The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, August 2, 2019

What makes a story? — Lexi Bender interview — Must-click women's hockey links

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This is the complimentary issue this week, but there is so much more to come from Annie Peterson on soccer, along with continued tennis from Lindsay Gibbs, basketball from Howard Megdal, golf from Carly Grenfell and hockey from Erica Ayala. Only way to make sure you don’t miss all the latest news, interviews and deep dives across women’s sports every week is to subscribe! Five different women’s sports in your inbox, five days a week, just five dollars a month! And if you’ve already joined us, share this with someone you know who cares about women’s sports the way you do!

What makes a story?

Hello from Seattle!

I traveled to the Pacific Northwest shortly after the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas. It’s been a great place to enjoy a different and much more green landscape as I cranked out women’s basketball stories (still have a few more to work on).

In the spirit of the State of Washington, I spoke to Lexi Bender of the Boston Pride. We connected via phone to discuss her upcoming NWHL Clinic at her hometown rink. We also spoke about law school, playing for Paul Mara again, and what level of competition she expects during season five.

That last topic was prompted by conversations swirling on my Twitter feed after some of the latest NWHL signings. I was a bit shocked to read an exchange on social media that implied that not all NWHL signings are worth “mainstream media” attention.

First of all, I was under the impression that the issue with MSM was the lack of coverage for women’s sports? Therefore, to hear someone in the women’s hockey community call out a verified account tweeting about a recent signing was puzzling.

The quote-tweeter goes on to tell the reporter they should be doing in-depth coverage. Slight pause in the story to remind folks tweets are hardly in-depth. Even threads can be limited, and certainly more limited than an article, which the reporter promised was in the works. Others chimed in and the reporter was questioned about tweeting this particular signing, but not all the others.

It’s an interesting question. I admittedly don’t tweet about every signing. However, I don’t want to get too far away from my reason for mentioning the exchange with Sportsnet writer Kristina Rutherford. My main issue with this exchange is the lack of regard or respect given to the athlete in question, and by extension those without traditional paths.

As promised on my social media, I’m going to use basketball to support my point. If we as media only tweet, write, or talk about high draft picks, nobody would ever talk about:

  • 2019 WNBA All-Star MVP Erica Wheeler

  • San Antonio assistant coach and six-time WNBA All-Star Becky Hammon

  • NBA champion and 2018 Naismith Hall of Fame Spirit Award winner J.J Barea

These are only a handful of players that were undrafted. There are several more champions, Olympians, and World Champions that

  • Didn’t go to a “top” college before going pro and/or cracking a national team roster (Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe)

  • Were cut multiple times before getting their chance to prove they can cut it at the elite level (Alysha Clark, Allie Quigley, and again Wheeler)

I was always under the impression that the problem with how MSM covers women’s sports is that IF they cover women, they ONLY cover the one superstar. Not the league, not the coaches, not the grinders that win games and championships with their consistency.

All that said, making an argument that competition will look different is valid. Questioning whether someone with limited ice time in the CWHL can step into a bigger role elsewhere is also valid. If you recall, we spoke to Riveters forward/defender Rebecca “Moose” Morse about whether the opportunity to get more minutes impacted her decision to re-sign. Players know their role on a team. They also know in their heart of hearts if they agree with the assessment the coaching staff has made about their ability to contribute to the team.

However, implying media should not cover these types of players, especially absent … any other news in women’s professional hockey in North America, seems misguided at the least.

Players continue to say there is respect between “both sides” of the WoHo divide. If that is true, the same cannot be said about fans and media. After posting the #ForTheGame messaging, Riveters captain Michelle Picard was told she should be grateful to the NWHL for even making a USA Hockey roster (presumably the twitter account was talking about Picard winning gold at the 2019 IIHF World, but overlooked that Picard won an Olympic medal with USA Hockey before entering the NWHL).

Some on social media found it surprising to see former Riveters goalie and 2018 Isobel Cup champion Kimberly Sass (who didn’t play in the championship game) so involved in the PWHPA. Before #ForTheGame, Sass was very vocal about her challenges in the NWHL.

I am not here to get people to agree with my opinions on the state of women’s hockey, nor stifle their voice when expressing theirs. I do wonder though, if asking MSM not to cover certain draft picks or certain PWHPA board members is really what is best for the game?

My opinion: It’s not.

This Week in Women’s Hockey

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me!

Local media in Seattle covering Bender’s clinic, women’s hockey.

The Hockey Writers get you caught up on the latest Buffalo signings, Meg Delay and Kim Brown.

Around the world and back again! Learn more about St. Cloud State assistant Molly Engstrom.

Mike Murphy selects the all-time CWHL first and second team over at The Ice Garden.

Shelley Looney named Lindenwood head coach.

USA Women’s Hockey training Mike Boyle breaks down the importance of speed training.

Haley Irwin tapped as Ryerson Rams assistant coach.

The Lam Twins among those named to participate in the USA Hockey Women’s National Festival next week.

Minnesota will again host the Riveters to open the NWHL season.

Tweet of the Week

Who you got? Totally fine with two women’s hockey players, BTW.

Five at The IX: Lexi Bender

Lexi Bender is back in Washington to host the NWHL Girls Clinic at Lynwood Ice Center, where she skated as a child. I spoke to Lexi Thursday night ahead of her clinic and in between rounds of playing with her adorable dog.

Erica L. Ayala: You grew up in Washington and in the Seattle area. How are you feeling about return to run an NWHL camp?

Lexi Bender: I am so excited to be back. I cannot say that enough. It’s actually going to be held at my home rink. So, I spent a lot of early mornings at this rink, so it will be fun. I almost feel like it’s coming full circle. I’m excited, I’m hoping we get a good turnout. I started putting together the practice plan tonight.

ELA: For these types of clinics, I’d imagine it’s a mixed bag of talent or interest in pursuing hockey at the next level. With that in mind, what goals do you have for the camp?

LB: I hope we just have a really fun two hours, as you said it’s a bit of a mixed bag. We’re splitting it up by ages. The first hour is going to be younger kids, the second hour will be older kids. So, we’re tailor the practice plan a little bit that way. But I hope the girls come out, have a great time, and compete really hard.

ELA: I know there’s a lot going on with women’s hockey right now, you’ve already expressed why you re-signed with the Boston Pride. Now that we’re seeing signing and getting other news from the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), do you have a better sense of whether the dust, so to speak, is settling? Are there still people that have a lot of questions? What’s your take since re-signing?

LB: I read an article that Mal (Souliotis), one of my fellow defenseman on the Pride (was quoted in) and I just thought she said it so well. It’s a decision that everyone has to make and everyone really wants to — actually it was Lauren Kelly that said it, now that I think of it — leave hockey in a better place than when we were growing up. And, there’s different ways to do that, different ways to go about it. 

As far as dust settling, I’ve actually been working at a law firm all summer (laughs), so I’ve been extremely removed from everything. I kinda made my decision and (kept an eye out) for the Pride players that signed and talked to them, but that really all. 

ELA: Outside of trying to grow women’s hockey period, let alone in Seattle, you are finishing law school. What will this next year look like as far as your course load? Also, I presume you’ll be studying for the bar?

LB: I got some very good advice to try and relax as much as possible your so-called senior year of law school because, “the bar is a bitch”. So, I am trying to take a lighter course load than in the past. I’ve taken excess credits every semester before now, so I have a little bit of wiggle room. And, I’ll actually be coaching a U-12 team. So, I’m trying to balance one more thing. 

ELA: For you, how does that work-life balance work? You’re not unique as far as a women’s hockey player balancing multiple things. I am interested in what unique approaches you take when it comes to hockey. Is hockey another thing to check off the daily to-do list? Is it your designated time away from law school?

LB: The way that I’ve explained it is as a gift to have something where I can go, leave the library and hang out with my friends, go hit something really hard if I need to. 

I know if I have practice later or we’re traveling, that I have four hours here in the library where I need to be focused. Whereas a lot of my peers in law school might be hanging out in a  common area, being a little bit more social, being a little bit more lax, I’m really focused the time that I’m there and I think that’s made me more productive. I think it’s helped me, having that balance. Not to mention that hockey has been a constant throughout my academic career. So, it’s nice to have that continuity. 

ELA: The Boston roster is looking pretty good.

LB: I think so! That is one thing I have been paying attention to (laughs). 

ELA: It’s one of the more full roster and I don’t think any team will have a returning coach. What are you expecting will be the Boston Pride brand of hockey for 2019-20?

LB: You hit the nail on the head with the continuity of coach Paul Mara. He is awesome, I loved playing for him last year. I’m excited with a little more runway, what he’s going to turn the Boston Pride into. I know he’s very dedicated to bring a championship back to Boston and I think that’s something that actually flows throughout the locker room, too.

You have Jillian Dempsey, who is amazing! But then you have a very steady, full roster after that. I think that we have a very strong roster so far. I don’t wanna say you don’t have the superstars, because you do! But, everyone’s going to contribute and also play off each other in different ways. So, I think we’re gonna have a fast-coming, fun to watch team. It’s August, so we’re starting to get excited!

And, I love that we have a fuller preseason now. That will help us get going a little bit faster. 

ELA: I wrap with this one: You alluded to superstars for Boston. I think post-May, shall we call it, in women’s hockey left a lot of questions marks for people. There are people making early judgements on some of the players signing and the cailber of ice hockey they’ll bring to the league. The NWHL has always pulled talent from all corners of the sport. It’s worked for some teams in some season, and not as well for others at other times, the Boston Pride certainly being one of them. What do you make of going into the season knowing some players won’t return and how might that impact what we see on the ice?

LB: Yeah. I think that as you alluded to, with some people sitting out, it will be important that we have a good team on the ice because you’re not going to have that one player everybody’s coming to see. I mean, you won’t have that anywhere in North American because they all took off to Sweden, right?

But, I think that you are going to need to have the teams pull together and I think it’s too early to make a judgement. Because, as you said, I think that the Boston Pride traditionally, besides my rookie year have had less so-called superstars in the NWHL than other teams, but have been very successful. Buffalo, the first year they won, I would argue had very few superstars. 

I think it just depends on how the team comes together. One thing that I’m really excited about with the Boston Pride this season is that we have great people in the locker room.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Erica L. Ayala