Female Hockey Players Get Their Shot With New League
National Women’s Hockey League has launched its first season with four teams
Hours after wrapping up her day at an education technology firm in Manhattan, Kiira Dosdall was glowing as she prepared for her second job at an ice rink in Brooklyn late Wednesday night.
“It’s Christmas morning,” she said, motioning toward the pristine new skates on her feet.
The pair of Bauer skates, which Dosdall described as “top of the line,” would have cost her more than $800, but they were given to her by the National Women’s Hockey League, a four-team venture in its inaugural season.
“I walked into my stall and I gasped,” said Dosdall, a 28-year-old former Colgate University star who plays defense for the league’s New York Riveters. “I haven’t gotten new skates in so long—since I graduated six years ago.”
The NWHL is the first professional women’s league in North America to pay its players, who make a minimum of $10,000 and an average of $15,000 a season. The Riveters, Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale and Buffalo Beauts each have a $270,000 salary cap.
Like many in the league, Dosdall previously played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which doesn’t yet pay its players but plans to do so beginning with the 2017-18 season, a league spokeswoman said.
Before the NWHL began, Dosdall said she had focused on a career in education, coaching at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire and playing whenever she found the time.
“I played [in a] men’s league for a year and was really sad last year,” Dosdall said. “A whole part of your identity is gone when you stop. I’m thankful every day, every time we’re on our way to practice.”
On Wednesday, Dosdall’s practice began with off-ice work around 8 p.m. The Riveters didn’t step onto the ice until about 10 p.m., which meant Dosdall and her teammates with full-time jobs got just a few hours of sleep before they returned to their day jobs the next morning.
Janine Weber, one of Dosdall’s teammates and a former Providence College star, played for the Canadian league’s Boston Blades last season, but she said she came over to the NWHL this year, in part, to obtain a work visa.
When her student visa expired, Weber, 24, an Austrian native, needed a paying job to stay in the U.S., and she said the NWHL came along at the perfect moment.
“Personally for me, it was never really a choice,” said Weber, who also plays for the Austrian national team.
The NWHL also gives players 15% of the proceeds of every jersey sold with their name on it, which players concede won’t pay the rent. Still, by offering an accommodating schedule and modest salaries, the NWHL has attracted 10 former Olympians and a bevy of top-level college players.
Connecticut Whale veteran Molly Engstrom, who previously played in the Canadian league and won silver and bronze medals with the U.S. national team in the 2010 and 2006 Olympic Games, respectively, said the pay has drawn higher-caliber players.
“What I’ve noticed, because there’s money involved, it has brought a lot of good NCAA players out of the woodwork—the good players that would otherwise just go get jobs,” she said.
Without a real pro league, Engstrom, 32, had already retired from hockey when she found out about the NWHL on Facebook in January. She continues to serve as a hockey coach and assistant athletic director at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, but the salary and a chance to play against top competition again has her driving four hours across New England for practices and home games.
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