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Women’s Hockey Wednesday: Merging two leagues would be no easy task

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There are more obstacles to combining two established professional hockey leagues than just a pair of egos.

R to L: Kacey Bellamy (22 of the Boston Blades), CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress, Hilary Knight (27 of the Blades) and Blades coach Digit Murphy, March 2015
Kacey Bellamy (22), Hilary Knight (27) and coach Digit Murphy accept the Clarkson Cup from CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress in 2015, prior to the advent of the NWHL. Could they all be in the same league again sometime soon?
Brandon Taylor / CWHL

Story of the Week

Voices Grow Louder for Merger of Women’s Pro Hockey Leagues - The New York Times

Women’s hockey leagues urged to merge for good of the game | Toronto Star

This is some BS and people need to cut it out. It’s bad enough when men who think they’re imparting some sort of deep wisdom to women’s hockey fans say it, but when players say it, it doesn’t actually get any more legitimate. You know when the NHL and the WHA merged? When the WHA was falling apart.

As of right now, the CWHL and the NWHL are established professional leagues who seem to be set to play out this season in its entirety and to do it entirely separately from each other. And that’s fine.

Yes, in terms of quality of competition and wanting to play the best of the best, I’m sure all the national team players would love if there was one professional women’s hockey league in North America. It’s not that simple, and yelling about it in the international press isn’t helping things.

The CWHL is in its 11th season. It was originally formed as a stopgap measure when owners of the teams from the original NWHL decided to halt operations for one year before they theoretically were going to regroup and revisit the financial viability of the league. The centralized funding of the North American teams is not a bug due to lack of owner interest — it’s a safeguard against any one owner packing up their support and going home.

The current NWHL was founded for two main reasons. First, Dani Rylan didn’t feel like the CWHL was moving fast enough in response to her proposal of a New York-based team in the CWHL. Second (conveniently for Rylan) many of the Boston Blades players felt that the CWHL was treating their lone American franchise as a second-class citizen and were looking for something better. Rylan offered these players a paycheque, better equipment and generally more respect.

While I don’t know the full story regarding how the Blades were (and in some ways continue to be) treated, some of what I gather seems to come down to one major factor: the Blades are across an international border from the rest of the league and thus subject to a completely different set of laws. The CWHL doesn’t seem to have been fully prepared to take that challenge on. Perhaps if the Boston Bruins had ever shown any interest in supporting women’s hockey the way the Leafs, Habs and Flames support their sister teams, it would be a different story. (If you think Jeremy Jacobs is going to magically change his position on this for the Boston Pride...he’s not.)

With the advent of pay, the issues for the Blades have become more complicated. There’s the exchange rate between the Canadian and US dollars to consider, as well as a difference in tax laws. Frankly for the Americans on the Blades, dealing with a US-based league would at the very least be simpler. Without strong US-based support to deal with the infrastructural issues (similar to, if not necessarily on the scale of, the support the Red Star and Rays receive from their Chinese backers), the Blades may continue to be left to flounder on their own.

So that’s two major obstacles to merging the two leagues. Fundamental differences in philosophy, and an international border. I called the NWHL established because this is their third year, but they certainly haven’t proven they have the steady, continuous infrastructure and funding that the CWHL could use to support their teams after a merger. They definitely haven’t shown any signs of being capable of dealing with acquiring six foreign teams and all the red tape that would ensue.

Neither article clearly establishes that anything resembling concrete merger talks have ever happened. And if Cassie Campbell wants me to think that the CWHL’s Board of Directors and Governors do not have the power to pressure Brenda Andress to do something... pull the other one, it’s got bells on. Of course, they can direct Andress to try and do whatever they like, she can’t magically make the NWHL want to merge with the CWHL under terms that are favourable to the CWHL.

Right now, with eleven years in the game, numerous sponsors and newly expanded, it’s the CWHL who has the upper hand. The Boston Blades are even starting to rebound from the mass exodus of players in the 2015 offseason. The CWHL has no actual need to add more teams. Right now, having started to pay players, they probably don’t have the financial wherewithal to take on responsibility for four more teams even if they wanted to. And since the NWHL has been far from transparent regarding its financial situation, taking on four extra teams would be a hell of a risk.

The NHL isn’t going to step in and make this happen. They have held the trademark to “WNHL” for years and done nothing with it. If you think the NHL is going to magically become invested in women’s hockey once we’re back to one women’s hockey league... sure. Why now and not anytime before 2015? (I also think the NHL having any sort of controlling interest in the women’s leagues is a Bad Idea.)

The players do have some power in this situation and it’s in choosing where they’re going to play. The USWNT swung things in the NWHL’s favour their first year when they decided they wanted to play for a US-based organization that would pay them money. The tide started flowing the other way this season. One of the big factors will be what the USWNT chooses to do for the 2018-19 season.

Regardless, these two leagues are not some cute projects that Andress and Rylan enjoy playing with for their own amusement, nor are the issues keeping them separate some petty clash of personalities. They are two professional hockey leagues. That they are still young enough to only possess a fraction of the red tape of the NHL does not mean that a merger would be easy, or even beneficial to all players.

International hockey

Wickenheiser: Goyette best of best
Male or female, Danielle Goyette can go toe-to-toe with the most elite minds of the game. Her ability to see the game, pick up the minutiae of a play and recognize talent is second to none.

Goyette reached Hall of Fame against odds
Self-made player Danielle Goyette overcame language barrier to star for Canada in Olympics.

Women’s Hockey Canada vs USA: Anatomy of a shorthanded goal - Pension Plan Puppets
Saulnier and Fortino vs Team USA’s power play

Four Nations

After one day of play, Canada and USA are in the lead with a win apiece. They face each other tonight at 7:00pm on hockeytv.com. (Full tournament schedule)

Canada's game of musical crease - The Ice Garden
Canada's crease has looked a bit like a revolving door, but maybe it'll all be for the best.

Four Nations Cup Preview: USA - The Ice Garden
Team USA has a lot of good things going for them going into Four Nations.

Four Nations Cup Preview: Sweden - The Ice Garden
Is it too defeatist to already have the towels on standby so they can be thrown in as soon as necessary?

Four Nations Cup Preview: Finland - The Ice Garden
Finland has all the tools and talent to take home silver at Four Nations.

Women’s Hockey Rivals Prepare for the Olympics by Playing Each Other — Again and Again - The New York Times
The U.S. and Canada are expected to meet in the gold medal game in South Korea in February. But in the lead-up to the Games, they will face off up to eight times.

CWHL

CWHL Recap: Markham Thunder lose 7-2 to Calgary Inferno - Pension Plan Puppets
Inferno beat Thunder 7-2 to take the weekend sweep

CWHL Recap: Markham Thunder fall to Calgary Inferno, 3-1 - Pension Plan Puppets
Calgary gets the better of Markham in the first game of their weekend series

Dahm Dominates Despite Shootout Loss to Vanke - Boston Blades
The Boston Blades (0-4-1) hosted the Vanke Rays (2-1) for their first matchup of the season on Saturday November 4 where the Blades scored first, but would eventually fall in the shootout, 2-1.

LOOK: The Boston Blades meet Ursula - The Ice Garden
The Blades find their seal of approval at the New England Aquarium.

Okotokian catching fire with Inferno | Local Sports | Okotoks Western Wheel
The Western Wheel, your source for Okotoks news, events, and community

Boston Blades Partners up with WPS | Winthrop Transcript – Winthrop Massachusetts Newspaper
It’s a pretty well known fact that Winthrop is a true hockey town.

NWHL

NWHL Weekend Wrap
Two weeks into the regular season, the Metropolitan Riveters are the lone undefeated team in the NWHL after the Whale beat the Pride 3-2 and the Riveters topped the Beauts 6-2.

Riveters, Devils Win in Unique NWHL-NHL Doubleheader | Hearts of Hockey
To commemorate the first ever NWHL-NHL partnership, the Metropolitan Riveters and the New Jersey Devils hosted a double header at the Prudential Center in Newa

Frozen in Time: Top Women’s Hockey Photos of October 2017 - The Ice Garden
The best shots from the start of the 2017-18 women’s hockey season

Beauts aim to defend title | Local Sports | lockportjournal.com
The Beauts don’t have to think too long when it comes to finding a motto for the 2017-18 National Women’s Hockey League season.

Why Harrison Browne couldn’t retire from women’s hockey - Macleans.ca
Having resolved to transition from female to male, a hockey star makes a tough call—one more season

NCAA

Polls: USCHO | USA Today | The Ice Garden

GOAL BY GOAL: #2 BC Women’s Hockey Earns 4-3 Win Over Syracuse - BC Interruption
BC stays unbeaten at 8-0-1

2017-2018 NCAA Women's Hockey Pairwise Rankings Calculator - BC Interruption
It’s Pairwise season!

Freshman phenoms: Five standout NCAA first-year players - The Ice Garden
A crop of new faces has been off to a roaring start through the first full month of NCAA play

NCAA women's hockey: No. 1 Wisconsin cruises past No. 4 Ohio State 7-0 in battle of unbeatens | NCAA.com
Six different Badgers found the back of the net as the No. 1 Wisconsin women's hockey team routed No. 4 Ohio State, 7-0, in front of a sellout crowd at LaBahn Arena Saturday afternoon.

Women's Hockey - Wisconsin Athletics - Roque, Campbell earn WCHA monthly honors
Wisconsin women's hockey sophomores Abby Roque and Kristen Campbell earned WCHA player of the month honors for September and October, as announced by the league on Wednesday.

Puck drops in faceoff over UMD hockey firings – Minnesota Lawyer
"That sounds like sexual orientation claims, not gender,” Judge Patrick Schiltz said.

One-on-one with women's ice hockey goalie Christine Honor '19 | The Dartmouth
Women’s ice hockey player Christine Honor ’19 etched her name into the record book last Friday with an unprecedented 61 saves, an NCAA record for the most saves in a shutout.

U Sports

Top 10 Tuesday — U SPORTS
Top three voting is a model of consistency — UBC, Alberta and Saint Mary's.

Canada West: Regina’s strong start - The Ice Garden
Why you should keep an eye on the Regina Cougars.

Mustangs battle back for overtime win over Ryerson
A third period comeback and two goals from April Clark, including the overtime winner, sent the Western Mustangs past the Ryerson Rams with a 3-2 overtime win on Saturday night at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

European league hockey

SWHL (Switzerland) The ZSC Lions win the SWHL A Qualification - swisshockeynews.ch
The ZSC Lions won the game against HC Lugano with 5-3 and have thus won the Qualification of the 2017-18 season.

Three lower-division teams move on to the quarterfinals - swisshockeynews.ch
The favorited teams won their Round of 16 games of the Swiss Women's Hockey Cup: EV Bomo Thun, the Neuchâtel Hockey Academy and SC Weinfelden beat their lower-division opponents without receiving a single goal against them.

AWIHL (Australia)

Ongoing commitment to AW
The Australian Women’s Ice Hockey league (AWIHL) and Skaters Network announce their continuing sponsorship agreement under which Skaters Network become the preferred equipment supplier of the AWIHL.