Controversial coaching hires; NHL donates to Laing; Playoff dates
The Connecticut Whale of the NWHL have occupied a majority of the women's hockey headlines the past few days. Late Thursday night, news broke that Jake Mastel, head coach of the first place Whale, suddenly resigned.
The NWHL confirmed the resignation the following day and announced the hiring of Heather Linstad in the same press release. This hiring took many in the women's hockey community by surprise.
In Linstad's final two seasons as the head coach of the University of Connecticut's womens team they posted a 7-52-10 record. In March 2013, Linstad resigned from the position after 13 years with the program.
Months after Linstad's resignation a Title IX lawsuit was filed against the university by five women who alleged to have been sexually assaulted on campus. One of the women in the lawsuit was a freshman on the women's hockey team, coached by Linstad, at the time of the alleged assault.
From the Associated Press:
"The woman alleges she was raped by a male hockey player in August 2011. She said that after reporting the assault to school officials, she was advised to transfer and kicked off the women's hockey team by her coach, who told her she was not 'stable enough' and would 'bring the team down.'"
The lawsuit was eventually settled out of court. As a part of the settlement, UConn was not required to admit any wrongdoing.
The NWHL has not responded to a request for comment on the hiring of Linstad given the allegations in the settled lawsuit.
It's important to note that Linstad was never sued in criminal or civil court for any alleged involvement in the Title IX investigation. Yet, given the sensitive nature of the allegations, this has some eyebrows raised in the women's hockey community.
This isn't the first or last controversial hiring in women's professional hockey. The Boston Blades of the CWHL hired Brian McCloskey as their head coach two years after he was involved in an alleged physical altercation with a women's hockey player at the University of New Hampshire that cost him his job. He was eventually charged with assault and sentenced to a diversion program to have the charges dropped off his record.
Let's put on our sanity hat for a moment because this feels crazy.
How are there not better hires than those with questionable pasts to coach these women? There are many eligible candidates out in the sport but the problem is money. The better the coach, the more money they'll cost. Both women's leagues have to find a coach that fits in their price range.
At the same time, it takes the right kind of coach to fit into women's pro-hockey. Consider Kate Cimini's report on the circumstances surrounding Connecticut Coach Mastel's resignation:
"Mastel is considered by many to the lowest-profile coach in the league. Unlike his counterparts — Chad Wiseman, former AHL and NHL player; Shelley Looney, Olympic gold medalist; Ric Seiling, former Buffalo Sabres player; Bobby Jay, assistant coach to the 2014 U.S. Women’s Olympic team — Mastel’s coaching background lies in youth teams.
"Players have called the break a healthy one, both for the team and Mastel, who did not focus on systems and special teams enough to satisfy the players, many of whom are coaches themselves.
"Despite Mastel’s coaching, Connecticut was, and still is, the top team in the NWHL."
Connecticut is winning, but the coach's lack of experience is reportedly an issue with the players. Now they bring in an experienced coach who will take over midway through the season but there is baggage that comes along.
It doesn't feel right, but it's reality.
Women's leagues finals go head to head, March 11 - 13
During the All-Star weekends for the CWHL and NWHL both leagues announced their playoff plans. The biggest news: the finals for each league will be held the same weekend.
CWHL playoff details: Four teams make the first round of the playoffs and will be seeded based on total points. The semi-final round is a best of three with the higher seed hosting the lower seed. These games take place February 26-28. The Clarkson Cup final is a one game, winner take all affair on March 13, in Ottawa at Canadian Tire Centre, as part of a two-year partnership deal with the Senators.
NWHL playoff details: Everybody makes the playoffs, woohoo! Like the CWHL, each team will be seeded with the higher seed hosting the lower seed, playing a best of three, but will take place March 4-6. The Isobel Cup final is a best of three and will take place March 11-13. The location of the final is TBD but there is some speculation as to the final possibly being at an NHL rink.
NHL donations for Denna Laing.
Meeting with the media during All-Star weekend in Nashville, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the following:
On behalf of its member clubs, the NHL is donating $200,000 to assist Laing in her rehabilitation and recovery.
Honda and Ticketmaster, NHL partners and members of the hockey family, are teaming to donate a 2016 Honda Odyssey that will be retrofitted to meet Laing’s transportation needs.
Donations continue to be accepted at DennaLaing.org.
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