In a statement issued by the NWHL Public Relations department on Thursday evening, the league announced that the remainder of the 2016-2017 will be cut short.
Originally, the schedule was built around the upcoming 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship, taking nearly a month-long break to accommodate for the tournament, before concluding in late April. Now, the Isobel Cup Final is scheduled for March 19, prior to the start of the Women’s Worlds on March 31.
The Boston Pride will still play six more games this season, four of which will take place at Warrior Ice Arena. In total, the season will be 17 games for the Pride rather than 18, and the playoffs have been condensed into a single weekend. Instead of having two semifinal series and a championship series, the team finishing in first place (the Pride) will play the fourth team on Friday, March 17, and second place will face third on Saturday, March 18. On Sunday, the two advancing teams will compete in a winner-takes-all championship game.
According to the press release, “the decision was made after discussions with NWHL players, who initially requested this consideration.” The change makes it easier for players to compete at their highest skill level during the Women’s Worlds, and also allows the NWHL season to wrap up in a timely manner rather than being put on the back burner for three weeks.
In related news, Connecticut Whale defender Anya Battaglino has been named director of the NWHL Players’ Association. “It is extremely important for the players to get a seat at the table to advocate for the betterment of the league,” she said.
The NWHL has dealt with its fair share of tension between the league and the players, namely the issue of the salary cuts required to continue to finance the league. Going forward, the cooperation between the Players’ Association and the front office will be critical to the success of the NWHL.
For the 2017-2018 season, a few slight changes will be in order. While it will still only consist of the Founding Four teams, the schedule will include games at neutral sites to gauge fan interest outside of the New England-New York area (cough - the Midwest - cough), as well as exhibition games with national teams. The press release also notes that players will indeed continue to be paid during the league’s third season.
Finally, Commissioner Dani Rylan stated that although the league has been approached regarding expansion opportunities, the earliest that any expansion may take place would be the 2018-2019 season. This allows adequate time for market analysis and assessment of interest and the fan base, which will be crucial to the growth of the young league.
Hopefully, this season will merely be the NWHL’s sophomore slump. A number of factors have contributed to this, from change of venues to lack of TV coverage. The establishment and announcement of a transparent long-term plan is a good first step towards stability.
In order for the league to thrive, however, it’s been made abundantly clear that the finances must be bolstered. So, if watching women’s hockey is something you enjoy, buy some tickets, some merch, or donate to the NWHL Foundation if you can. As soon as playoff tickets and details are available, we’ll let you know, and we hope to see you there.