The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, November 1, 2019

The Eternal Struggle - Interview with Katie Fitzgerald - Must-click Links

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“The Eternal Struggle”

The biggest news this week in women’s hockey was also the most frustrating. Elloite Freidman hinted the NHL is working on a plan for women’s hockey … that they won’t discuss publicly … that will only be used if the time is ever necessary.

Is this a case of what the meaning of ‘is, is?”

There are several things that burn my grits about this:

  • To begin (looks into camera): Commissioner Bettman, you are awfully active for someone who wants to stay out of it.

  • Hello, where was this plan ahead of the 2014 Olympics? The 2018 Olympics? Or at the very least this summer as we all lost our freaking minds trying to understand a boycott that isn’t a boycott and that won’t play in the NWHL but isn’t trying to kill it, either?

  • (Looks into camera): Just like we don’t believe Gary is ‘staying out of it’, nobody really believes this isn’t a boycott and that the goal isn’t to end the NWHL. Personally, I don’t understand what there is to gain by not explicitly saying that… but I’ve ranted about social media activism in a previous hockey edition. 

Overall, I’m ready for more than words. Dangling an alleged solution over the head of women’s hockey is one of the reasons I can’t get down with a WNHL. I’ve heard players on this and I certainly won’t have any decision-making power if the NHL ever offers up the goods. 

However, my only guess (when I want to offer the NHL the benefit of the doubt) is that this is a testing of the waters. Is this a way to gauge the general interest in women’s hockey? Does the NHL believe if they keep telling us they might one day dip their toe in the water, we are more likely to believe they really want to swim? 

It’s certainly not working for me. But, in my conversation with Katie Fitzgerald, I get the sense that this is the slowest of soft launches in the history of all mankind. The St. Cloud alumna and PWHPA goalie believes the indirect comments finally coming out in public is a good sign. 

So, does this mean we are any closer to seeing livable wages for women’s professional hockey? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, Fitzgerald and every other post-graduate women’s hockey player remains tied up in what Fitzy calls, “the eternal struggle”. 

More from Fitzgerald in this week’s Five at The IX.

This Week in Women’s Hockey

Trinity hires former Connecticut Whale Assistant Coach Sara Ugalde

A look at women’s hockey at the Four and Five Nations Break, by Mike Murphy

Get to know Connecticut Whale rookie Emma Vlasic

At 21, Alina Muller is a bona fide hockey star

SPOILER: Natalie Spooner didn’t win Battle of the Blades, but this is still a fun crossover article

Nate Oliver on Beauts rookie Cassidy MacPherson

Marisa Ingemi on Boston Pride rookie Lexie Laing

Tweet of the Week

I’m not the only one not feeling this “news”

Five at The IX: Katie Fitzgerald, PWHPA

Katie Fitzgerald spoke to me about her first PWHPA Showcase experience, where she hopes the PA travels next, her thoughts on the NHL women’s hockey news, and more!

You got on the ice for a competitive game for the first time this season. What were your thoughts about your first showcase, in Chicago (close to home) no less?

Yeah, I know it’s been a while. It was it was really fun! Some family got to make it and it was the first time some of them saw me play in-person since my second year in the NWHL. It was fun to have a good amount of people there and I got to spend the day at home afterwards so it was it worked out really well.

The Blackhawks new facility is incredible, so nice. And I think with it being my first PWHPA weekend like on the ice, it was really cool to have all these people that I’ve been in conference calls with … in the same room.

How are you adjusting to the schedule? The current model of the PWHPA is less games than last season in the CWHL or NWHL, but that might actually work for some players.

Yeah, obviously the PWHPA, with it being showcases, it’s not every weekend we have games. Each region has a team and they might be organizing exhibition games, if they can with other teams in the area, whether that be college or junior teams or this or that. So it is a bit different and the Tri-State region has practice three days a week. So it’s good to be on the ice. But it is a bit of a grind with more time between games, which is the fun part. So it has been a bit of an adjustment but for me, it has been almost like a blessing in disguise.

I’m adjusting to a new role in my job. Since I work retail, it’s sometimes on weekends, at nights, the hours are non-traditional from a nine to five job. So with the NWHL upping its game total and having two games per weekend and having more weekends and this and that, I don’t know if I would have been able to keep the job that I have or I wouldn’t have been able to be promoted. Or if I can’t work weekends, then retail isn’t really going to be what is best. I would have had to pick between my job and hockey, which is always a difficult decision that unfortunately female athletes in general have to make, whether it’s, you know, hockey, some soccer players, some of the softball players.

There comes a point where you have to decide what’s best for you to make a living. Because, you know, rent’s gotta get paid, bills have to get paid. So obviously, we want a full season more than the 16 NWHL games we played previously. But any more than that and it’s kind of tough … I’m speaking for only myself.

I would have had to make that decision which obviously is what we’re trying to get away from. But yeah, I guess trying to find the sweet spot of what would work for us with full time job but also not wanting to have to make that decision at the same time. So it’s so it’s just, you know, the eternal struggle.

I’d imagine it’s hard to get almost 200 players on the same page about progress of the PWHPA and its movement for a viable league. What has your experience as a general member been like so far?

Yeah, it was definitely interesting at first. The conference calls happen every few weeks and we get caught up on all of the work that our board, the Billie Jean King foundation, Jayna Hefford, that everyone has been putting in. We get updated on progress that has been made and all the stuff that’s going on behind the scenes that maybe us as players are aren’t aware of.

It’s so great to see so many people so committed to this cause. But it has been a really cool experience, you know, being a part of this … being able to have our practices and then still be in the loop on what’s happening. I think transparency was a big part of what we wanted as players. To be in the loop of what’s going on and conversations that are being had, and the progress that’s being made. We want to be kept up to date. So I think that’s been really cool to see it all build slowly.

It was floated on Hockey Night in Canada that the NHL has a plan for women’s hockey that they aren’t discussing publicly, that they will roll out when the time is right. Curious to hear your reactions to the news.

Yeah, so that’s been kind of our goal from day one. Obviously, the NHL would probably be integral to starting a pro female league similar to the way the NBA has been partnered with the WNBA. I think we really wanted to model our league off of that going forward.

So I’m not surprised. It is nice to hear it publicly, for once. But yeah, I think it’s definitely what needs to happen. And you know, the NHLPA has been super supportive of us and to have them be a part of this and be one of our sponsors is great. I think that was a great step in the right direction to have that go public and now hearing this publicly to have the NHL admit it out loud and really express their interested in the future of women’s hockey. I think it’s really important and really exciting.

Is it still your understanding that the NHL will only move when there is no women’s league? In other words, when there is no NWHL?

Yeah, this has been a question that a lot of us as players have also had because we heard the same dialogue as well. But it’s my understanding that these conversations are still moving forward. The timeframe of them I’m not 100% sure, but it’s my understanding that everything is still making some sort of progress and still looking and planning and trying to see what was best for women’s hockey.

I don’t know what percentage of the players are in the PWHPA out of the professional pool of women’s players in the world. But I think it’s a pretty high percentage of the players that chose to play in the PWHPA rather than in the NWHL this season. I think everything’s just progressing, you know, as it would, but that’s definitely something that we’ve asked ourselves also.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: TBA!
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