Here’s the problem with being a hockey fan in Boston: it’s wicked expensive to see it played live, especially at a professional level. I’m not even a Bruins fan (sorry, guys), and just attempting to see [team name redacted because I want you to like me enough to keep reading this article] maybe once a year was something I very quickly decided was not worth it.
I got into hockey about five years ago, and women’s hockey was something I settled on as a way to see good hockey without NHL prices. Conveniently, Boston also had a team that had all my favorite Olympian players, and by going I supported women instead of Jeremy Jacobs, real-life Scrooge McDuck, so it was a win-win. In terms of gameplay, the only real difference between women’s and men’s hockey is that there’s technically no hitting or fighting in women’s hockey. (Technically.) Checking still happens a lot, and once in a blue moon, there’s even a fight. Personally, though, I’ve never really enjoyed the "physical game" aspect of hockey, I much prefer the speed and skill aspects of it, which women’s hockey has in spades.
Hopefully by now you’re thinking "hey, that does sound like a great time, how do see one of these games?" Good news! Thanks to the NWHL starting this year, it’s now really, really easy. Just follow my handy tips:
One: Check It Out On NESN (But Don’t Judge On That Alone)
If you have NESN, you can see most Pride home games for zero extra dollars from the comfort of your very own favorite hockey-watching spot. (Here’s the schedule for NESN.) Also, the NWHL website streams every single game for free through Youtube and keeps them all archived to watch at any time. If you want to see if the no-hitting aspect of women’s hockey is going to turn you off, I suggest starting there.
(EDIT: Some Pride games are on ESPN3, and those are NOT archived on Youtube.)
I also suggest watching a taped women’s game with the knowledge that it’s going to seem low-budget. If you are expecting NHL-style coverage with NHL cameras, angles, and re-play quality, you're going to be disappointed. The setup at the game is comparitively low-tech - I normally see about three cameras when I go, and all in roughly similar locations but zoomed into different parts of the rink, and that’s for being broadcast on NESN. It’s probably even less than that for the Youtube streams. This is the NWHL’s inaugural season, and while they are improving the streams every week, they’re still missing a lot, like a scoring or timekeeping widget in the corner. Until recently, they were even missing play-by-play announcing, which is a huge handicap if you’re not live at a game. That has already improved just since October.
Compared to an NHL game, it’s going to look a lot less intense on TV, too. There aren’t as many people there (Bright Center’s capacity is 3,095, compared to TD Garden at 17,565 and Dunkin Donuts Center at 12,400), there’s no organ (though they do play a lot of Beyonce, so really I consider this a plus), and while the crowd screams and cheers, and sometimes a few ambitious girl’s hockey teams try to start the wave, people are mostly focused on the game. If you tune in and think "look how few people there are, and they’re so quiet", it honestly doesn’t feel that way when you’re there, so don’t let that be the reason you don’t go. There is just as much passion at a women’s game, there are just fewer people there to express it. (Hey, you know what can change that? You going!)
Two: Get There Early
Like at all hockey games, don’t aim to come at puck drop. I would suggest coming between an hour and 45 minutes earlier. When I came for the opener, I got there 15 minutes before puck drop because my bus was late, and the will call ticket line wrapped around the building. This weekend, I was there an hour early, and there was no line at all. I didn’t get to see if one formed while I was inside, but keep in mind that unless you purchase tickets in advance, that might be something to plan for. Even if ticket buying is quick or you buy in advance, the 45-60 minute padding gives you enough time to find a seat you like (there is no assigned seating), go to the bathroom, watch warmups, get concessions, and get merch if you are so moved.
The merch is the one thing I would say is important to do before the game and not during a period break. The booth is well-stocked, but even in a low-attendance game, there’s still a couple hundred people there. A lot of people prefer to pick stuff up in person so they don’t have to spring for shipping. Popular sizes go fast.
Three: Take Public Transport
There are lots of reasons I support the NWHL over the CWHL (a women’s league that also has a Boston team, the Blades). There are too many to get into, but a huge reason is that I don’t have any way to get to CWHL games. The Blades don’t have a home rink, and where they’re based out of changes every season. This year, they’re mostly playing out of NESC in Marlborough. I live near Riverside and don’t drive. How the heck would I get to Marlborough? Why would I want to bother?
The Pride play every single home game out of the Bright-Landry Hockey Center at Harvard (which is not on their main campus, but in the athletic area off Soldier’s Field Road). That’s a 10-15 minute walk from the Harvard Square stop on the Red Line, even closer to more bus routes than I can name, and also two stops on the Red Line away from Porter, where you can take the Commuter Rail in.
This is not to say you can’t drive, but you should be prepared for a literal bottleneck getting out. I had the dubious honor of first seeing then experiencing this when a kind friend offered to drop me in Harvard Square to catch my bus. There’s tons of space to park, but only one lane to enter and leave.
Four: Bring Cash
While the NWHL is nice and modern and lets you do almost everything by credit card (including buy merch - they have a very snazzy iPad setup), the concessions are run by Harvard, and they are expensive, and most of the registers only accept cash. If you’re going to pony up for some arena food, bring at least a twenty per person, more if you have an antsy kid with you. Which reminds me...
Five: Eat Beforehand (Or Be Prepared To Shell Out That Cash You Brought)
Officially speaking, you are not allowed to bring food or beverages into the arena with you, and there’s a bag check to make sure you don’t. Unofficially, there are ways to get around that, but I of course would never suggest doing such a thing, nor would I tell you all the techniques my mother has passed down to me for sneaking food places where you shouldn’t. Some things are matrilineal and also sacred.
The concessions are the normal amounts of ridiculously priced, which is to say it’s $4.00 for a bottle of water and $8.00 for a normal-sized hot dog. The pros of buying food there is that it’s convenient, they do have a really nice array of options (including a few healthy ones, like fruit salad, but let’s be real here, did you wait in line for ten minutes to pay $5.00 for a Hoodsie Cup-sized serving of over-ripe melon? No), and it probably goes to support the NWHL (and if not, it goes to support Harvard and the people who work at the rink), which is nice. The cons are that it’s a lot of money to spend on food that isn’t even that great in quality, the line is always long even during a low attendance game if you go during period breaks, and if you, like me, think you can outsmart everyone by getting in line during the period, you may miss something important. I missed a beauty of a Hilary Knight goal, and no hot dog in the world could soothe that pain.
Since the arena is so close to Harvard Square, there are tons of amazing places to eat very close by. I suggest going to those. I would recommend you specific restaurants, but it is a known fact that you can ask five Bostonians for their favorite place to eat in Harvard Square and will get at least ten different answers, so I’ll leave selection up to you.
Six: Dress Warm
Sometimes, rinks are nice and toasty. Sometimes, rinks are so cold you can see your breath. Bright Center is about two thirds down the spectrum towards the "freezing" end, but insidiously cold. It’s the kind of cold you’ll get in and think is not so bad, but by the second period you’re curled in the fetal position wishing you had a giant down comforter. Don’t wear thin socks (I made that mistake), bring multiple layers, and bring whatever scarves/hats/gloves you usually use when it’s snowing. Unlike a big rink like the Garden or even the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, there isn’t enough seating for such that, even when full, the combined body heat of the fans cuts the rink chill.
Seven: Stay After If You Want To Meet The Players (But Be Cool About It)
It is an objective fact that meeting the people you just saw play a really awesome game of sportsball is cool. And since women’s hockey is a lot lower key than men’s hockey, you can make this happen. The Pride players all come out to sign autographs and take pictures at designated tables as a matter of course, but the opposing team usually comes out too, often because they have family or friends there to see them play. Most of the players, when they come out are still wearing some team gear or Underarmor that makes it clear they’re a player, so it’s okay if you don’t know them by face because they all wear full masks during the game or because you’re new. The Pride wear their jerseys so they can be identified easier when they sit down at the tables set up for doing autographs.
As always when meeting athletes (or anyone), be polite. Every player I’ve met has been warm, friendly, and professional. They remember you if they’ve talked to you on social media and are really happy to see you there. Return the favor and be equally courteous back to them. The best part about meeting them, though, is if you bring a kid with you, especially if that kid is a girl - the players will go out of their way to make that kid happy. Which reminds me...
Eight: Bring All The Kids You Know (Especially The Girls)
I am a comically terrible athlete. When they made everyone do the timed mile run in high school, they cut me off at 15 minutes even though I still had a quarter of it left to run, partially out of mercy, and partially because the period was over and we had to go inside.
As a kid, I played sports, and one of those sports was basketball. (I am full grown and 4’11", so you can figure out how that went.) When I was maybe seven years old, I went to a women’s college basketball game to be one of the sideshow amusements, the way mite players come out during period breaks to be adorably bad at hockey. Twenty years later, I still remember that game vividly. That was the first time in my life I had seen women play sports that were not about being pretty or graceful, like ice skating or gymnastics or dance. (I was and still am also bad at being pretty and graceful.)
The women were tall and muscular, they were sweaty and grunted and yelled and made weird faces, and they were awesome. I obviously did not go on to play sports in any capacity, and I don’t even enjoy watching basketball as an adult. But I still remember that game, because seeing women look openly "unfeminine" do "ugly" things was, at the time, important to me. In the twenty years since that basketball game, being a little girl hasn’t changed much. A girl now is just as unlikely to have seen women being cheered while being "ugly" as I was.
I didn’t stick around for signatures and photos after the second Pride game, but when I stuck around after the home opener, the line for signatures was mobbed by girls of all ages in oversized jerseys for their own teams, beside themselves at the chance to meet their heroes. And the hockey players were just as excited to talk to and make sure she got exactly what she had come to get. Every time an NWHL player is interviewed, they all say the same thing - they’re playing to show little girls something they themselves never got to see: women playing competitive sports well.
This weekend, I struck up a conversation with one of the guys who was there to take official pictures. He was a father of a teenaged girl who played at Kimball Union Academy, and she was coached by Molly Engstrom, who plays for the Connecticut Whale. He’d volunteered to bring her and some of her teammates so they could see their coach play in a real game. "It’s been so important for these girls to see women playing sports at this elite a level," he told me. "These women just get it. They mean everything to them."
You could tell exactly where Engstrom’s players were seated the entire game, because that row of seats erupted whenever she so much as set a blade on the ice. When she scored a goal (and it was a beauty), their cheering became deafening.
If you know a girl, bring her. She doesn’t have to play sports, be good at sports, or even like sports - when I was younger, neither did I, sports were something I endured to seem less nerdy than I really was. But there is no girl in the entire world who doesn’t deserve to see women celebrated for reasons other than being pretty and pleasing and traditionally feminine. Heck, if you know a boy, bring him. It’s just as important for him to know girls can do whatever they want and look however they want doing it. And if you don’t know any kids at all, just bring you. Great hockey plays don’t cheer for themselves.