First reported by Elliotte Friedman, the discussion that a women’s outdoor game shall take place the day before the NHL’s Winter Classic would signify a watershed moment in the growth of the game. Multiple reports have suggested that the NWHL’s Boston Pride and the CWHL’s signature franchise, Les Canadiennes de Montreal would be the participating teams.
Such an event would also see the first-ever game between teams from the CWHL and the NWHL. There is no question that without the arrival of the NWHL, such a game would never have even been given serious consideration. Although the NWHL has been perceived as an interloper by some north of the border, imposing some type of sacred frozen turf, the reality is that the league has contributed a tremendous growth spurt for women’s hockey.
Taking into account that games were broadcast on the highly popular New England Sports Network (NESN) and ESPN3, along with online interviews with SINow’s Maggie Gray, this league has done so much for women’s hockey in the United States, helping bring much needed awareness; this game is truly a greater triumph for them.
Said game would take place on December 31 at Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots. The stadium shall also host another outdoor game on that day, as alumnae from the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens take to the ice, renewing rivalries and stirring emotions and fond memories among its loyal fans. Considering that no official announcement has been made by either league, let alone the NHL, rumors have been rampant. Two of the most prominent have involved the availability of players.
As several Boston Pride players are also members of the US national team, including the likes of Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker (named by The Hockey News as the best women’s player for 2015), Kacey Bellamy and Zoe Hickel, speculation has persisted that commitments to USA Hockey during this time will prevent their participation at the outdoor game.
While some fans have gone to social media, begging that USA Hockey reconsider the availability of its players, it may be best to have a more firm announcement about any such game. Should this game truly be a reality, there is no question that USA Hockey would likely do the right thing and acquiesce to any request, especially if the NHL or a television network graciously requested.
Another angle to this story involves the suggestion that players from other teams in both leagues would gain the chance to don the colors of Les Canadiennes and the Pride for this game. Therefore, the match would lose an element of its integrity, becoming a glorified All-Star Game.
Perhaps the most shocking rumor is the suggestion that a CWHL board member (whose background also includes serving as a General Manager in the NHL) believes the two leagues would actually merge. Based on the bad blood that exists between both leagues, it would be like suggesting a merger between Ford and GM, or an alliance between Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
While the two leagues did have a meeting at the NHL’s head office in September, which is where the concept of the outdoor game was supposedly first suggested, any discussions from said meeting were not mentioned on either league’s website. Sadly, the secretive nature among some individuals in women’s hockey has only lingered. Although the arrival of the NWHL has helped the game grow by a quantum leap, it cannot repeat the past behavior of others in the hopes of a more prosperous future.
Instead of an open dialogue, the sense of cloak and dagger and the frustration of secret meetings and closed doors only adds to the frustrations of some fans. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to possible legal issues, making such silence understandable, the women’s game at times seems to be defined by a lack of communication, with rumor only succeeding in tarnishing its image. For all the discussions of bringing women’s ice hockey to the next level, some individuals in the game have been infamous for placing themselves (and others) in a bubble, fostering a country club culture, burning bridges in the process.
With due deference, this event, and more importantly, the handling of such speculation should have been handled differently. Instead, silence lingers and fans feel excluded, relying on rumor rather than fact. Although playing the game is ultimately the end goal, helping to advance women’s hockey, making any current speculation futile in the long term, a closer look would reveal that this is another missed opportunity by some to establish a sincere connection, something not uncommon to longtime fans.