Columns / Discourse / January 15, 2020

PWHPA between a league and a hard place

After what was an eventful summer for women’s hockey – with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) announcing that it would be folding and the subsequent formation of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) to fight for a more sustainable league and the unofficial boycott of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) by those players – the last few months have proven equally eventful for both entities.

With the NWHL season starting early last October, the league has only continued to show growth and perseverance in this tumultuous time.

The beginning of the season was marked by a never before seen streaming deal with Twitch, an online streaming service most synonymous with video games, increased wages for all players with each team’s maximum salary cap increased and a 50/50 sponsorship revenue split between players and the league. It was looking to be a successful year for the league heading into their fifth season of operation.

Despite the fact that most teams were dealing with completely different rosters from the season prior, the talentpool around the league was impressive and the gameplay only further displayed that.

The support from women’s hockey fans at the beginning was in no way divided; their support towards both entities was clear. Since then, however, the attempt to support both has only become harder.

In what has been a series of extremely petty remarks from many PWHPA entities, a clear divide has formed within women’s hockey. Those that have been given the opportunity to play for their respective national teams and are thus the faces of women’s hockey have been extremely vocal about how they see the future of the sport.

Hilary Knight, US Olympic gold medalist, former member of the NWHL’s Boston Pride and current member of the PWHPA referred to the NWHL as nothing but a “glorified beer league” in an interview, going further to say that there was no elite talent in the league.

Most recently, the PWHPA has formed a perplexing relationship with former NHL player Tie Domi. During an interview on a podcast, Domi brought up the value of women’s hockey, a move that at the time seemed completely unprompted on his part and fueled by genuine support. However, once it was revealed that Domi was to be one of the featured attendees of the PWHPA’s next player showcase, his actions made more sense.

Since then, Domi’s support has devolved into nothing more than attacking women’s hockey fans asking genuine questions online, spouting unsourced beliefs that the NWHL is hurting women’s hockey rather than helping it and asserting that the only players worth watching are those in the PWHPA. It is clear that this is a belief many in the PWHPA have and yet this is the first time somebody has actually stepped up and said it upfront.

From an outside standpoint, this partnership makes no sense. Having a former NHL player to support the cause is a good way to garner support from men’s hockey fans; however, Domi is not somebody most would see in that position.

Known more during his own career as the guy that once fought a fan during a game than as a guy with high goal scoring prowess, he holds the record for most career fights in the NHL and was never popular among fans. That hasn’t changed for him since retirement. His perplexing takes on women’s hockey come after a history of racism from him and his son Max, a current NHL player.

Choosing someone like Domi as a spokesperson seems to be a PR nightmare at best, but more realistically, he is genuinely harmful for the sport. He is turning more women’s hockey fans away than he is bringing in new ones.

In theory, the concept of a US based NWHL and a Canada based PWHPA works perfect for growing the game across all of North America. However, in practice this hasn’t shown true.

The PWHPA and its leadership hardly seem to show support for the work that they are doing to grow the game within their own organization without putting the NWHL down. For them, the solution they want is clear: they want an NHL backed women’s league. But, that’s something that multiple bodies within the NHL have stated wouldn’t happen with a professional women’s league still in operation in North America.

No concrete plans for the creation of a new women’s league has ever come forth from the NHL, and there’s been no indication given that this is something they are even working on, and yet the PWHPA has decided that they need to base all of their efforts upon it. And so, the PWHPA have shifted from promoting growth and unity in women’s hockey to doing whatever they can to trash the NWHL.

Despite their best efforts, the NWHL is still thriving.

With record setting viewership online and sold out games in person, it is clear that the NWHL is only going to continue to grow.

Every weekend the NWHL provides viewers with exciting and fast paced games to watch online, free of charge. New opportunities for sponsorships and increasing viewership are coming every week.

It is clear to the members of the PWHPA that what the NWHL is doing works. Many of those who supported the movement initially have shifted beliefs to rejoin their former NWHL teams.

These women in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York and New Jersey are not doing anything to harm women’s hockey. They’re doing what anybody would want to Ð they’re playing the game they love while they still can and there is nothing wrong with that.


Tags:  nhl nwhl professional hockey PWHPA sports women's hockey

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