Women’s hockey has been in a brighter spotlight in recent weeks with the inclusion of professional women’s players in the NHL’s All-Star weekend in San Jose, CA and the NWHL’s All-Star weekend in Nashville, TN. But women’s hockey has been thriving and growing in the USA at an impressive rate for a long time.
USA Hockey’s public registration numbers show a nearly five percent increase in women’s hockey in 2017-18, compared to only one percent increase in men’s. Men’s hockey still has larger numbers overall, but the difference in the rate of growth reflects a change in the broader nature of hockey in the USA.
We spoke with some Washington Capitals players about the importance of women’s hockey during the team’s “Hockey ‘n Heels” event.
“Honestly, it was pretty super cool to see,” said center Travis Boyd, who was quick to answer when asked about the USA and Canadian women competing at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition.
“The girls that were competing held their own and I think that goes to show just how good women’s hockey is these days. I think it’s something that is on the rise and if we can keep getting young girls to begin playing hockey I think we will see a lot of really, really good female hockey players in the future.”
Hall Gill, one of the honorary coach for the NWHL ASG in Nashville, and Jeremy K. Gover, an analyst for the Predators, tweeted about the immediate impact it had on their daughters.
It was so powerful & inspiring for my girls and me to watch these amazing women today. They haven’t stopped asking questions and taking about it yet! Thank you @NWHL for including us. It was a day my girls and I will never forget. 🙏#RoleModels #ClassActs https://t.co/x36wgJeELI
— Chris Mason (@cmace30) February 11, 2019
While the branding and execution of “Hockey ‘n Heels” style events is not without its faults, the commitment to appealing to and engaging with female fans is admirable. The Capitals’ version of the event takes a more serious and respectful approach than most.
Kendall Coyne Schofield made headlines when she became the first women’s hockey player to compete in the NHL All-Star Skills Competition. While her subsequent role as an analyst on an NBC telecast was the center of some controversy it was still one of the biggest weeks of her hockey career.
“That was incredible. I think it was great for the game,” said Capitals center Nic Dowd. “I think it’s great to grow the game and also was really impressed by how fast Kendall [Coyne Schofield] skated. She would definitely roast me for sure. She would probably beat half the guys in the NHL.”
Coyne Schofield came in 7th place with a time of 14.346 and reached a top speed of 24 MPH. Her time was one second behind the winner, Connor McDavid.
During the NWHL All-Star game in Nashville, she skated against Whitecaps teammate Allie Thunstrom, who is also a competitive speedskater. Coyne Schofield improved on her previous time by half a second clocking in at 13.9 seconds.
“We really wanted her to do that for the longest time,” said teammate Haley Skarupa when asked about Coyne Schofield’s performance. “We were like, ‘honestly we would be so interested to see how well Kendall would do.’ To see it on TV when she did it, it was unbelievable. She looked faster than she usually even does. But we were like, no surprise that she was able to hold her own and beat some of the guys out there.”
Skarupa grew up in the Washington, DC area and after playing at Boston College she joined the NWHL’s Boston Pride. Skarupa thought the inclusion at the NHL All-Star event was important. “I think it was a great representation of women’s hockey and how far it’s come and how we are able to compete as well,” she said.
Travis Boyd also spoke about the partnerships between the professional men’s and women’s leagues, especially considering the ground-breaking achievements of the NHL’s All-Star weekend.
“I am sure hopefully that continues to grow, and we [the NHL] can do some sort of partnership,” Boyd said. “It’s even cooler to see how they keep integrating things like that whether it be at the All-Star game or charity games or whatever.”
The NHL has been expanding its outreach and support by hosting regular Hockey Is For Everyone nights, engaging in partnerships with professional women’s team, and inviting women’s players to the last two annual All-Star events.
Four NHL teams have partnered with their closest NWHL franchise. The Metropolitan Riveters with the New Jersey Devils, the Minnesota Whitecaps with the Minnesota Wild, the Buffalo Beauts with the Buffalo Sabres, and most recently the Boston Pride with the Boston Bruins. The NHLPA also has a partnership with the CWHL.
“I think I would watch a girls’ game and as I am watching it, you think ‘that would never happen in a men’s game’ or whatever. But, once you put them side-by-side or have them compete against each other you realize that these girls can play hockey, and hopefully, we can continue to do stuff to show that.”
Boyd’s daughter, Hayden, looks like she may be a future draft pick in the NWHL.
Skarupa’s advice to girls who are interested in playing after seeing the Olympics and Coyne Schofield is to “go for it and have fun. That is how we all started. We just loved the sport and regardless of the opportunities, we just enjoyed the time with our teammates and working hard and making memories.
“That is what we brought throughout our careers to this point,” Skarupa added. “Follow your dreams.”
Travis Boyd’s answer mirrors Skarupa’s. “My piece of advice would be don’t ever stop. Don’t ever stop working for what you want. I would tell the same thing to a little boy who wants to play for the Caps one day. If you want it bad enough, you will do whatever it takes to get to that point, and I think as a young girl or boy if they have that kind of mentality going into it…I think everything will be just fine for them.”
Women’s hockey is growing in popularity with fans and players. When girls see women playing hockey, they want to play as well. That impact can potentially be seen how registration in USA hockey has grown after every Olympic year there has been a corresponding growth of registration in USA hockey. The USA women’s team has medalled in every single Olympics since the inclusion of women’s ice hockey in 1998, bringing home the gold in 1998 and 2018.
After Torino 2006:
After Vancouver 2010:
After Sochi 2014:
The visibility and coverage during the Olympics and NHL events inspire young players who see new possibilities for themselves. While the NWHL’s All-Star game was not televised, it was streamed on Twitter. Nearly a million people tuned in for the Skills Competition and All-Star Game.
In 2017-18 79,355 girls and women were registered under USA hockey. The numbers for the 2018-19 season have yet to be released, but if history is any indicator, that number will continue to grow.
Brennin Weiswerda also contributed to this article.
Headline photo: RMNB/Cara Bahniuk
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