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Column: ‘We’re getting close to something really significant.’ Women’s hockey expects a great time

With an alphabet soup of defunct leagues littering its history, women’s professional hockey is still waiting for its big moment. The Association of Professional Women’s Hockey Players. he believes that moment is imminent.

The evolution of women’s professional hockey has been held back by a lack of funding and the philosophical divisions that divide the players whose best chance for success lies in coming together. Leagues born amid great optimism have discovered the harsh realities of a game that is expensive to operate and remains a niche sport for many Americans.

Financial troubles plunged the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019. The National Women’s Hockey League lost most of its stars the same year when they boycotted to protest a lack of health insurance and being paid too little to make hockey their business. only job. The NWHL continues as the seven-team Premier Hockey Federation, but without most of the elite American and Canadian players.

That splinter group formed the nonprofit PWHPA, which is sweeping the US and Canada and will host its championships in Southern California this weekend. The PWHPA, which last year enlisted Billie Jean King’s investment and consulting firm and the group led by Dodgers controlling owner Mark Walter to explore launching a new league, is set to announce a six teams, according to a report recently issued by “Hockey Night in Canada.

“That report wasn’t completely accurate, but it does have some insights,” said Jayna Hefford, a four-time Olympic gold medalist from Canada and the PWHPA’s senior operations consultant.

“There is a priority in doing the job and not getting ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of momentum in what we are doing. We are very confident in the work that has been done and the work that continues to be done, and the investment group that we are working with, I don’t think we can find a better one. We’re excited and we think we’re getting closer to something really significant.”

The PWHPA has four teams, each named after a title sponsor. His Secret Dream Gap tour will end with his first championship weekend, part of an effort this season to create “a league-like look in terms of consistent teams, standings, stats and playoffs,” Hefford said.

“We have a lot of momentum in what we are doing. … We’re excited and we think we’re getting close to something really significant.”

— Jayna Hefford, PWHPA Senior Operations Consultant

No. 1 seed Team Harvey’s (named for a Canadian fast food chain) will take on No. 4 Team Sonnet (insurances) in a semi-final at 4 p.m. Friday at Great Park Ice in Irvine, the practice facility for the ducks. That will be followed at 7pm by No. 2 Team adidas vs. No. 3 Team Scotiabank. The losers will play a qualifying game at 6 pm Saturday at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, the Kings’ practice facility. The winners will meet on Sunday at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, home of the Coachella Valley Firebirds, Seattle Kraken’s best outfield team.

The Kings and Ducks often put their on-ice rivalry aside to help promote youth hockey, and both support girls’ programs. Both have also hosted well-attended games pitting the US and Canadian women’s national teams, the two superpowers of the sport, against each other.

“The way I see it, women’s hockey is really developing, and whenever we get an opportunity to help and participate, we have to,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Having the opportunity to host one last weekend in Southern California, which is the area that we’ve been pushing to grow the game since (Wayne) Gretzky was here, I think it’s a great event.”

His Anaheim counterpart agreed. “Every team in Southern California is looking to move hockey forward,” Ducks president Aaron Teats said. “Those opportunities to continue to show the girls playing today what the potential future is for them is exciting and something we want to make sure we move forward with.”

PWHPA players receive equal stipends, not salaries. In the new league, they would earn an average salary of around $55,000. “That’s a number that we looked at, which we think is a sustainable model, but that’s not to say that the final version of the league will be that,” Hefford said.

She sees the longevity of the WNBA, the growth of the Women’s National Soccer League, and the strong television ratings of women’s college basketball as reasons a professional women’s hockey league can succeed.

“We definitely feel like the time is now. There is demand. There is interest,” she said. “I think we are in a very good place. We are doing work. We are making sure that the foundation is solid. And of course we want this to happen tomorrow, but we can’t compromise on the things that will make this league successful in the long run.”

NHL teams have helped PWHPA and PHF teams (the Arizona Coyotes will host the PHF championship on March 26 at Mullett Arena), but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has held back. of endorsing one over the other in the hope that they will realize that they must work together. It will be difficult enough for a professional women’s hockey league to be viable in a crowded sports landscape. Two leagues competing for uncertain talent and resources would undermine both.

With superior talent and the backing of King and Walter, the PWHPA has the best chance of establishing a stable league. It might work by starting small. It may not work at all. Women’s professional hockey deserves a smart, well-structured effort to determine if it can be viable and to avoid adding ingredients to the alphabet soup of leagues that failed due to poor planning and unrealistic hopes.