The Only Women’s Pro Hockey League in America Plays On
Olympians and other top stars are boycotting the N.W.H.L. this season, but that has made the league more accessible for those who thought pro hockey was not an option.
During her first five years playing professional women’s hockey, Kaleigh Fratkin built relationships with dozens of teammates whom she knew shared a common ideology about their sport.
This summer, when Fratkin saw many of those former linemates around Boston, where she lives, the meetings had turned unsettling.
“I personally have had these weird, awkward kind of encounters with friends and former teammates where it’s just kind of avoiding that elephant in the room,” Fratkin said.
That elephant is the splintering of women’s hockey after the closure of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in May. The departure of the C.W.H.L. left one pro league in North America: the National Women’s Hockey League. But the N.W.H.L.’s slow growth, and its highest announced salary of $15,000, left many players in search of an alternative path.
Enter the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association, which aims to create a professional league that provides livable salaries so its athletes would not need second jobs.
The members of the association, including Olympians from the United States and Canada, quickly declared that they would sit out the 2019-20 season. Such a statement from the sport’s biggest names was akin to a commandment.
The N.W.H.L. has weathered questions about its viability, though, and opened its fifth season on Oct. 5 with five teams and about 100 players. This year, the N.W.H.L. will play an increased schedule of 24 games, welcome new sponsors and owners, and have games live-streamed on the gaming platform Twitch.
The N.W.H.L. still lacks many of the standards a majority of players desire, such as live television coverage, backing from the N.H.L. similar to what the N.B.A. has provided the W.N.B.A. and more convenient practice schedules. But its devoted contingent is determined to continue on its chosen course toward sustainability.
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