The creation of the National Women’s Hockey League went under the radar for many hockey fans. Now, midway through the second season, things are heating up as teams develop rivalries, their eyes looking ahead to the postseason and the glory of the playoffs. Here I will give a brief overview of the league and of each team to get you up to speed on all of the goings on within the NWHL.
In March 2015 it was announced that the first Women’s hockey league to pay its players would be created. The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) was formed for the 2015/16 season with four teams, Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale, New York Riveters and the Buffalo Beauts. Through its first season there was an Outdoor Women’s Classic game against the CWHL’s (Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the other league for top level skaters) Les Canadiennes and an all-star game held in Buffalo. It hasn’t all been easy going for the league however, with many controversies over where the initial investors were, tension with the CWHL, and the announcement that all player salaries would be cut by 50% which have all been blows to the dream of a sustainable professional women’s league. However, with a multi-year sponsorship deal from Dunkin Donuts and a deal with a local TV company worked out, there are signs that the league can pull through.
Location: Northford Ice Pavilion, North Bramford, Connecticut. They used to play at Chelsea Piers in Stamford but moved for the beginning of this seaso
Colours: Blue, Green, White.
The name Connecticut Whale, along with the team colours, is a nostalgic throwback to the sorely missed Hartford Whalers of the NHL who relocated to Carolina to become the Hurricanes in 1997. They claimed the first ever win of the NWHL against the New York Riveters, 4-1, in front of a sell-out crowd back in 2015, and they went on to finish second in the league with a record of 13-5-0. They then, surprisingly, lost to the Buffalo Beauts 2-1 in a three game series in the semi-finals. Despite this slightly damp squid of an ending to the season, the Whales are definitely a contender in most of their games and with a bit more precision, they could be making a push to reach the finals this year. Currently they are 4-5-0 in the 2016 Season.
Players to watch:
Forward Kelli Stack finished the 2015 season with 22 points in 17 games.
Kelly Babstock notched up 22 points in 18. Nine games into the current season, she’s leading the league in points with 12 so far.
Location: Warrior ice arena, Boston, Massachusetts. This ice rink is the practice rink for the Boston Bruins and the Pride have averaged above sell-out crowds for the 2016 season.
The true ‘Pride’ of Boston: the fans, as @TheBostonPride have an average attendance over ‘capacity.’
— NWHL (@NWHL) December 12, 2016
Colours: Black, gold, white.
History: Being the only NWHL franchise to be in a city with a CWHL team in the form of Boston Blades there was plenty of talent around. Much of that talent signed on with the Pride to make it the powerhouse of the league. With a 14-3-1 record, Boston were flawless in the playoffs to be the first team to win the Isobel trophy. Along with sweeping the Riveters and Beauts in the playoffs, they also swept the awards, with players winning MVP, Scoring Champion, Goaltender of the year and Defencewoman of the year. They were also involved in the first Women’s Outdoor Classic game against the Montreal Les Cannadiennes from the CWHL, in which they drew 1-1. They show no signs of stopping with an 8-0-0 tally in 2016. This team likes winning and it does it well; they are certainly favourites to win the Isobel trophy this year once again.
Players to Watch:
Hillary Knight, who won Scoring Champion with 15 goals, and a total of 33 points in 17 regular season games.
MVP winner, Brianna Decker notched 29 points for herself in 17 games.
Meanwhile, Brittany Ott shut down almost all attacks to win goaltender of the year. In the 2016/17 season she is sitting comfortably with a save percentage of 0.949%.
Location: Harborcentre, Buffalo, New York State. The Harborcentre is directly connected to the Keybank Centre, which is where the Buffalo Sabres play.
Colours: Blue, white, black, grey.
— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) December 16, 2016
History: The Buffalo Beauts were definitely the surprising (yet welcome) dark horse of the inaugural season of the NWHL. Having posted a record of 5-9-4 and never having recorded a win against second place finishers, the Connecticut Whale, not many would have betted that they would make it to the playoff finals. After losing the opening game however, they showed plenty of spirit to come from behind to take the series 2-1. Although they lost to Boston in the final, they had already gone above and beyond what anyone expected from them. They are currently 3-5-1 but now we know what they are capable of, no-one will expect them to lie down easily.
Players to watch: Kelly Steadman had 20 points in 10 games last season, giving her the highest points per game rate in the league. She managed the second most shots on goal, only behind Hillary Knight of the Boston Pride. On the 31st July, Shiann Darkangelo signed with the Beauts after recording a 0.89 PPG pace with the Whale in the 2015/16 season. She currently leads Buffalo in points for the season.
New York Riveters
Location: Prudential Centre, Newark, New Jersey. They played out of Brooklyn during the 2015/16 season but have since moved.
Colours: Red, Blue, White.
If there ever was an underdog in the league, then the Riveters are it. They finished last in the league in 2015, posting just 4 wins with a final record of 4-12-2 and then, not surprisingly were swept 2-0 in the semi-final series against the Pride. However, that isn’t to say that they are not contenders now. With 5 new players signing with the Riveters this season, they are certainly making an early impression. They have are sitting at 3-5-2 so far, a serious improvement from last year. With their most recent 2-0 victory over the Whale, they seem to be on the way up.
Players to watch:
Amanda Kessel, one of the most recognisable names in women’s hockey, signed with the Riveters for $26,000 in May 2016, which is the highest signing in NWHL history. However, she’s only played one game due to her ongoing injury problems dating back to 2014.
Rebbecca Russo currently leads the league in assists, with 8 assists on the season, and with 3 goals to go along with them, I’m sure there will be plenty more from her.
So now that you are up to date, which team are you going to be backing for this year’s champion?