Aug 27, 2010
Apparently the NHL is channeling the NBA.
In part due to a lack of competition in Olympic Women’s Hockey, which is in danger of not being offered in the 2014 Winter Olympics, womens hockey officials and the NHL met todiscuss the viability of a womens hockey league.
As you may or may not remember, the U.S. and Canadian womens hockey teams dominated their European opponents, before the Canadians beat the Americans 2-0 in the Olympic final. Either the Canadians or Americans have won the gold medal since womens hockey was introduced to the Olympics in 1998. That in part led IOC president Jacque Rogge to question the longterm viability of womens hockey in the Olympics.
Maybe Olympic hockey was in question, but the popularity and competitive nature of hockey in North America is far from being in dispute.
“We had 5,000 girls playing hockey when the first national team started in 1990, and now we have 60,000,” said the four-time American Olympic defender Angela Ruggiero. Canada has 80,000 registered female players, but of the next 12 countries that play women’s hockey, none have more than 5,000, and most have only a few hundred.
The problem is in Europe outside Scandinavia, where centers of men’s hockey like Russia, Slovakia and Germany devote virtually no resources to the women’s game. In North America there are two Canada-based semipro leagues for women who have finished college. (via NYT)
So, with womens hockey being a popular commodity in North America, and teetering on the edge of non-existence in the Olympic-world…a professional womens hockey league doesn’t seem like a far-fetched step.
“I was in a meeting just this week with the N.H.L. and all the stakeholders in women’s hockey, and I think we have the ear of the N.H.L.,” said Hayley Wickenheiser, 32, a Canadian forward regarded as one of the greatest female players ever and the keynote speaker at the final day of the World Hockey Summit here.
“They’re looking at it right now from a sponsorship level to get it off the ground,” Wickenheiser said, referring to the N.H.L. “We’re not talking about big salaries, just sensible steps to get it on the ice to entertain people and see where it can go, and then down the road having an elite, W.N.B.A.-type league, which I think we could do.”
Bill Daly, the N.H.L. deputy commissioner, said the talks have taken place over a number of months and were very preliminary, but they are aimed at setting up a “women’s league or women’s competition.”
“We’ve talked about potential structures that might work, the need for a business plan, and our efforts to be helpful to the extent we can be,” Daly said.
Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, said his team, the wealthiest club in the N.H.L., supported the idea of a competition that would foster the development of women’s hockey.
Although it certainly won’t be easy, the WNBA model is an example, even if they’re seeing increased attendance this year, the hope is that a womens professional hockey league could help to create some competitive balance amongst North America and the rest of the world.
Competitive balance, which would hopefully keep womens hockey in the Olympics in 2014 and beyond.