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National Women’s Hockey League breaking new ground

By Sonny Sachdeva, August 6, 2015 —

Every four years, women’s hockey taps into the mainstream of North American sports culture when hundreds of thousands tune in to watch the sport’s top talents suit up at the Winter Olympics.

For the three years in between, however, support for the sport vanishes, leaving female hockey players with few options if they’re hoping to turn their passion into a full-fledged career.

That could soon change. NCAA alum Dani Rylan and former Olympian Angela Ruggiero are leading a new movement for the women’s hockey community. The pair are co-founders of the brand new National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), which will begin its inaugural season in October of this year with four new franchises — the Buffalo Beauts, Boston Pride, New York Riveters and Connecticut Whale.

The NWHL represents a significant step forward for women’s hockey. Most notably, they give prospective athletes the opportunity to earn a decent paycheque — something that hasn’t been done by any of the previous organizations.

Prior to the NWHL’s founding, the only professional route available to female hockey players in North America was the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). But calling the CWHL professional is a bit of a stretch. The league isn’t able to pay their players, cover the costs of equipment (which doesn’t come cheap) or pay for meals on the road. CWHL players are given jerseys and a league structure, but they’re still paying to play the game.

That won’t be the case in the NWHL. Rylan, who will serve as the league’s first-ever commissioner, has stated that all players will be paid. Their gear will be provided by their franchises, just like the professional men’s leagues.

The paychecks aren’t enough to live on — each franchise will reportedly have an annual $270,000 salary cap, meaning roughly $15,000 per player — but they’ll still give female hockey players a much better chance at forging careers as pro athletes.

Support for the NWHL has been growing as the league has begun lining up legitimate talent, but the CWHL still remains in the mix for players leaving the NCAA system.

The CWHL recently signed a four-year deal with Sportsnet (who hold primary broadcast rights to the NHL) to broadcast their playoffs and special events, giving CWHL players the chance to gain nation-wide exposure. As well, the CWHL’s Montreal Stars recently partnered with the Montreal Canadiens — one of the NHL’s most respected clubs – who also agreed to help boost their exposure.

The NWHL and CWHL are poised to compete for talent for the foreseeable future. And the one group that looks set to come out on top is the one that matters most — the players. Having two organizations vying for legitimacy will mean better overall treatment for the players, as each league will have to bring their best if they hope to attract elite talent.

Currently, the NWHL seems to be the better bet, reigning as the only league in North America that will allow female athletes to earn a paycheque as professional hockey players.

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