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NWHL launch party provides passion, enthusiasm, and few answers

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No major announcements about player commitments, sponsorships, and financial backing at the NYC event; just hints and glimpses of possible things to come

Hilary Knight playing against the Calgary Inferno at the Allied Veterans Rink in Everett, MA. The Blades played one home game last season in Everett, and the rink has now been named the new home ice of the NWHL's Boston Pride.
Meg Linehan

The Chelsea Piers Sunset Terrace is a beautiful space overlooking the Hudson River to the west, and the Sky Rink to the east.  During the NWHL launch party, youth players took the ice in the new league's jerseys.  After about an hour of drinking, snacking, and casual chatter, the speeches began.  Angela Ruggiero, Erika Lawler, and Dani Rylan were all on the docket--Rylan as commissioner, Lawler as the NWHL Players' Association's player representative, and Ruggiero as strategic advisor.

All spoke about how excited they were to create a new and sustainable business model.  Lawler specifically referenced the importance of player development, talking about how players reach their physical peaks in their late 20's, but that is often many years after they have graduated college, where the NCAA provides high level competition in addition to equipment, facilities, training, and transportation.  The CWHL wasn't directly discussed, but the implication was that without compensation, players can't consistently continue to train at the highest possible level.  Day jobs tend to get in the way.

But all of that is stuff we already knew, and part of why we are so curious and why the NWHL could be so exciting in practice if it works out.  What about stuff we didn't know?

  • The home rinks of all four teams appear in a pamphlet that was handed out at the launch.  The Buffalo Beauts will play at the HarborCenter in Buffalo.  The Boston Pride will play at the Allied Veterans Memorial Rink in Everett, MA.  The Connecticut Whale will play at Chelsea Piers in Stamford, CT.  And the New York Riveters will play at the Twin Rinks at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, NY (which is in Nassau County on Long Island, not far from the almost-former home of the New York Islanders).  This information about home rinks was also made available in a prospectus that Rylan sent to prospective players, and was obtained by espnW for a story released a few days ago.
  • Dani Rylan briefly spoke about a meeting last week with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.  Some level of support was implied for the NWHL and grassroots efforts to grow women's hockey, but no details were forthcoming about financial or other types of compensation.  This seemed more an indication that the two leagues are in communication with each other, and a future business relationship is possible.
  • No player commitments or staff commitments were announced at this time, and neither were sponsorships, even with respect to equipment.  (I asked about this during an informal Q&A session at the event; Rylan said she was not prepared to comment as details are still being worked out.)  Rylan did say that player announcements would come later this month.  We know from the NWHL's draft signup page that players must register for the draft by June 1 and that free agency ends on August 25 (I thought Rylan said August 17 at the event last night, but I may have misheard her).  If a player has not signed with a team by August 25 (again, according to the draft signup page) they are ineligible to play in the 2015-16 season.

Altogether, the event was pleasant and everyone involved with league operations seemed to be in good spirits.  However, not much new information was released.  We still have some waiting to do.

And things are even more murky regarding the future of the CWHL's Boston Blades.  On Friday April 10, it was announced that the CWHL had terminated Blades' head coach Digit Murphy and general manager Aronda Kirby.  It seems that Digit actually owns the trademark to the Blades' logo, as detailed here and located by user @Hannah_Bevis1 on Twitter.  The trademark disagreement seems to be the genesis of the CWHL parting ways with Kirby and Murphy, who basically comprise the entire Blades' front office.  The trademark was applied for in October of 2014, despite the fact that this logo seems to have been in use since 2010.  Digit Murphy's company, Digit Murphy Enterprises Inc., is listed as the original trademark applicant for the Blades' logo.

In addition, Blades players were present at the NWHL launch, including Hilary Knight and Jessica Koizumi.  Also present was Brianne McLaughlin, a regular member of Team USA's goaltending squad who was drafted in the CWHL in 2010 but never played in the league.  The CWHL did not answer my request for comment about the Boston Blades regarding both their November 2014 labor strike and the Blades' future as an organization.  The requests for comment were made on March 28 and March 30, and went to Jennifer Smith, the CWHL's Director of Communications.

So, to summarize: you can plan transportation to your nearest NWHL rink, but you can't start thinking about whose name and number you want on the back of a t-shirt yet.  And we still don't know who's paying for all of this and how.  More information, as always, when it becomes available.