Imagine this: You are a post-graduate female hockey player and in the best shape of your life. You have the best years of your athletic career yet to come. You very well may already be representing the Canadian or American national teams, or at least, training to get there one day. That journey and where you are right now is very unique; it is something in which you have put everything in your power into to develop your skillset as a player.
The sad news is, as of right now, the players representing the peak of women’s hockey do not have a sustainable North American league to play out of.
Let me further explain the current situation.
We have the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) that promotes the greatest product of professional women’s hockey in North America. The association was created after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) discontinued operations as of May 1, 2019.
On top of the PWHPA, we have the six-team National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) that operates mainly in the United States, but recently announced its expansion to Toronto with the ‘Six’ in late-April. As much as these different parties promote the growth of the game from their own individaulized ends, professional women’s hockey seems nothing but a broken record at this given moment.
In my opinion, the PWHPA is completely right about the fact that women’s hockey requires and deserves a better platform. If I still played, I would hop on that boat. Simply because playing at the highest level requires daily training facilities, providing enough on-ice practices to be able to develop as a player. Those are the absolute, bare-bone, minimum requirements for Olympic-level athletes or anyone wanting to get to that point.
Being able to get on the ice daily at a decent time – without having to fight for that timeslot – is more important than simply paying players. This is not only a fight for equal pay, however, it is a battle to have a set, sustainable schedule that supports being a high-level athlete. Whatever it is that the PWHPA players are after, it is in high demand.
I highly respect the efforts of the NWHL and its attempts to grow the game, but that league does not provide players enough support to thrive at their peak levels – at least not yet. It certainly is a great league for players who are able to commit to two practices a week (around their full-time work schedule) but additional steps need to be taken for the league to grow into a sustainable platform that fulfills everyone’s needs.
Unfortunately, without having the big-name roster players on board to help drive interest, it seems like a curiously difficult task. I understand that the top-level players have to be the ones paving the path to younger generations, but to what extent? Through this, we must remember that they are athletes who most likely work and have families, while trying to juggle in the many training hours required by professional athletes in their weekly schedules. As much as they are trying to do for the game, their time is limited.
And where are those high-level female hockey players?
They make up the names and faces behind the 200+ members of the PWHPA, holding out from playing professional hockey in North America, pressing onward in the fight for the development of a new, unified league, sitting out regular season league play and pushing forward through the #ForTheGame initiative.
This coming year will certainly be an interesting one for women’s hockey in North America.
Are we finally going to get an NHL-styled league where players will get paid enough to put all their efforts into hockey and take the game to the next level? Or are we still at a standstill, waiting around for the unknown?
Maybe the future of women’s hockey is in Europe, where the sustainable league model for female players already exists, especially in countries such as Sweden and Finland. Or maybe the growth opportunity is in Russia, where players can actually get paid to play full-time. It would be a shame if North America does not figure it out.
Young girls deserve to dream big.