Hi this is Sky jumping in here to say that while some of this is discussion of a rumor, there is a piece in here past the fourth heading that’s largely opinion, and so I heavily suggest you take this with a grain of salt. Thanks, and stay cool.
So a couple weeks back, me and Nathan made a couple of very good and in-depth pieces about the upcoming Boston PWHL team and what to expect from it.
You would think, what with the league being so new and starting play in a scant three months, that we’d have probably had more to talk about since then. Unfortunately, the PWHL has elected instead for a form of radio silence mixed with rumors that, frankly, don’t paint the league as making a very good first impression with fan; as it’s drip-feed rollout of information on relatively small things in the grand scheme of things such as logos, team colors, nicknames, and home arenas has sown nothing but discontent from a Women’s Hockey fanbase that is both extremely skeptical of the people in charge and desperately grasping for straws other than “The team Marie-Philippe Poulin plays on” to get invested in.
One such rumor didn’t help as Mark Divver, someone who generally isn’t often wrong about the kind of things he gets information on...dropped a bombshell in the middle of Monday that caught everybody off-guard.
Look for Boston's new PWHL team to play out of the Tsongas Center in Lowell— Mark Divver (@MarkDivver) October 9, 2023
So yeah. It’s looking to be more of a Boston-in-air-quotes kind of team.
Let’s talk about that for a minute.
The PWHL’s already shaky relationship with New England
From the beginning of their shocking buyout of the PHF and plan to restructure the league, rumor began to spread like wildfire that the PWHL was planning on not having a Boston team for their opening season; a city with no less than four major women’s collegiate programs playing at any given time, and with far more outside of it.
New England may not be as hockey-centric as Minnesota, but it is deeply ingrained in the sports culture, and as such, fans; many of whom already quite upset about losing the Pride, were understandably very...very unhappy about this prospect and made their discontent known. This rumor was quashed by the announcement that yes, a Boston team was in fact going to stick around. Everyone rejoiced (or breathed a sigh of relief) and waited for the draft.
Then a new problem began; where to put it? And what to call it?
The Previous Rumor wasn’t encouraging...
The PWHL’s arena search whittled down with time, being locked in on certain locations according to The Hockey News’ Ian Kennedy. Toronto getting Coca-Cola Coliseum, New York taking the tradition of New York teams by...having a team away from the city and going to Bridgeport Connecticut, Minnesota scoring big with the Xcel Center, all big and important arenas and that’s great!
Boston’s rumored location was Walter Brown Arena over in Allston.
Now, let’s get something straight; Walter Brown is fine. It’s ice surface has been recently re-done, it’s got great sightlines, and if the worst part about it is an inadequate press area? Who cares, we’re like the second least important part of a game there. It’s even neatly set on the Green Line.
It is however, deeply inadequate in comparison to what the other teams would be getting; a very old building that seats less than 4000 in comparison to even Bridgeport would be a massive swing in quality and that would more than likely sit wrong with players for whom their entire CBA battle seemed to be focused on amenities.
This also didn’t exactly improve fan opinion of league ownership, who in spite of their mighty capital (as they own the Los Angeles Dodgers) apparently couldn’t get any number of the universities in town; BU, BC, Harvard or Northeastern, to cough up some dates for a professional women’s hockey game every so often.
The Tsongas Center meanwhile sits 6000, has modern amenities, and is in general a much more modern building, so that’s much better for the players!
F*!king pity about the fans, though.
...But neither is this one.
Look. Lowell is a perfectly okay city that in spite of it’s really bad rep from the 90’s is getting better and I am happy for you if you live there and are happy.
It’s a little hard to get to if you’re not local.
For non-locals, Lowell is in a weird place in Massachusetts. It’s about a half hour from Boston by car (assuming that traffic plays nicely with you. It will not.) and instead of being accessible by MBTA subways, is only accessible on public transit via the MBTA Commuter Rail, which will run you well over an hour because the train station in Lowell is about a half-hour walk to the arena, which is situated on UMass Lowell’s Campus. Further, Lowell’s off-ice amenities are a bit lacking; with nearby Chelmsford having the lion’s share of chain hotels, and the closest one in Lowell itself is the UMass Lowell Conference Center, which has a...mixed reception as a hotel, let’s call it.
It’s not the worst women’s hockey has ever had to put up with in the state; that inglorious honor goes to the Boston/Worcester Blades who were stuck for quite awhile in Marlborough; a place that connects with nothing and is accessible to no-one. But it does undermine the Boston “branding” quite a bit, and also once again asks a very honest but painful question about just how much the league seems to actually want a Boston team, if this is the level of effort they’re putting forward to get a space for them.
If there’s anything about this rumor that could be gleaned as funny, it’s definitely this:
The next interview with Hilary Knight about the accommodations will almost assuredly be pretty awkward for her, because she has a history with this building.
As a member of the 2016-17 Boston Pride, Knight was a central part of suffering one of the most shocking defeats of her entire career in the Tsongas Center, losing to the Buffalo Beauts in the Isobel Cup Championship game after Buffalo’s goaltender made 60 saves and retired a champion; stifling one of the best offenses the game had seen up to that point.
So if nothing else, the first person to ask her anything about that will receive brownie points from me.
The Puzzle Pieces of Fan Antipathy
Okay, so the Boston PWHL team isn’t actually playing in Boston. So what. People still call Gilette Stadium a “Boston” arena even if Foxborough isn’t anywhere near it. Why is this a big deal? They’ll probably get back into the city next season.
Here’s the thing; if it was just this, I think this would be something we’d be talking about as an awkward first step and then moving on from with the expectation of better things to come.
The issue is that it is one of many interlocking pieces of either poor information, no information, or inference that fans have had to put up with from the league because the PWHL doesn’t seem terribly interested in actually engaging with it’s prospective fanbase.
Teams themselves as we’ve discussed previously, seemed completely uninterested in continuing long-standing player associations with certain regions and have thus alienated a lot of longtime fans. Team Names and Logos are heavily expected by this point to not be ready by the time the games begin, and even if they are decided on, the league seems intent on all teams playing with jerseys that only have the town name across them in New York Rangers-Style text; severely limiting their ability to market themselves in their home markets and in the wider hockey sphere. Team socials are extremely corporate and very tight-lipped on information about their own squads.
Fans meanwhile, many of whom still very raw about the pain of having lost a team they cared deeply about, swirl with rumor and question about every last decision and announcement made by the league. An otherwise perfectly wholesome video announcing a draft documentary has been getting lit up because the league seems wholly uninterested in actually answering any of the much more simple questions the league refuses to acknowledge.
In short, this could be going a lot better.
Look, at the end of the day, I want the PWHL to succeed.
Women’s hockey has been through a lot, and so have the players. They have been national heroes while also living on the diets and often times facilities of independent professional wrestlers. The same kind of dirtbag who’d be juked out of his skates if he ever shared ice time with even a 4th liner on these teams still doesn’t see the incredible value of this game. I want this so badly to break down barriers and allow little girls who play hockey a chance to know that yes, you can go be a pro if you work at it. I also would like to start seeing viable alternatives to waiting for the Olympics or World’s to start popping up on professional broadcast feeds, because the NHL has spent a good portion of it’s last eight months punching down at it’s fans, and a detox is often so important when the league goes into one of it’s many unforced errors in the wake of trying to avoid controversy (while courting it all the same).
It is just so hard to keep ignoring how slapdash all of this is or feels.
The CBA is a step in the right direction. The Draft feeling like a professional event is a step in the right direction. I just don’t want it feeling like an exhibition tour in order to get the NHL involved; I want it to feel like the best possible version of a new thing that came from the old thing. Right now, it’s hard to say that the PWHL is giving it’s fans something tangible to hold onto, or trying to win back people it’s lost in the shuffle between the PWHPA and PHF.
Which makes the uphill battle of trying to get fans to try and show up just that more steep.
This latest rumor could be wrong; that’s totally fine. I’d like it to be, but I can survive with the team in Lowell.
I just want to know what the f!#k I’m supposed to call it after a certain point.