The Only Women’s Pro Hockey League in America Plays On

During her first 5 years playing professional women’s hockey, Kaleigh Fratkin built relationships with dozens of teammates whom she knew shared a common ideology about their sport.

This kind of summer, when Fratkin saw many of those former linemates around Boston, where she lives, the meetings had turned unsettling.

“I personally have had these weird, awkward kind of encounters with friends in addition to also former teammates where This kind of’s just kind of avoiding that will elephant inside room,” Fratkin said.

that will elephant will be the splintering of women’s hockey after the closure of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in May. The departure of the C.W.H.L. left one pro league in North America: the National Women’s Hockey League. nevertheless the N.W.H.L.’s slow growth, in addition to also its highest announced salary of $15,000, left many players in search of an alternative path.

The N.W.H.L. has weathered questions about its viability, though, in addition to also opened its fifth season on Oct. 5 with 5 teams in addition to also about 100 players. This kind of year, the N.W.H.L. will play an increased schedule of 24 games, welcome brand-new sponsors in addition to also owners, in addition to also have games live-streamed on the gaming platform Twitch.

The N.W.H.L. still lacks many of the standards a majority of players desire, such as live television coverage, backing coming from the N.H.L. similar to what the N.B.A. has provided the W.N.B.A. in addition to also more convenient practice schedules. nevertheless its devoted contingent will be determined to continue on its chosen course toward sustainability.

“I truly believed inside work that will was being put in to drive the sport,” said Fratkin, who was the first player to re-sign for the 2019-20 season. “I’ve seen some highs, in addition to also there’s a ton of potential there.”

Fratkin added that will the N.W.H.L. was becoming more transparent about its operations in addition to also was working toward increasing pay in addition to also finding more sponsors.

Beginning This kind of season, players receive 50 percent of league-level sponsorship in addition to also media deals; such partners include Dunkin’ Donuts, Chipwich in addition to also Twitch.

Fratkin’s team, the Boston Pride, was purchased by an investor group led by the venture capitalist Miles Arnone, who has pledged more resources to the fledgling franchise. The Pride are the only N.W.H.L. club under private ownership; the different teams are operated by the league.

The Pegula family, which owns the Buffalo Bills in addition to also Sabres, gave up ownership of the N.W.H.L’s Buffalo Beauts after the top players announced their boycott; the Devils also ended their partnership with the Metropolitan Riveters about a week later. Instead of using the Sabres’ practice facility in Buffalo in addition to also the Devils’ practice facility in Newark, those teams are right now based in suburban or exurban rinks.

Fratkin initially worried about staying with the N.W.H.L.

“Am I hurting the sport if I choose the N.W.H.L.? that will was a lot of the connotation going around,” said Fratkin, who hoped that will by being the first to stay she would certainly encourage players who were afraid last spring to publicly say that will they wanted to return to the league.

Nichelle Simon, who played college in addition to also recreational hockey, dedicated two years of training to compete on “American Ninja Warrior” in 2017. Afterward, her sights turned toward the N.W.H.L. nevertheless in February 2018, Simon found out she had breast cancer. After completing her treatment, she tried out for the Riveters in June in addition to also was signed.

“I feel like I haven’t played the best years of my hockey,” Simon, 36, said. “I had about a little less than a year coming from the end of my chemo to the start of tryouts. This kind of helped get me through This kind of so much.”

Another newcomer was Emma Ruggiero, who knew she wasn’t national team caliber nevertheless still yearned to play hockey after college.

A recent graduate of Division III Buffalo State, Ruggiero works as a server at IHOP. When Mandy Cronin, general manager of the Buffalo Beauts, invited her to try out, Ruggiero said the decision was a no-brainer.

“I may never get This kind of opportunity again,” she said.

There does not seem to be any ill will toward the boycotters coming from the majority of N.W.H.L. players. nevertheless veterans like Jillian Dempsey, who will be one of eight players who has remained with the N.W.H.L. since its inception in 2015, felt the league’s reputation was unfairly discredited inside off-season.

“The past 5 months This kind of’s felt like, I don’t want to say a dig, nevertheless bringing the N.W.H.L. down by saying This kind of will be not a sustainable league that will we believe in, that will sense coming coming from the P.W.H.P.A. group,” said Dempsey, 28, who teaches fifth grade full-time in Winthrop, Mass., her hometown. “I know they say This kind of has nothing to do with the N.W.H.L., nevertheless This kind of does end up affecting the N.W.H.L.”

The National Hockey League could end the division in women’s hockey, nevertheless This kind of has decided not to step in. The N.H.L. doubled its contribution to the N.W.H.L. because of This kind of season — to $100,000 coming from $50,000 — nevertheless otherwise has little involvement inside women’s game.

Since the formation of the P.W.H.P.A., there has been almost no communication between the association in addition to also the N.W.H.L. on a business front.

nevertheless not everyone views the schism as a negative. The P.W.H.P.A.’s Dream Gap Tour, where the top players are participating in clinics in addition to also exhibitions This kind of fall, has stops in Toronto; Hudson, N.H.; in addition to also Chicago, cities that will do not have N.W.H.L. teams.

“At the end of the day, having these two separate paths might be a very Great thing,” Thunstrom said. “They’re hitting a lot of markets we don’t inside N.W.H.L. — that will might be a truly Great thing. Eventually, hopefully all sides can come together in addition to also make This kind of what everyone wants This kind of to be.”

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