The IX: Hockey Friday w/ Erica L. Ayala – January 31, 2020

The best is yet to come - Interview with Cassie Campbell-Pascall - must-click WoHo links

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The best is yet to come

A week ago, I was ready to rip into Cassie Campbell-Pascall for her comments on Sportsnet. For using her platform to spout illogical and inflammatory claims on national television. Had I drafted this copy before Sunday, that’s likely what it would be.

But, as I sit here in Pittsburgh ahead of a Black Girl Hockey Club event, all I feel is blessed. Blessed to be alive. I am also sad. I am sad that my father isn’t.

As Annie beautifully wrote earlier this week, the tragic helicopter crash that claimed nine lives has sparked lots of emotions. Yes, because of who Kobe was, but also because life and death are complex. Well, grief. Grief is complex.

Women’s hockey has felt like a headache-inducing mess for almost a year. The joy of the game isn’t gone, but it’s harder to tap into it. As I sat down to write this week, I realize that I know this feeling. I’ve lived in this feeling for almost three years.


I was in Canada when I heard the news about the CWHL folding. I got a tip the night before, but I didn’t completely make sense of the message until the news started coming out. I got messages from people in Canada and the United States.

Have you seen the news?

What does that mean for us?

Why would they announce as the players are leaving for Worlds?

I made the trek to Canada for the 2019 CWHL All-Star Game earlier in the year. I stayed to catch Markham host Montreal. I was treated to one of the best games I’ve ever seen live. Markham held MPP and the Canadiennes off with what felt like at least a dozen blocked shots in the waning seconds of the game.

That weekend I spoke to Liz Knox for the first time, I learned what a Caesar Cocktail was, and Victoria Bach’s grandmother made me promise the next time I came up for a game, I’d stay with her. I met Hailey Salvian, who graciously offered to give me a ride back to my Airbnb, after making sure I wasn’t an axe murderer by of course asking, “Are you an axe murderer?” Luckily I gave the right answer and got a ride just before the snow storm hit hard.

I was an American stranger immediately welcomed. I was amazed that the women’s hockey community again embraced me. An outsider, a spring athlete with zero tolerance for cold climates. But none of that mattered. It was all about the hockey.

So, yes. I too was devastated when the CWHL closed. I was heartbroken that the league trophies had to be auctioned off. I was also shocked the NWHL spoke of expansion so soon after the CWHL closed.

That last part is the delineation mark for many, I think. I thought it was poor form mostly because from my view, there were plenty of things the NWHL could (and dare I say should) focus on before expanding into Canada.

But, that moment was too much for many CWHL fans, players, and staff. That moment, perhaps because of previously held opinions but definitely because of raw emotions, was the beginning of the tension.

SIDEBAR: We can continue to say there is no tension, but there is. Much like saying Hockey is for Everyone, there is a difference between wanting something to be true and it actually being true.

The grief was too great at that moment to separate emotion from opportunity. If the NWHL already had plans to expand to Canada, I’m of the opinion they had nothing to lose by waiting just a bit longer to announce. In fairness, the media call held the Tuesday after the CWHL was already planned. I discussed some of this on the Changing on the Fly podcast with Aaron Lakoff and Shireen Ahmed.

I’m not confident that had the NWHL done things differently last March-April that we wouldn’t be in the same place. That is because, throughout the last five years (love that play), women’s hockey has not done the greatest job of being the community I experienced when I went to my first NWHL or CWHL game.

If I’m honest, the “two sides” have been subtweeting each other for quite some time. We’ve also seen the fleeting loyalties of the USWNT core in particular change over time. Sometimes the jump happens altogether, but it doesn’t always stay that way. Boston Blades fans know that better than anyone.

As someone who didn’t experience that exodus, I can see why it was hurtful for fans. I can also see, from what I’ve read and heard, why the opportunity to be paid was enticing to players. The most recent separation from a women’s league only goes to show women’s hockey players still feel undervalued.

I think it is okay to say that and not immediately point fingers at the NWHL. Well, not only at the NWHL. As for the PWHPA, they are on a mission to prove that another way is possible. Their ability to get sponsors on board in such a short time is inspiring. However, that model still hasn’t found its way to full-time status for its athletes. There is part of me that thinks the PWHPA is not supposed to do that. I guess my biggest question is, why not?

Why can’t Dunkin’, Secret, Budweiser, and the other sponsors pay the PWHPA players? Why haven’t the Sharks, Coyotes, Maple Leafs, etc. held women’s hockey showcases during the lifetime of the CWHL? Or when the NWHL started up?

I personally think some of it is a matter of if they want to invest as opposed to donate. It’s easy for someone with discretionary money to donate to a charity or drop a few dollar in a coffee cup on their way to work. But, we see in society that when people want help to rise up and overcome, there are less helpful hands extended.

All in all, I think WoHo is still grieving. And just like the death of nine people tapped into the grief of losing my father to cancer, each of us has WoHo triggers. I cried watching the last episode of This is Us with my mother. She told me that the grief will always be there. She told me the grief is a testament to how much I loved my father.

If you are reading this, you likely love women’s hockey. I do too! So, let’s work through this grief, together. This game is too good, this community is too strong to be down for long.

The best is yet to come.

This Week in Women’s Hockey

But if you do want to hear my rant, listen to the latest episode of the Founding 4 Podcast. I also have Michelle Picard weigh in on initially being #ForTheGame, her retirement status, and how she landed her role as NWHL Deputy Director.

On Monday, the NWHL addressed the comments made by Cassie Campbell-Pascall.

USA Hockey prepares for Rivalry Series in Irvine.

Yale hosts Quinnipiac for Mandi Schwartz Memorial

Elite women’s 3-on-3 was a success! Now what?

Hockey East announces 2020 Hall of Fame inductees:

  • Casey Picket, Northeastern

  • Kelli Stack, Boston College

  • Reagan Rust, Boston University

  • Coach Joe Bertagna, Harvard University

As NHL celebrates women’s hockey, questions remain unanswered.

Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH) opened She Shoots…She Scores, an exhibit focused on women in hockey.

Sacred Heart building new facility for women’s & men’s varsity hockey programs. The figure skating and men’s club hockey programs will also call the unnamed facility home. Here’s my favorite part, it will “include a pro shop, beer gardens, food venues, suite, meeting rooms and offices.”

Women’s hockey shines in NHL all-star spotlight but remains without its own stage

Women’s hockey ‘moving in right direction’ Rebecca Johnston told CBC.

Should there be hitting in women’s hockey? Although I personally get annoyed by the “hitting” in women’s hockey question, Nathaniel Oliver spoke to WoHo players about the biggest question about the women’s game.

Learn more about GamerDoc and the NWHL talk show, Open Ice.

IG of the Week

Five at The IX: Cassie Campbell-Pascall

This interview took place in November at the “joint camp” that took place in lieu of the Four Nations Tournament. I most often do not agree with Cassie’s comments on TV and her tweets. However, she was very pleasant to speak with the first (and only) time I met her.

Cassie on the joint camp in place of Four Nations

You know, obviously you’d love to see a Four Nations just because you get a chance to, you know, play against Finland and Sweden and see how their programs are developing. But there’s no better games to play in than Canada-USA. I remember that as a player and, you know, so this is a great opportunity. But this is a friendly. I know they came together to help each other out during what’s been sort of a difficult year, but it’s never friendly, you know, on the ice. And I think that’s what makes it so exciting to watch.

I spoke to both coaches and there is still some evaluation, even if there had been a Four Nations, given that the next big tournament will be Worlds in Canada. From your perspective, what makes this different? Having this training camp, playing your your biggest rival? For some of the younger players, this is one of their first camps.

Well, we have some young kids that are playing against the US at the senior level for the very first time and so they haven’t looked intimidated. They look like they’re really enjoying the process. And you know, I think as an athlete, you always want to play the best and you always want to go up against the best and see where you stand and see what you need to improve on. And so, I think this is a really good opportunity for these kids and maybe a blessing in disguise where they don’t have to go all the way to Europe to get some of the best games.

We’re here at an NHL facility (Mario Lemieux Sports Complex), both teams got to take in the Penguins game last night. On the women’s pro side, there’s a lot that’s in flux and up in the air. Both federation’s have tried to figure out what they can do in this year or year plus perhaps, to make sure their players get enough reps. In what ways do you think that is impacting the players this weekend?

It’s obviously not an ideal situation. But, you know, female hockey players, women’s hockey players, they’re resilient. They’ve been through a lot their whole life. They walked into arenas as little girls and they heard the whispers ‘Oh, girl shouldn’t play hockey’. They hear the snickers, and they’ve grown up with this attitude that ‘We can make this happen!’

I think that it says a lot about the female game that, you know, not just the Canada-USA players are coming together, but all the top club players. All the top European players. It shows that, despite the fact that we’re all against each other on a regular basis that you know, it’s a strong group. It’s a powerful group of women who are willing to stand up for what they believe in. And I think when you’re when you believe in something so powerful as they do, you’re willing to sacrifice things and you’re willing to give up some things to to help the game in the future.

I’m so impressed with how hard they work and how they’re finding ways to get that competition that is so difficult to replicate when you don’t have a league. But I’m proud of every single one of them no matter what nation they’re from. It’s a really strong stand. It’s a it’s a gutsy stand and I think in the long term for women’s hockey, it’s going to be really powerful.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
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