With the CWHL playoffs in full swing (streaming package priced at $8.24 US, $10 Canadian) and aside from a few teams that share cities with CWHL clubs, the silence from the NHL is deafening.  Articles about CWHL players and how most hold second jobs and how the league struggles financially are far and wide and I’m not going to add another to the fray.  I want to do this instead:

women's hockeyObviously the majority of my experience has been in following NCAA hockey, not professional hockey, but the former feeds into the latter and I think that there is tremendous overlap in the issues that each of them face.

The Low Hanging Fruit (or, the ‘way’ is easy, the will perhaps not)

Promotion from the NHL

This is the easiest one and also (in my opinion) the one that would go the longest way.  And to be perfectly clear I’m not talking about marketing campaigns that the NHL would have to put time and money into (that’ll be later).  I’m talking about literally just making it clear that the CWHL exists and making things like team websites, standings, and stats visible and easily accessible.

I’m talking about the Bruins, Maple Leafs (for Toronto and Brampton), Flames, and Canadiens linking to CWHL teams on their homepages and displaying their logo.  I’m talking about NHL.com having a CWHL tab on the homepage.

These things take an absolute minimum of site alteration and coding knowledge and they would go such a long way towards getting eyes on the CWHL.  I don’t know what the CWHL’s web traffic looks like, but I’d imagine it’s largely from the fans that know exactly where to go for information with very little from casual fans from other sites.

Casual fans aren’t going to get interested in and excited about a sport if they don’t know it exists and can’t easily find information and stats.

Equal (or proportional) coverage on sites like USCHO, NHL.com, and ESPN

This is step two from the above, and I realize that there’s going to be more to write about 30 NHL teams than 5 CWHL teams, but the breakdown shouldn’t be 100% NHL (or Men’s NCAA) and 0% women.

ESPN shouldn’t be telling me that it’s impossible to show live stats for Women’s NCAA hockey when CollegeHockeyStats.net can do it just fine.  Actually, I take that back.  ESPN isn’t even there yet, they can’t even show that there are games scheduled on days that there are definitely games scheduled.  The CWHL should be somewhere on the sidebar of the hideous and horrendously difficult to navigate ESPNW.

USCHO’s recent stories list shouldn’t be 14 Men’s stories and 1 Women’s story.

NHL.com should at least have CWHL stories in their headlines sidebar, especially since it’s the playoffs.  (A CWHL specific sidebar right next to the NHL one would be fantastic.)

Well known blogs like Syracuse’s Nunes Magician that aren’t specific to one team should have writers on staff covering the women’s hockey team.  And if they’d “love to have one” they should go out and find one.

These are such minor changes and they would go an incredibly long way towards driving traffic to the CWHL and NCAA Women’s Hockey which would go a long way towards making them financially viable.

Articles that treat the CWHL as a sport played by professionals and not an underfunded novelty

Meg hit the nail on the head above.  When someone does deign to write about Women’s sports it’s almost always about how they struggle in terms of finances and attendance or it’s a direct comparison to a men’s sport.  There are very few pieces that come out from established writers that dig into what makes the CWHL interesting as opposed to what makes it struggle or what makes it different or what makes it “inferior.”  Where are the game recaps, the player profiles, the milestone awards, the analytics pieces?  Hell, where are the analytics at all?

I’ve been told by numerous people that ‘advanced’ stats like shot attempts are tracked in NCAA Women’s Hockey but no one seems to know where they are or how to get to them.  That should change, especially considering that it’s easier to put together tables when there are fewer teams.

Name recognition shouldn’t hinge on whether or not someone poses naked for the Body Issue.

An end to calling Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Detroit things like Hockey Town, Hockey Heaven, or the City of Hockey when they don’t have women’s hockey teams.

This one is perhaps a little petty, but every time the Hockey Heaven moniker gets thrown around Buffalo I point out that they have several D-1 men’s teams and no D-1 women’s teams.  The same goes for Detroit and Philadelphia with Robert Morris, Penn State, and Mercyhurst in-state at least for the latter.

Meanwhile Boston has the NCAA’s Harvard, Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern and the CWHL’s Boston Blades and Minnesota has scattered NCAA teams across the state in Bemidji, Duluth, St. Cloud, Minneapolis, and Mankato.

More Women doing Play by Play and Color Commentary

As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski illustrated with his comments on how he personally didn’t think women were fit for play by play because they “change the viewing experience” the lack of women doing play by play and color commentary, even in Women’s sports (like the CWHL) is appalling.  That the booth was 3/4 men for both Montreal – Calgary CWHL playoff games was very disappointing.

I’ve watched the broadcasts of some 20 NCAA Women’s teams and only Quinnipiac and Yale regularly have women in the booth (from what I heard).  (Side note: Yale’s Adlon Adams is absolutely incredible.)

Tough, But Doable

A 16 team Women’s NCAA Hockey tournament

I know this is a point of contention for some with the NCAA still being pretty top heavy and much of the talent in the WCHA.  (Side note: WOO CLARKSON NATIONAL CHAMPS!!!)  My reasons for wanting to expand are twofold.  The first is that I hate assigning auto-bids to single elimination tournament winners, and I hate filling up half of the eight spots with auto-bids.  It’s a math issue that allows one dubious team to get in because they were good for four games while leaving another out that was good for 30 and bad for 1.

The second is parity.  And I’m not saying letting in more teams is going to lead to upsets of the dominant powers.  But making an NCAA tournament is a tremendous accomplishment for an athlete and for many programs.  If you’re an elite hockey player from New York, you’re going to leave because the chances of playing in an NCAA tournament are better out west and those WCHA schools are going to continue to enjoy a recruiting advantage, but if teams like Syracuse and RIT have a shot (and teams like Clarkson, Cornell, St. Lawrence, Union, RPI, and Colgate have a better shot) then I think they can start to close some of the recruitment gap.

An expanded CWHL

On that note, the number of elite teams in the NCAA is slowly expanding (see: Clarkson’s National Championship, the first ever outside the WCHA) and with that the number of pretty good teams is expanding too.  That means more players for the WHL which means more teams.

With Women’s NCAA hockey tremendously successful in cities like Madison, WI and Minneapolis (and in Minnesota in general) it would seem there are at least a few options for CWHL expansion not to mention the potential of becoming the most viable and successful hockey league for women worldwide.

Pie in the Sky

Practice facilities and arenas that are theirs and theirs alone

There are 6 NCAA schools whose Women’s hockey programs have their own arena (not counting Syracuse and Lindenwood who only have Women’s D-1 teams).  Of those six, three of those Women’s teams have the newer facility: the Connecticut Huskies (Freitas Ice Forum, 1998), the Minnesota Golden Gophers (Ridder Arena, 2002), and the Wisconsin Badgers (La Bahn Arena, 2012).  UConn and Minnesota never got back to me, but Wisconsin’s athletic department confirmed that the arenas were built specifically for women’s hockey so that the women would have their own facility, their own ice, and not have to fight for (and lose) practice time.  It’s important, I think, for these teams to not merely be tenants, but to have a home.

Financial support from the NHL

This is the next step up from the easy task of merely promoting the CWHL more.  The NHL is foolish if it doesn’t see the value in supporting the CWHL to:

Increase youth hockey participation in general and

Increase female viewership and fandom.

I know the NHL is only going to look out for its own interests and is only going to act selfishly, which is why I’d like to frame supporting the CWHL as a solid selfish move for the NHL.  THERE IS SO MUCH MONEY HERE.  LIKE, SPEND TEN MINUTES ON FEMINIST HOCKEY TWITTER AND COUNT THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE THAT WANT TO THROW MONEY AT HOCKEY THINGS THEY CAN LIKE, RESPECT, AND IDENTIFY WITH.

People are going to say that Women’s sports don’t get coverage because they don’t draw.  Are we sure?  Are we sure it’s not the other way around?  I think that Women’s sports don’t draw because they don’t get coverage.  People can also point to men’s sports having had the time to grow organically because they’ve been around longer, but that’s still a product of inequality (because, you know, women weren’t allowed to play sports, then were told they couldn’t play sports, then were told they shouldn’t play sports (I think that’s about where we’re at now as a society)) and I personally find it morally reprehensible that Men’s leagues don’t do more to correct those mistakes that they themselves have helped to cause and perpetuate.

Men’s Hockey Publications – Get Rid of Toxic Writers and Personalities

This one is going under pie in the sky because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that sports are a ‘boys club’ and the thing boys clubs are good at are insulating their boys.  Mike Milbury has a book of sexist comments.  Mike Modano referred to a USA – Canada game as a ‘cat fight.’  The Pittsburgh Penguins partner with the radio station of the virulently sexist Mark Madden.  Pierre LeBrun of ESPN called Morgan Rielly’s sexist comments ‘not a problem.’

Even if the above changes are made, it’s not going to mean much if women are continually made to feel uncomfortable in sports.  And the problem is compounded by the fact that because many of these comments play on stereotypical gender roles, they drive LGBT and gender-nonconforming fans away from sports too.

Admit that women are simply talented and make equality a priority.

Women hockey players aren’t just good for women.  They’re good hockey players.  Period.  The CWHL is incredible and NCAA hockey isn’t far behind.  There is no defensible reason men’s and women’s hockey can’t be equals and Men’s leagues and Men’s writers and men in general need to admit and make peace with this.

I have no conclusion, I just wanted to say that I personally am going to continue to tackle the low hanging fruit.  Simply getting links in more places should be doable, if difficult and aggravating.