Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, June 7, 2019
#ForTheGame while re-signing with the NWHL — Must-click women's hockey links
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Hi from Knoxville!
I’m going to make this quick because after a long day, I need a drink and then a bed ASAP!
I will leave you with a quick women’s basketball anecdote: I spoke with Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Valerie Still for about 30 minutes today. We talked about so many things, including the often forgotten drama that existed when two … yes, two women’s professional basketball leagues were founded after the 1996 Summer Olympics. The defunct ABL only survived 3.5 seasons before clearing the way for the WNBA.
If you listen to Still tell it, the ABL was a league that was “for the players”. They were LGBT-accepting – the WNBA has a not-so-great history on this – and players owned stock in the league.
The ABL-WNBA drama is something I learn more about every year I come to the WBHOF induction weekend. I know, this is a lot of WBB talk for a Friday, but hear me out.
Still and I also talked about the exhausting work of women’s sports advocacy and the similarities between what is happening in women’s hockey, women’s soccer, and women’s basketball (Did she read my debut article for TalkPoverty.org?).
When I explained what was going on in women’s hockey, she admitted to not know much, but had a strong reaction to where and how the NHL might get involved. I asked her what advice she’d give to women’s hockey players fighting for what she did after the closing of the ABL.
She said, “You have to make sure, first of all, that there’s women at the table, in positions of leaders, that have the best interests of women [in mind].”
Still had much, much more to say about everything from abortion rights to maternity leave. Hopefully, her words will find their way to the articles section of an upcoming Basketball Wednesday edition of The IX.
This Week in Women’s Hockey
Amy Menke on dealing with uncertainty in women’s hockey … again.
Dan Rice with insight on the latest Connecticut Whale roster moves.
Mike O’Grady resigns from Nichols women’s hockey program.
“Olympic hockey isn’t going to sustain women’s hockey forever. That’s no different than men’s side,” Hayley Wickenheiser told Derek Craddock & Sandra Prusina, 660 News
“The PWHPA is at the table. They made their gamble to push for something more. They just need someone to match their bet,” writes Jared Book in response to the NWHL statement last week.
Natalie Spooner one of ten to be inducted to the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame.
Former Connecticut Whale captain Sam Faber tapped assistant coach for new Long Island University women’s ice hockey program.
Lexie becomes the third Laing Sister to sign with the Boston Pride, Nate Oliver with the details.
Erin Hamlin offers coaching insights in this USA Hockey Q&A
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Mallory Souliotis
On June 5, Mallory Souliotis became the 8th player to sign with the Boston Pride for the 2019-20 season. In her conversation with me, she gets into why she originally supported #ForTheGame and why now she believes the NWHL is the best current option for women’s professional hockey. I did some light editing (mostly to my questions, YIKES!) to
Erica L. Ayala: What are some of the factors, generally speaking, that led you to re-sign with the Boston Pride for the upcoming season?
Mallory Souliotis: Going into college I thought my high-level hockey [career] would be over after college. Not to say I wouldn’t play pick-up or beer league. But, I thought it was over. So, when they formed the NWHL, I was extremely excited because I might have the opportunity to continue to play. And so that factored into my decisions in the past to play and it was definitely part of my decision to come back this year. I get to play high-level hockey for another season against some very good players. Against some who have recently graduated and some who’ve been playing in the league more years than I have.
To say it’s a dream come true to continue to play would not be correct because it was never a dream of mine ‘cause [a women’s pro league] didn’t exist. So, it’s incredible. I get to play the sport I love at a very high level, and I get paid to do it. So I think, there’s not really much else I could ask for.
ELA: It has been made aware via social media that you did follow #ForTheGame and made some statements on social media regarding that. But I guess what I’m interested to get your perspective on is, even those who’ve signed on to this upcoming NWHL season, seem to be in agreement that there is a need to make women’s hockey better. Do you think one has to be on one side or the other to want better for women’s hockey?
MS: I don’t think … I think you can want what’s best for women’s hockey and you could [pauses] … both the NWHL and the #ForTheGame movement support the idea of growing women’s hockey and making it the best they can. They take drastically different paths to get to that end goal. One of them being, sitting out this year and not playing in the NWHL – which is the only professional women’s league in North America right now – sitting out in hopes of something better that can provide all the resources, like insurance and whatnot.
Then you have the NWHL which has already been established, continues to grow, and will only continue to grow as long as players play. So, I think you can want what’s best for women’s hockey, and then you have your two options, if that makes sense.
ELA: Going from there, are there things that, when it came to how you wanted to contribute to growing the game, what made you opt to return to the NWHL?
MS: At first when I was approached with the #ForTheGame movement prior to the announcement on social media, I was told that we would sit out this year and the NWHL would fold, and the NHL would swoop in and create a league. And, that league would provide the insurance, the salaries or resources that professional men’s hockey players receive. And, at first I thought, ‘Wow, that’s awesome! That’s great! So, how are we going to get there and what needs to be done?
From there, I still had concerns. Who’s to say the NHL makes the league? There’s nothing written down from the NHL saying if the NWHL folds, we’re going to create this league … the players will receive everything they need.
But then again, it was kind of unclear and it was very foggy and I asked these questions. I asked is there a guarantee? Is it written down?Who’s to say they have to make a league; they don’t. If they do, that’s awesome. But, we’re not there yet. It hasn’t been created. The NHL [sighs] has released their own statements during the movement.
So, that kind of put me on the fence, but at the same time, I was kind of convinced by other members of the movement that this was the best thing for women’s hockey, this is what we have to do. And, it kinda made me feel like if I didn’t do it, then I wasn’t supporting women’s hockey and I wasn’t doing what was best. Which, I definitely felt that way at first.
And then, for many weeks I thought more and more about it and as I learned more and more about the PWHPA plans for this gap year, I really just wanted to gather all the information I could on what I would be gaining by sitting out this year. What resources would be available to me?
And from there I determined that not only for me personally, but for women’s hockey it was best to play in this league and continue to grow this league so that in the future, maybe salaries increase even more. Maybe by the time my kids, if I ever have kids, grow up, they can play hockey full-time and not have to worry about their day job. I think, I still think, I firmly believe the NWHL is the best option. We have a league, it’s well-established, it’s growing, players are being paid more this year than they did last year, which is just a sign of its growth.
So, I think it’s really the best option, rather than sacrificing this year and in that year, how much would really be available to me?I work full-time, so I don’t know how much of their planned resources I would actually be able to take advantage of. So, I think it was a lot of empty promises in a sense and just overall confusion as to what they were trying to do. I think, I don’t think it’s the best option for women’s hockey, but I respect what they’re doing and I understand what they’re trying to do.
But, I don’t think it’s the best option.
ELA: Separate from the NWHL and #ForTheGame, what are some of the things you’d like to see improve? What would show progress and make you confident women’s hockey was going in the right direction?
MS: I think we can’t just on professional leagues around the world and we can’t just focus on the national team and their tournaments, and the Olympics. I think it really starts with the youth programs. So many more have been established this year and I think they’ll only continue to do that. USA Hockey has the numbers, girls hockey is growing and that’s incredible!
Then, you look at college. The quality of college hockey is improving … So I think progress would look like more girls playing hockey, more visibility for women’s hockey – whether that be on TV. I think the NWHL has done a great job having games on Twitter and live in general. Anyone can tune in, it’s free. And just continue to get that visibility and marketing so that we get that audience and continue to grow the interest in women’s hockey as a sport and something that kids can aspire to play professional hockey.
Will it be there professional job by the time they get there? I don’t know, we don’t know what will happen next year … this past year, I think there were a lot of strides made in different markets and it’s really exciting to see and to be a part of.
ELA: Last one, after your NWHL season, you made it to the Finals of The Ice Garden pet bracket where you lost to Shannon Szabados and Jaxon? What did you make of the contest, are you still bitter about the loss?
MS: I was really sad. But, honestly he did as well as he did because most people are dog people. I like to think of myself as an animal person, I have two dogs, we have our family cat. Our family cat’s name is Puck, by the way.Obviously, no relation to a hockey puck, of course [laughs]. And then, I have my own little monster, Tito.
I was just really excited to see a cat go as far as it did [laughs].