It seems women’s ice hockey gets lost in the hype of men’s ice hockey, as do most women’s sports, but the USA’s Women’s National Ice Hockey Team is actually an extremely successful team. They’ve placed first in two of the last three world championships, and won medals in the past four Olympic Games.
The National Women’s Hockey League is groundbreaking in the way that women who go to college on ice hockey scholarships now have a legitimate future playing professionally, something they didn’t have before.
Harry Rosenholtz is the general manager of the Connecticut Whale, one of the four teams competing in the NWHL’s inaugural season.
As a former college coach, he said, “I was always disappointed that women who were just beginning to reach their physical peak graduated from college and had nowhere to continue to play and improve. Now every young woman who plays college hockey has an even greater goal to aspire to.”
Of the professional nature of the league, Rosenholtz said, “Every player is a paid professional – that’s what separates us from previous women’s leagues. There is a salary cap and the league is well funded.”
The other three cities that have NWHL teams are all largely supportive of ice hockey, with each of them having an NHL team located nearby. The New York Riveters have the Rangers in Manhattan and their new borough-neighbors, the Islanders. The Buffalo Beauts play right across the street from the Buffalo Sabres. The Boston Pride share a city with not only the Bruins, but with Boston College and Boston University’s men and women teams.
Connecticut was going to be more a challenge. Rosenholtz describes the area as “more of a bedroom community than a large urban community,” but adds that “Connecticut has had a great tradition of supporting women’s hockey.” The historical foundation of women’s ice hockey in Connecticut includes four NCAA Division I teams, two NCAA Division III teams, an upcoming Division II team, two teams who once held national titles, and the Connecticut Girls’ Hockey League.
Men’s ice hockey’s history in Connecticut goes back to the Hartford Whalers. Rosenholtz says their story is a success despite all of the factors that weren’t in their favor during their time here in Connecticut. The Whalers eventually relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina in the late 1990s.
With the creation of a league comes the creation of teams, and women professionals did not waste a chance to make history by being on one of the four inaugural teams. Playing for the Connecticut Whale alone are Olympians Kelli Stack and Molly Engstrom, former Quinnipiac forward Kelly Babstock, and four-time Olympian and most recent captain of Team Russia Katia Smolentseva.
Of the team-building process, Rosenholtz says, “I have been so impressed by the level of commitment, maturity and responsibility that each of our players has brought to the team. They are in this not only to build a team but also to build a legacy. We are all hopeful that 20 years from now we can look back and realize that we have provided opportunities for women that haven’t even been born yet!” He also applauded his team’s commitment to the community in which they play in.
“Our goal this year is to get as many people to our games—including people who have never seen a women’s hockey game–because when they see the level of play, athleticism and passion, they will want to come back for more.”
In addition, Rosenholtz says that the team has a goal to win, a goal which is shared with their coaching staff. Coaches Jake Mastel and Lisa Giovanelli both have ties to Connecticut women’s ice hockey as well.
The Connecticut Whale opened their inaugural season on October 11, at Chelsea Piers in Stamford.