The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, November 8, 2019

Bitter rivals come together in Cranberry Township - Interview with Hilary Knight - Must-click women’s hockey links

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Live from PA

Greetings from Cranberry Township, PA where there is snow on the ground and USA Hockey and Hockey Canada ready to face-off later tonight. This will be the fourth consecutive hockey season that the Mario Lemieux Sports Complex has hosted women’s hockey. 

In 2017, the NWHL held its first out-of-market All-Star Game here. Amanda Kessel scored a hat trick to give her team an 11-10 victory over Team (Kelley) Steadman. Speaking of Steady, we got the most epic cello from the retired player and current Mercyhurst coach after she defended her accuracy challenge title by narrowly beating out Hilary Knight. 

This week, the UMPC Lemieux Sports Complex hosted both Hockey Canada and USA Hockey for what is being billed as a “joint” camp. Now, before you get your knickers in a bunch, no. The teams are not hitting the ice at the same time. Not until tonight and again on Sunday anyway. 

It is unclear as to why the term joint is being used, but it feel apropos in some ways. They two federations are united in trying to navigate an uncertain post-graduate women’s hockey climate. The women who hit the ice are partners in a new era of women’s hockey by way of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA). It was this group that got together other women’s hockey players in Finland last April to coordinate their own boycott of the NWHL. So, at this juncture, a joint camp between the two most bitter of hockey rivals in 2019 is not so far fetched. 

When the Swedish players announced their boycott, it was unclear whether the Four Nation tournament would resume. It did not and Katie Million of USA Hockey and Gina Kingsbury of Hockey Canada had a meeting of the minds to determine next steps. 

Other NHL partners were courted, but the Penguins made the offer that worked best for both parties. Additionally, location played somewhat of a role, according to Million. Pennsylvania is roughly a one hour flight, five hours driving, from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). 

Head coaches Troy Ryan (Canada) and Bob Corkum (USA) both stated the Four Nation Tournament would have been a time to evaluate young and/or newer talent, had they been competing in Sweden.  This camp will still focus on refining their rosters ahead of Worlds in Canada come April. I also got the sense from both camps that while the cancellation of an international tournament is unfortunate, being able to play against the other top two team at the end of a training camp in North America is the best (and perhaps even a more favorable) alternative. 

Outside of Finland, top tier competition in women’s hockey is limited. Let’s not forget it was the USA and Finland in the last World Championships gold medal game. And, it was a controversial call/rule that led to a heartbreaking continuation of play after Finland believed they’d won on home soil (well, ice). 

There are signs that the competition is getting better. At the moment, it’s just a matter of how long it will take for teams like Japan Switzerland, and Sweden in particular to find another gear and transition to the best of the best, not just the best of the rest. 

Of course that takes money and an investment in women’s sports and women athletes. The lack of professional conditions and investment, many would argue, is why Sweden was relegated. And it is definitely why the cry of #FörFramtiden or #ForTheFuture was taken on by the Swedish players. 

This Week in Women’s Hockey

The NWHL announced its first month returns from their Twitch broadcasts. This is huge because 1) IT’S DATA 2) 949,065 viewers watched in October 3) the press release breaks down which countries viewers are watching from and the UK beat out Canada by one percentage point, interesting!

Marisa Ingemi caught up with Katie Burt and Alex Carpenter in Cranberry. 

Taylor Hasse on why you’re out of luck if you waited to buy tickets for this weekend’s exhibition. She also caught up with Hilary Knight earlier in the week about her fight for the future of women’s hockey. 

Boston Pride forward McKenna Brand named the NWHL Player of the Month. 

More about the Budweiser Canada commercial from Chelsea Purcell over at The Ice Garden. 

Fun read about Megan Keller and her dad’s botched football career inspiring her to aim for the Olympics. 

The Connecticut Whale using the break to build a stronger team, writes Rick Menning. 

OSU’s Emma Maltais one of the young players Troy Ryan and Hockey Canada brought into the fold in Cranberry, PA. 

An interesting story on how one orthodox Jewish hockey player still enjoys her passion while remaining devout to her faith. Well, that’s what I got out of it anyway. 

Mike Murphy with a look at the goaltenders backstopping the NWHL in season five. 

Tweet of the Week

Pittsburgh seems to get this whole ‘support’ thing. Have always been good to women’s hockey in Cranberry Township.

Five at The IX: Hilary Knight, USA Hockey/PWHPA

The great and unfortunate things about coming to camps a few days out from an exhibition is the access you get to players. Great because they usually give you a decent amount of time. Unfortunate that there aren’t more people. But, shoutout to Taylor Hanse who’s been here all week. She let Marisa Ingemi and I jump in on her conversation with Hilary Knight.

Be sure to follow us three for more camp coverage – @TaylorHaasePGH @MarisaIngemi, @elindsay08

Taylor Haase: (The Budweiser Canada partnership) was announced this morning. What does that mean to get that support?

Hilary Knight: For the PWHPA? Yeah it’s awesome when big companies hop on board and believe in what you’re doing. And I think it shows that their company’s mission aligns with ours, and that’s creating a better future for the next generation. 

TH: How did that partnership come about?

HK: Well, obviously, when you’ve got, you know, a handful of very talented and bold women together that are trying to pave a better way for the next generation, I mean, it’s easy for companies to hop on board especially when they align with what we’re doing and fortunately Budweiser Canada was one of those companies from the very get go that I want to be involved with what we’re doing and also involved in the future. And I mean, the video concept is cool to have that like iconic hockey song and others like big hockey. Yeah, yeah, it’s funny when we’re shooting it. We’re like, I have no idea how this could turn out. Because nurse and I were just like, we sounded like twins with different accents, almost just saying the same stuff. But no, I think they did. A wonderful job, I think it encapsulates kind of what we’re going through and what we’re fighting for.

Erica L. Ayala: In the states you’ve seen the the US Soccer Team in particular be successful in doing similar marketing. The PWHPA has followed some of what, historically, that team has been able to do. When you are looking at what the PWHPA is going to look like, how much do you dive into what some of those other teams have done particularly on in the United States?

HK: Yeah, I think you have to take a close look at what they’re doing. You know, I think, originally when we set out, we will go, my gosh, you know, what’s the WMBA doing? You know, Isn’t that fantastic to be partnered with, you know, the NBA and, and have that sort of wisdom and knowledge of many, many years. And sort of capitalizing off of that learning curve. And then also what the US women’s soccer team, how bold they are, and they just they step up, and they asked for, you know, what they deserve and what’s right, and I think you definitely take an eye and pay attention closely to what those programs are doing. 

ELA: another piece of just being here is, is because you see another team and another Federation really trying to get a little bit closer to equity and what’s good for the women’s side of hockey. But I think that also offers an opportunity. You talked a little bit about that here, but but what’s the sense of Just from you, and from the players on the on the US team about this wave that is happening not just in hockey, but throughout women’s sports.

HK: Yeah, I think, you know, times are changing. Obviously it took longer than then everyone wanted to or expected it to, but we’re still very far from many issues. However, I think, you know, the times the times are ripe for changing, and I think people feel empowered and bold enough to stand up and say, Look, you know, what’s, what’s happened has happened, but moving forward, we need better and we deserve better. 

ELA: Forgive the obvious question, but I think some might be a bit confused that this is billed as a joint camp. But, you’re not on the ice at the same time?

HK: No, no (laughs). no, but I think you know, it’s it’s a great opportunity, obviously for nations isn’t around and hockey Canada, USA hockey still provided us this programming. I think it just goes to show what they’re trying to provide us as a program but also, you know, externally saying, ‘Look, you know, women don’t have four nations, but we’re still gonna provide a two exhibition games against one another.’

And grant is called a training camp. But it couldn’t (laughs) it couldn’t be further from the truth, I guess, than our normal training camp because we’re playing Canada at the end of it. So, it’s a really big deal for us and then obviously, to have the Penguins hospitality, it’s great. So, you know, it’s been a fun week to get back with the girls.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Stephanie Livaudais, @Livaudais
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