This summer served as both a tumultuous offseason and the beginning of a new generation of professional women’s hockey in North America. It all started when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) announced they were ceasing all operations without notice to fans or players.
What followed was over 200 of the best women’s hockey players announcing they were abstaining from all women’s hockey leagues until there was what they saw as one unified and sustainable league available.
This was a problematic request. The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) was still active and remained the only North American professional league for women, a league in which many of these players got their start and continued to play in. Many of these players played for the NWHL during the 2018-19 season which resulted in each of the five teams losing about half their roster and having to rebuild their teams from scratch. Due to personal contempt towards the league, these abstaining players would never agree to play in the NWHL and would sooner see it fold as well to make way for the sustainable league they desired. After the successful expansion into Minnesota the season prior, the five team NWHL was left wondering what to do.
Many see the solution to this problem as a simple one. The option favored by many men’s hockey fans is to call for the intervention of Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League (NHL). This is favored because they see the only problem these leagues face as money, of which Bettman has plenty. To many people who have never taken the time to explore women’s hockey, this seems like an easy and obvious solution, but simply paying the bills is not going to solve every problem that they face.
This also presents a problem. The NHL, with no firm policy on sexual assault and domestic violence, has allowed many abusers the continued platform to play and represent the league. Some of the biggest names have been accused of sexual assault and rape, and yet the league continues to turn a blind eye. How would a league that has already shown it does not care about women treat professional women’s hockey players?
The NHL is always trying to present itself as an inclusive league, however, it remains the only one of the four major league sports in North America to never have a former or current player come out.
Having the NHL controlling a women’s league where many of the players do identify as LGBT is not the right solution.
Both the NWHL and the CWHL have had and supported trans and gay players on their teams. These leagues have given these players and LGBT fans a place to feel supported where they would typically not within spaces designated for men’s hockey.
As the fifth NWHL season has begun and the newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) — the product of the boycotting players — begins its Dream Gap tour, whom you should support is called into question by many.
This situation is often viewed in the context of us versus them: NWHL against the PWHPA. However, that is simply not the case. No matter how different the opinions of the two sides are, they are still fighting for the same thing.
The creation of a sustainable professional women’s hockey league currently is and will always be the goal. A league that can generate enough revenue to pay its players a livable wage, a league that has passionate fan bases for teams all across North America, a league that can allow little girls to dream about being a professional hockey player when they grow up like boys have been able to do for so long.
But, the question still remains: Whom do you support?
And the answer is all of them. You support all of them. You do everything you can to support professional women’s hockey.
You go to NWHL games in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, Minnesota and New Jersey. You watch the live streams of the games for free on twitch.tv/nwhl. You buy jerseys. You go support the PWHPA on their Dream Gap tour. You watch their livestreams on Youtube. You buy virtual tickets that allow local youth girls teams to attend the games. You support women’s hockey outside of just the Olympics.
You grow the game.
We are currently living in one of the most exciting times for professional women’s hockey. Don’t let the opportunity to see the best players in the world fight for what they love pass you by.