The IX Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, August 23, 2019

Initial thoughts about the Aurora Games, Enstrom on 'What's Next?' for women's hockey

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Aurora borealis

Hi faithful subscribers to The IX!

I am in Albany, NY covering the inaugural Aurora Games, a multi-sport women’s festival. I caught the basketball exhibition last night and will be hanging around for the hockey event today.

If you haven’t been reading my weekly hockey posts (why do you hurt me?), you might have missed the Aurora Games completely. Even the players here have been curious about how well the event was marketed. A lot of them had limited knowledge of the event prior to arriving for practices the last few days. So, why did they bother to show up?

Well, because women’s sports across the board is at its most competitive. While the 2019 event might not be the best sporting event in history, it is something. It holds the promise of what women’s sports can be.

With that said, there are already some things creator and husband to Nancy Kerrigan, Jerry Solomon, has learned. To begin, it is likely too much to have six different sporting events in the same arena. From and an ice rink, to a basketball court, to a sand pit for volleyball, the Times Union Center has been transformed multiple times in just a week’s time.

Additionally, logistics seem a bit on the loose side. On my eye test, things like meals (certainly for media … oh how I suffer) could be coordinated better. Speaking of, there were not many media members in attendance yesterday night and I was completely alone for the basketball clinics and other events.

While small, the impact is mighty! Before I arrived to the media center (still alone and the beverage cooler still locked), I passed a young girl in a Corrine Buie Buffalo Beauts jersey practicing her stick handling. Her gear bag sat next to who I assumed was her father and presumably older brother. They all had Buffalo gear on – Sabres, Bills, and of course the Beauts.

She, like me, is eager to see the athletes hit the ice. Unlike me, she will join them for a clinic. I share this story not to sensationalize the “next draft pick” storyline. This young girl, just like the men and women of the 30+ age group, are beaming at the chance to meet professional athletes and iconic Olympians. Jackie Joyner-Kersee signed autographs mid-game for the all-woman officiating crew at last night’s basketball event. Nancy Kerrigan walked through the arena to waving fans of all ages and genders.

Those of us who love women’s sports and women in sports have sometimes waited a lifetime to meet their heroes, their “sheroes”. However, for some reason, we can’t seem to find them even when they do stuff like a multi-day, multi-sport, international women’s festival. That is hardly the fault of the players or the fans. That a lack of vision, investment, and/or leadership.

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!

Anya Battaglino and Madison Packer tied the knot last Friday. Congrats to NWHL foes-turned-family!

The PWHPA named Jayna Hefford Operations Consultant.

As I noted last week, if you want to know more about Team Sweden, Meredith is the person to follow. Her latest for The Ice Garden gives a good overview of how we got to #ForTheFuture.

Carla Macleod talks Hockey Canada, #ForTheGame, and more.

NWHL signings are coming in fast and furious. That said, there are still a few things each team needs before the puck drops on the fifth season.

Listen to Jessica Luther from Burn it All Down interview Digit Murphy about the Aurora Games. Can’t recommend this one enough!

espnW on the bigger picture ahead of The Aurora Games.

Back to Digit for a second: Learned on Burn it All Down that she has her own podcast! She interviewed Venla Hovi, Zoe Hickel, and Blake Bolden. HINT: Listen to Blake’s interview for a few teasers for the ice hockey format at the Aurora Games.

NWHL appears to be in the clear to use Buffalo Beauts name and logo.

Tweet of the Week

Looks like the Billie Jean King Foundation is an official supporter of the PWHPA.

Five at The IX: Molly Engstrom

A year removed from her playing days, former USA Hockey defender Molly Engstrom is back on the ice as the assistant coach for the St. Cloud State Women’s Hockey Team. I caught up with Molly about her decision to leave the family business, how she got involved with the Aurora Games, and her thoughts on the future of women’s hockey.

How did the position at SCSU come about?

Molly noted she’d been working for her family business in Wisconsin, but felt it was time to decide if she was done with sports completely, or if she wanted to return to hockey.

I hemmed and hawed about it, and not only hemmed & hawed, but I was really proactive and exploring different opportunities and doing a lot of getting out and feeling that out. The St. Cloud thing kind of came really last minute, I got wind that they had an assistant opening, and call on it immediately. And it wasn’t even I don’t, it wasn’t even posted. I don’t think on the marketplace. So the rumor was true. As Steve took rude left, and then Steve, the Assistant took the head job. So there was an opening, and they were looking for somebody to work with D and I was like, I can probably do that. I might be able to do that boy, yeah. So yes, Steve came over to siren, Wisconsin, home. And we sat down and chatted and went really well, you know, we were both happy about it, and then enough to want to continue to pursue it. So here we are.

What excites you about this role?

I’m really excited to work with the D, obviously. I’m really just looking forward to continuing this on the path that I’m on … I just plan on continuing to mentor and help and coach, the way that I have throughout the years. I’m really excited to actually will be a part of a team again and go through the whole process, the whole process, the whole season, and the preparation phase, the development phase, all that kind of stuff. But I am really excited to build my own way, I guess, and figure out what that is, you know. I have a lot of amazing coaches who I’ve been able to work with throughout the years, and so being able to draw on my favorite things about each one of them.

You’ll be participating in the Aurora Games, how did you hear about it? How’d you get involved?

I would say for the last year and a half or so I’ve really built a relationship with Digit Murphy. We started to have conversations … and I just think we really connected. I liked the direction that Digit was going with her ideas. Everybody knows she’s like, the brainchild, you know, she’s got a new idea every day that she wakes up. But I just think that her approach, I think her heart is in the right place. So we really connected on those things, I would say … she just has kept me in the loop with her ideas and about, you know, growing the sport, and what is a sustainable model. She’s out there pounding the pavement right now … and the Aurora Games is a result of all of that and I’m excited about it. I actually signed my contract for the Aurora games over a year ago and at that time, I had just gotten back from Sweden, I was back from Sweden for about four months. And it was summer … in the last couple of months, it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I signed that contract, I’m not training full time right now. But I made a commitment … ultimately it’s like, this is such a phenomenal opportunity. Whatever ends up happening, I can’t expect to go out and play like I’m 25. I’m just pumped to be a part of it. I’m pumped to have been asked to do it.

Today, the Swedish hockey team made a statement about some of the things they’ve been going through. In North America, of course, the PWHPA has made a statement in women’s pro hockey, the women’s national soccer team is suiting their federation, the WNBA has opted out of their CBA, and of course in gymnastics, of course, women have used their voices for change to the terrible sexual abuse that was happening for years. When you think about the opportunity to be able to insert your experience and your opinion into that conversation? What about that is exciting? What about that makes you a little nervous?

Yeah, no, that’s a great question. I just saw this this letter that came out from the Swedish National team players and what makes me excited is players are feeling more and more comfortable to talk about the problem, you know, to talk about the discrepancies between how they’re treated versus how the men are treated. And I think it was so much of the US stuff revolves around money and equal pay, equitable pay. I think that more importantly, for me right now, because that’s going to take time, you know, that’s going to take a lot of time, in my opinion, to figure out how to make it sustainable monetarily.

But, what I’m most excited about is what I just reiterated is that players are feeling more comfortable standing up for themselves and to change the attitude, I would say, towards them and women’s sports. If they’re standing up on behalf of their teams, you know, they’re going to take these experiences and continue to stand up for themselves in the rest of their lives when they go into corporate Sweden, corporate America, where I think there are some real big gaps.

So they should continue to be this way, always, and the conversations that these players are having and standing up for themselves or forcing change, that’s what it’s doing. It’s forcing people to take a look at it, and maybe think about it differently.

What makes me nervous about it, I would say, I was obviously a part of the NWHL when I signed … that small contract, which I had committed to .. got cut in half. So, maybe that was my fault. You know, maybe I was silly in thinking that was that was feasible at the time, But for me, a contract was a contract. So anyway, I think what’s a little bit scary is just, you know, players putting themselves in a compromising position. You know, you have the, the US women’s national team now, boycotting NWHL, the CWHL folded, nobody’s playing. And, the word that I keep hearing over and over is we’re doing it in hopes that the NHL is going to step in.

I’m not a part of those conversations, so I have no idea what the strength of those comments are, you know? What the probability that the NHL is going to step in? Maybe it’s really high, I don’t know. I hear this word reiterated over and over, ‘We’re doing this in hopes that this is going to happen’.

It’s like I said, when I make my own decisions, I like to think about it from every angle. And I know that these women are, but there’s not much under their feet right now. And I wouldn’t be surprised, yes, it’s not a comfortable situation for any of them to be in … I would say that’s what makes me nervous. You know, if you want to say it that way. What’s next?

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