New homes for the Whale and the Riveters — NCAA and ACHA approach — Goalie gear frenzy — Must-click women’s hockey links

The IX: Hockey Friday with Eleni Demestihas, Sept. 16, 2022

Happy Friday everyone! A slightly lighter week this week now that Worlds has ended. The PHF season has yet to begin, NCAA and ACHA seasons have not started, and it’s another month before the PWHPA will take the ice. Let me give you some dates for those (where I know them):

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  • The PHF has not released its schedule yet, but from what I’ve been told the season will begin in November, which is a bit later than usual.
  • The PWHPA’s first two Dream Gap Tour stops are Oct. 15-16 in Montreal, Quebec and Nov. 4-6 in Truro, Nova Scotia.
  • The NCAA and ACHA seasons start towards the end of September. 

I’m going to devote some time in this newsletter to previewing the NCAA DI and ACHA DI landscapes for you. I’ll touch on other divisions of college hockey, including USports, in another newsletter because I don’t want to give you a wall of text.

Last season, Ohio State won its first NCAA DI Championship, beating the University of Minnesota-Duluth 3-2. This year, the Buckeyes top the preseason USCHO poll, of course followed by UMD. 

The rest of these rankings are interesting. I would say that preseason ranking is difficult at best, especially in a landscape with a lot of transfers (for example, Jesse Compher is now a Wisconsin Badger) and graduations (we will miss watching Aerin Frankel play, won’t we?).

I want to shout out Vermont for making this poll for the first time in program history. UVM has produced a handful of really solid professional and international players, including Amanda Pelkey (now a Riveter in the PHF) and Sammy Kolowrat (a former Riveter, now with Brynäs IF in the SDHL). It’s really cool to see that there’s a belief they might challenge some of the more commonly dominant programs like, well, most of the WCHA.

I am excited by Tessa Janecke and I think Kiara Zanon is massively underrated, but I’m not sure I buy Penn State in the top 10 just yet. I would love to be wrong, but it’s also difficult to say for sure because the CHA is widely regarded as a relatively “weaker” conference than the WCHA or WHEA. In general I think that teams out of the WCHA have a tendency to be overrated, while teams in the ECAC especially tend to be underrated.

The ACHA Division I season begins on Sept. 23. Last season, Liberty University had a perfect 19-0-0 season. The Flames don’t open their season until early October against URI, but we’ll see if they can repeat. The leaders in goals, points, assists and wins last season, however, were all players out of Indiana Tech, which went 22-8-1 and ended the season ranked sixth. That might be a team to keep an eye on.

A fun theme this week in the PHF has been the reveal of some goalie gear around the league (both helmets and pads).

These pads for Riveters rookie Rachel McQuigge are extremely cool and make me hope the Rivs red jersey is back, because it would look amazing with this setup:

Whale goalie Meeri Räisänen’s helmet has her dog on it (and a hidden Whalers logo):

Beauts goalie Kassidy Sauve’s helmet carries some powerful reminders on the back:

And her teammate, Lovisa Berndtsson, matched that energy with a plate that reads ‘my goal is to stop yours’:

The Beauts’ ice got a makeover too, with their logo now a permanent fixture at Northown:

Unrelated to the goalie gear, two notable hires this week. Rebecca Johnston has joined the Calgary Flames organization full-time in a player development role. Additionally, Minnesota Whitecaps head coach Ronda Engelhardt has been hired by the Nashville Predators as an amateur scout.

The last thing I want to mention this week are two relocations for PHF teams. 

The Connecticut Whale, who have been playing in Danbury, will be relocating to Simsbury, Connecticut this season (after playing their first two games in their Milford practice rink). Danbury is in the southwestern part of the state, an hour outside of New Haven and about an hour and a half from New York without traffic (good luck with that). Attendance has never been great for the Whale, but it was particularly stark last season with a team so talented that they couldn’t seem to get anyone through the door. Simsbury is a much better location, in my opinion — a 25-minute drive outside of Hartford — and that’s not even touching the facilities themselves.

The Whale will be playing out of the International Skating Center of Connecticut (ISCC) this season. This will give them access to two sheets of Olympic-sized ice and a fitness facility in a great location. From the Whale’s press release and some rumblings I’ve heard, it sounds like the ISCC has gone out of its way to make sure the facilities are in top shape for the Whale and a place that’s truly for them. All in all, so far it sounds like a great move, and I’m hopeful they’ll be able to bump their attendance numbers this season.

The Riveters also announced a new home. Last season they practiced at the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, which is home to a lot more than you’d normally expect to find in a mall, including an amusement park. The ice rink is NHL regulation size, and the Riveters will have a new, designated locker room, access to a nearby gym and other dedicated spaces that make the player experience sound like it’s getting a significant upgrade. It’s fairly easy to get to East Rutherford from Manhattan or Newark by train in about a half hour, which makes the location fairly accessible.

My biggest concerns with this venue are more from a fan perspective. I think the best venues balance player needs and desires with fan experience, and I’m not convinced that American Dream will be giving us that balance, though we won’t know until we see it. One, I’m concerned about the sight lines for streaming, based on the way the rink is built into the mall. For example, we have to watch the games at Warrior through a net at certain angles. I’m not sure where ESPN is going to put cameras in this rink, but hopefully the sight lines for streams are good. Additionally, this rink is not built for day games. The Whitecaps are not at TRIA Rink anymore, but even that rink was a mess during day games, with one goalie essentially blinded each period. The roof over the rink at American Dream is beautiful, but if there are any day games, there will definitely be issues for both players and fans in terms of visibility. Finally, every angle I can see of this rink shows no seating, and essentially nowhere to put seating. 

I am not sure how the in-person experience is going to be for fans. My guess is they’ll put folding chairs along the railings on each level, but I don’t think those railings are built for seated watching so I don’t know how well people are actually going to be able to see the game. This may seem like a minor thing but it really isn’t. The fan experience can make or break a franchise. Having some of the best players in the world on the ice means very little if nobody can see them very well or if the experience is not appealing enough for people to show up for it. This is to say nothing about whether or not such seating will be accessible to fans with mobility issues and/or disabilities.

I will say that I understand some of the appeal of the rink and always thought it was a really cool practice spot. To have the ability for people to stumble upon the team as they walk around the mall is really interesting and a great way to embed themselves in the community. I could even be convinced that some exhibition games could be played there if we had more information about seating and fan experience. But signing a three year agreement at what we’ve been told is a higher cost than prior venues, for a rink with no visible place to sit that’s essentially only fit for night games, seems like a very bold leap of faith to me.

On an optics level, there is also much to be desired. For example, in Greg Wyshynski’s article above, Digit Murphy is quoted as saying that players could promote the mall stores or do an on-ice fashion show. I have no idea whether or not that was supposed to be a joke, it’s hard to tell as written, but regardless I think the statements make the mall as a venue seem absurd in a way I would think a professional team would not want. Female athletes are constantly pushing against stereotypes that would have them stay out of rinks, off of fields, and off of courts because society has told them they should be doing makeup, raising kids, cooking dinner. Even as a joke, to suggest the players should promote mall stores or dress up on the ice goes directly against the years of work the PHF and every professional women’s league in every sport has been doing to teach all of us that women are more than those stereotypes. It was disappointing. 

We will have to see whether the reality of the venue is better than how it’s been presented. At the very least, it sounds like a better spot for the players, which does matter.

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, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Eleni Demestihas