The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala

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Calm before the storm?

Okay, things have seemingly slowed down in women’s hockey news. But, that does not mean things aren’t happening behind-the-scenes. (Editor’s note: Erica is, as always, prescient.) As my forever co-host Mike Murphy reported, the five existing NWHL teams have been in communication with roughly 15 players to sign contracts.

From sources around the league, conversations about the 2019-20 season have been in the works since before Worlds. As we all likely know by now, things took a turn in May. On the first day of May, the CWHL closed up for good. By the second day of May, 200+ players said they would not sign contracts in North America — so, basically with the NWHL (I still don’t understand the hesitance to say that explicitly, but we move on).

As I and others have reported, there are players who are withholding from making the #ForTheGame pledge for various reasons, but all including wanting as much information possible before deciding what to do next season.

One player who definitively told me she will sign is Riveters forward Madison Packer.

So, that’s what we know. I’ve heard reports — and it makes perfect sense — that some players who’ve pledged not to sign in North America may sign elsewhere. In the past, national team players often tout the importance of playing games in between national team camps and competitions.

In light of their promise not to play professional hockey in North America, where will those reps come from? There are options to play in Europe, but will women’s hockey again revert to the barnstorming method that kept the Minnesota Whitecaps on the ice for so long?

According to Hilary Knight, both are possible. From my conversation with her on May 2:

“Yeah, to be honest, I think [deciding to play overseas] is sort of a personal decision for people. And I, through hockey, I’ve learned a lot about myself. And one of the things whether it’s going to the gym or playing, I love experiencing life with groups of people, and I’m very much team oriented … I think we’ll see a handful of people probably go over to Europe, they’ve got a fantastic system over there … and there’ll be a large majority of players here, and we’re going to figure it out. We don’t necessarily know specifically, what next year is going to look like. But we’re all in it together to pull different resources and make sure that we will have, you know, places to play it, we might not be, ‘designated official’ places, but there’s many other opportunities that we can come together and figure it out.

If I decide to stay in Montreal, which I absolutely love the city and the people up here and our teammates, we’d be interested in playing the Boston group, or the Buffalo group, or the New York group. I mean, the possibilities are endless. And I think it’s going to provide a unique opportunity for a lot of fans this upcoming year, to not officially be dispersed between two leagues and really have a lot of the top talent in the same position.”

So, now we wait to see what the immediate future, now being referred to as a “gap year” by some players, will look like.

Sarah Nurse is the first person I’ve heard give a solid timeline, PLEASE LISTEN TO HER INTERVIEW WITH HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA, which includes her being honest about the downfalls of the CWHL and why #ForTheGame is trying to move any obstacles blocking the path to an NHL-sponsored women’s professional league.

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!

LISTEN: Sarah Nurse & Anya Battaglino join the Hockey Night in Canada podcast on the women’s pro hockey saga.

Speaking of options to play overseas, The Ice Garden has you covered in the piece What #ForTheGame could mean for Nordic hockey.

Cold shoulders in Canadian ice hockey.

USA Hockey raising money to endow Brianna Decker Scholarship for Girls Hockey.

College women’s hockey updates from Matt Wellens: Bulldogs promote Bellamy; 3-on-3 OT coming to WCHA.

Eric Rud leaving St. Cloud State of Miami (Ohio) men’s program.

#ForTheGame might mean premature retirement for some hockey players.

Kendall Coyne Schofield wants more technology in women’s hockey. However, she did get called out for implying game film isn’t made available for players.

But if data IS your thing, check out these resources/articles:

Tweet of the Week

Taurus appreciation, that is all!

Five at The IX: Ailish Forfar

I had a great chat with Ailish about a week ago to discuss her recent work with children from an Indigenous community with Ryerson University, #ForTheGame, and what she would prioritize as a women’s hockey commissioner.

For some background, check out my story on Ailish written in December for The Ice Garden.

Ailish on learning from the Indigenous communities in Canada:

One of the main things that we wanted to get out of it was, you probably don’t see a lot of the Canadian media, one thing that we struggle with is how negatively [Indigenous] communities are portrayed. So, you know, reporters will go up, spend a couple days in the community, and they’ll share the stories of addiction, poverty, isolation, abuse, and lack of resources. And they’ll paint in a really negative light.

And when we went up there, those issues are … really relevant. But what we saw was incredible stories of resilience within the girls … they go through a lot of things that obviously you can paint in a negative picture. But what I thought was important, and what I’m hoping to continue to do, is tell the stories of really positive things we saw like the resiliency, like the dedication, the bravery that these girls have, you know, continue living in these situations and push themselves.

That’s what I struggle a lot, especially being someone that’s going to be in the media world. I thought, ‘Wow, it would be really easy to come up here and just tell the negative stories that you see that are in your face.’ But if you spend a week like we did, I think you have to break down those barriers and say, those are just … things that get attention.

Ailish on the role of the media on reporting on generational racism:

I just think a lot of answers that people come to are just like, oh, they get a lot of money. So it should be fine. Like, the government gives them all this money, all this money, it’s like, that’s not the answer that they’re looking for. For example, you [hear] story there was a lot of money was put into this community, yes … they built this amazing Youth Center, state-of-the-art, one that you can see at Ryerson. And it sat empty for a whole year because they had nobody to run the programming.

So like, when people when I came back [people asked], ‘What was it like? Like, don’t they just have a lot of money? Like, where’s the money?’ I said, ‘Yeah, well, they had money from the government, they built this amazing Youth Center, and nobody was there running it. It’s just a backward system, if you’re going to give this money, you need to be also providing the right people like someone that can go out there and run this new center programming. And they should be in my opinion, indigenous, because I think that they would know.

Who am I to go up there? We have a lot of bad history, I’d say, with Canadians, white people trying to go up and tell First Nations this is our way of life … I don’t know how much you know what residential school system, but that was a huge part of Canada’s past, which is a really dark past. And if you did any research into that, you see, we’re main reason that this has happened. And obviously, myself, I was not around for that, but you take responsibility for things that happened in the past, and you try to repair them. And that’s what we do with this trip. And I think it’s really important to understand that just because you live in Toronto, and you’ve never been up there doesn’t mean that it’s not part of your responsibility, as a student, as a well educated athlete, like myself to try and do whatever I can to repair those relationships we have with First Nations and Indigenous people.

Ailish on #ForTheGame:

I think the way it’s worded, for the game, is a perfect way for me to view it. I think my stance is a little bit different than maybe the Olympians that need this game to make it to their goal … I think it might be harder for people to understand why I would be so gung-ho about this.

But at the same time, I’m playing in this league because I want, when I have kids one day for example, for them to grow up having something that is stable and powerful to look up to. That it’s not even a question of if they should continue, should play hockey after college … So I think that’s kind of the movement for me, especially as someone that isn’t trying to play in this league to make an Olympic team. I think that’s even more powerful than I’m not just going to step away and be like, ‘Oh, well, it doesn’t matter for me, because I can just give up,’

The fact that I don’t want to is because I want to make this league something special and great … it shouldn’t just be viewed as an Olympian League, I think it should be viewed as a woman professional league with girls that have so many dreams, so many aspirations and so many different facets about them that makes this league so amazing.

Ailish the Women’s Hockey Commissioner:

We definitely need more traditional broadcast media. Unfortunately, I think that’s going to be a lot at first. Look at how many games we got {on television], no wonder people say that they’re not watching hockey because it’s not accessible. And I think the way we’re streaming on Twitter this year is a good step in the right direction. But we needed to be on TV more. I think that’s not asking too much. I think, okay, we need to find a way to get us on TV, because that’s how you get more viewers and more viewers is more money, more sponsorships, etc.

I think we need to start marketing our players and their stories a little better. Like, it’s really easy to know a couple big names because of their involvement at the NHL All-Star Weekend. That was amazing! Nobody knew who half of these people were unfortunately, but once they went out and did stuff on the on the NHL stage, we got that recognition. Now Kendall Coyne’s killing it on NHL Network. That just took one time for people to get to know, the talent we have. We need more opportunities to showcase our stuff, whether that’s having to do with the NHL, probably because that’s where the viewership is … why are we hard to find? Why is it hard to hear our stories? Because we’re not getting that traditional broadcast?

I’d also say … just being very transparent and asking the players what they need. Because as you can see, we banded together and created this statement. It’s like, we needed something, so we came together as a powerful group. And we were able to speak to what we need, which is, you know, everything from proper wages, to health insurance to stainability.

So if you’re Commissioner, you need to listen to your players, and you need to be able to have that agreement that you’re doing this for them and not just to make money. I think it’s really important to have that fluidity and allow your players a hand in this, whether they’re helping make these decisions …because if you create a league, and the players are like, ‘Oh, this is not what we wanted,’ no one’s going to be bought in. So I think it’s important for the players to have a part of this creation of whatever the next league is.

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