NWHL proudly represented at NYC Pride Parade

Originally published on Women Talk Sports

In a remarkable show of solidarity, eight competitors from the NWHL, along with Commissioner Dani Rylan, supported league partner You Can Play (YCP), by taking part in the New York City Pride March. For Rylan, it was an eventful weekend as she was also part of a panel including Gabrielle Reece that spoke at #Blogher17, an event sponsored by She Knows Media.

Along with the NWHL, the sporting community saw the likes of competitors from the WNBA Players’ Association and Major League Soccer also took part. Beginning at 36th Street and 5th Avenue, culminating at Christopher and Greenwich Streets, the Parade was an opportunity for the league to support the positive message of YCP, which sees one player from each of its teams serve as an YCP ambassador.

Dedicated towards ensuring that sports venues are free from homophobia, with athletes judged on talent and not sexual orientation and/or gender identity, the core mission of YCP is one that brings great meaning to the NWHL. Prior to the launch of their second season in the autumn of 2016, Buffalo Beauts competitor Harrison Browne publicly announced a transgender status, becoming the first athlete in modern professional sport to do so.

Having started in 1970, the New York City Pride Parade saw over 350 unique groups participate in the March in 2016. This year, proudly garbed members of the NWHL wore white T-shirts with the league’s logo in all colors of the rainbow. The smiling players were waving flags with the You Can Play logo, while giving out stickers to the onlookers.

As the NWHL proudly stood behind Browne, while also showing the courage of its conviction by working on a policy for transgender athletes, the opportunity to march in the Pride Parade was an extension of its welcoming culture.

Among the players from the NWHL’s clubs that participated, the most prominent included Anya Battaglino, who is the head of the NWHL Players Association. While her presence certainly represents the beginning of a strong working relationship between the league and its PA, there was also an emotional component.

A charter member of the Connecticut Whale, Battaglino had come out while she was still a competitor at the NCAA level with the Boston University Terriers. Such a defining moment in her life is one that has gained luster through the support friends and teammates alike.

Through participation in the Pride Parade, it was an opportunity for Battaglino to give back. Her efforts may save lives, inspiring others that are enduring their own personal struggles with orientation, while giving a voice through example that fosters the sense of encouragement that comprises the essence of this event. Many hockey fans also expressed their support for her on social media, admiring and appreciating such courageous leadership. Of note, one fan expressed her gratitude by creating a hashtag in her honor: #IStandWithAnya

Two other teammates from the Connecticut Whale joined Battaglino in the March. Kelly Babstock, the first Canadian-born player to score a goal in the history of the NWHL, along with Elena Orlando also represented the franchise. As a side note, both played at the NCAA level with the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

The New York Riveters, who played their inaugural season in nearby Brooklyn, also made their presence felt on this day. Among the Riveters members gracing the streets of New York on this day included Sarah Bryant, Courtney Burke, a first round pick in the inaugural NWHL Draft, Harvard alum Miye D’Oench, Alexa Gruschow and Rebecca Russo, a competitor in the 2017 NWHL All-Star Game.

While these wondrous women deserve to be admired for their heroics on the ice, their amazing efforts off it have only enhanced their status as role models, setting a positive tone for the third season to come.

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NWHL founder Dani Rylan part of The Hockey News Top 100

As the accolades and gratitude continue to grow for NWHL founder and Commissioner Dani Rylan, all are well deserved. Having revolutionized women’s hockey by introducing player compensation, the first of its kind in North America, Rylan is forging an empowering path forward.

Such effort alone is not the only reason that Rylan is gaining unprecedented recognition on The Hockey News list of the 100 Most Influential and Powerful People in Hockey, which also included NWHL competitor Kelli Stack being named. The reality is that Rylan’s efforts in the game have gone beyond just compensation.

(L-R): Hayley Moore, Erika Lawler and Dani Rylan at the Women's Winter Classic. Image obtained from Facebook

(L-R): Hayley Moore, Erika Lawler and Dani Rylan at the Women’s Winter Classic. Image obtained from Facebook

While the NWHL gained prominent attention in the media as the first of its kind to pay players, it has proven to be only the initial step in Rylan’s effort to create the finest hockey league for eilte female competitors. The hard work has continued past the inaugural puck drop.

Equally important is the need to give back to the community, establishing the league and its players as hockey humanitarians, a cause that Rylan was very passionate about when she helped to form the NWHL Foundation. Such initiative was met with outstanding results.

From fundraisers for military, cancer research, the admirable Do It for Daron mental health foundation, along with teams locally holding food drives and teddy bear toss events (for needy children during the holidays), one quickly gains the impression that the players enjoy participating in these events, truly a win-win for the game and the community.

Exhibition series have also proven to be another outstanding method of developing the game, while acknowledging the efforts of others in the hockey community. Rylan invited the Minnesota Whitecaps, the first American-based team to win the Clarkson Cup, to participate in a pair of pre-season exhibition matches with the New York Riveters and Connecticut Whale.

Before the holidays, the Boston Pride would visit the Whitecaps at their home rink, providing Minnesota, also known as the state of hockey, with the first professional women’s hockey matches there. Ensuring that the Whitecaps were somehow part of the NWHL’s inaugural season is testament to Rylan’s respect for those who paved the way.

Another key highlight was the opportunity to land the league’s first corporate sponsor, Dunkin’ Donuts, an encouraging sign that the league is destined for growth. With the Dunkin’ Donuts logo featured on all NWHL jerseys, the names of the players on the back of said jerseys are nothing short of impressive.

Featuring world class talent, including an exceptional number of competitors from the United States national team, it injected instant credibility to the league. Rylan’s strong leadership has led to a credible reciprocation, one where players are given percentages of jersey sales. Such sales could grow as the league has enjoyed television exposure on the New England Sports Network and ESPN3, part of the expanding interest that the league has enjoyed.

The reality is that Rylan has brought more exposure and generated unprecedented interest in women’s hockey over the last six months than some people have managed in close to a decade. It can also be said that without Rylan and the presence of the NWHL, there would never have been a women’s outdoor game at the Winter Classic.

In addition, Rylan has been highly supportive of the formation of a player’s association. Led by Winter Games silver medalist and former Wisconsin Badgers scoring legend Erika Lawler, it is part of a commitment to build and develop player morale, part of proficiency for not only doing all the right things, but respecting the athletes who are equally committed to developing the NWHL brand.

Such mutual respect has proven to be among the ingredients towards a very successful future that should see Rylan, and hopefully other members of the NWHL family, as fixtures on the Top 100 for many seasons to come.

Janine Weber’s magical hockey journey continues in the NWHL

No player in women’s hockey has enjoyed as remarkable a year in 2015 as Janine Weber. Since becoming the first European-born player to score a Clarkson Cup-winning goal, it has led to increased attention wherever she plays.

With a newfound hockey hero status, Weber was among a group of players that attended the Connecticut Whale’s free agent camp. Other notable names at said camp included the likes of Brooke Ammerman, Kelly Babstock, Anya Battaglino, Sam Faber and Kaliegh Fratkin, among others.

Weber’s presence at the camp added a feeling of relevance for one of the NWHL’s charter franchises. Despite the return of professional hockey to the Nutmeg State, it would be the New York Riveters and not the Stamford-based Whale that signed Weber to a contract.

NY-Riveters

In doing so, Weber not only became the first player in the history of the Riveters franchise to sign a contract with the team, she became the first free agent signing in the entire history of the NWHL, a shrewd acquisition by Riveters general manager Dani Rylan. Taking into account that the Riveters also won the Draft Lottery, earning the first pick overall in the upcoming NWHL Draft, Weber’s acquisition adds momentum towards the team’s inaugural puck drop.

Considering that the NWHL shall be the first women’s hockey league to compensate its players, Weber’s presence becomes very symbolic. After helping the Boston Blades capture its second Clarkson Cup, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto wanted to display Weber’s game-used stick. Unfortunately, she only had two sticks in her possession, and required them as she was going to represent Austria at the 2015 IIHF Div. 1A Women’s World Hockey Championships.

Wanting to acquiesce to the Hall’s request, the sad economic realities meant that Weber would have to find the means to replace her stick. Luckily, an outpouring of support via social media resulted in the stick manufacturer (STX Hockey) graciously supplying her with a new stick.

Although the stick story has taken on a life of its own, adding to Weber’s growing legend, such a conundrum shall not be part of her experience in the NWHL. The promise of compensation shall alleviate the financial worries that unnecessarily burdened so many in seasons past.

Another meaningful element that adds remarkable relevance towards the acquisition of Weber is the fact that the NWHL is committed towards providing European players with the opportunity to extend their careers past NCAA hockey by competing in its league. With a camp in late July designated for European players, the signing of Weber is testament to the league’s efforts, adding a very important credibility.

While the opportunity to score the Isobel Cup-clinching goal would only contribute to Weber’s growing mythology, the remarkable support on social media has certainly ensured that she shall be one of the NWHL’s fan favorites. Ready to continue her magical hockey journey in a league that is ready to embrace her status as a world-class hockey player, the real victory is the chance to showcase her skills for a group of jubilant fans ready to appreciate her contributions to the game.