockey, and we want to be a part of it.”

Despite the league’s early success with fans, one of the key components of growth for women’s hockey will be television exposure. According to NBC,the gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada in 2014 had 4.9 million viewers—twice as many as the 2010 ratings. USA Hockey also reported that registration for its programs for women rose 3.74 percent from 2013-14 to 2014-15. Games for the NWHL are currently streaming through the league’s website.

Until then, the league will rely heavily on fan support to stay afloat, but players like Knight and Duggan believe that their league and the Canadian women’s league will ultimately merge one day as popularity for women’s professional hockey continues to grow.

“I know our league will be high quality,” Knight said. “I’m just hoping that at one point the two leagues work together. But really, the situation we have down in Boston — the Canadian players on the CWHL team, and the U.S. players on the NWHL team — wouldn’t it be great if they could all compete together on the same team? It would elevate the sport.”

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