U.S. forward Brianna Decker (14) celebrates scoring against Canada during the third period of a Rivalry Series hockey game in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

U.S. forward Brianna Decker (14) celebrates scoring against Canada during the third period of a Rivalry Series hockey game in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

NHL players voice support for launching women’s pro league

‘Every young girl deserves to have the same visible hockey role models as every young boy,’ says Jayna Hefford

Jason Spezza would have jumped at the opportunity to voice his support for women’s hockey even if he didn’t have four daughters growing up at home.

The veteran Maple Leafs forward was a big fan of the women’s game long before he was married, dating to years ago when Spezza attended a pre-Winter Games tune-up between Canada and the United States at a rink in suburban Toronto.

“It was one of the best hockey games I’ve watched,” he recalled this week. “There were 6,000 people packed in the building. And it didn’t matter that it was males or females. It was just a great hockey game.”

That memory, coupled with the invested personal interest he has for his children, helped prompt Spezza to be one of numerous NHL players to participate in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association’s latest campaign promoting the need to establish a new North American women’s league.

“I think regardless if I have daughters or not, I think it’s a really important cause,” Spezza said. “But it definitely hits more close to home for me with having four daughters and a wife, and women’s rights and talking about equality, which we talk about quite a a bit about in our house.”

Titled “Stick In The Ground,” a one-minute video released last week features U.S. and Canadian women’s national team players, NHL players, tennis great Billie Jean King and even Toronto Mayor John Tory discussing the importance of planting a stick to benefit the future of women’s hockey.

As PWHPA executive and Hockey Hall of Fame member Jayna Hefford says in the video: “Every young girl deserves to have the same visible hockey role models as every young boy.”

It was a message echoed by Edmonton Oilers forward Kyle Turris, who participated in the video.

“I have two sons and a daughter, and yeah, I think it’s important,” Turris said. “I want my daughter to grow up thinking she can run the world if she wants to do as well.”

Founded in May 2019 following the demise of the Canadian Hockey League, the PWHPA is made up of the world’s top female players united in a bid to establish a single North American professional league — ideally backed by the NHL — with a long-term sustainable economic model.

The association’s members have balked at playing for the U.S.-based six-team National Women’s Hockey League, and instead have been holding a series of barnstorming weekend events called the “Dream Gap Tour.”

This year’s tour opened with New Hampshire and Minnesota playing two games, including one at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, which was televised nationally in both the U.S. and Canada. This weekend, the two PWHPA U.S. hub teams will play two games at Chicago, including a contest at the United Center on Saturday that will be televised on NBC Sports Network.

The games represent a homecoming of sorts to U.S. national team member Brianna Decker, who grew up a Blackhawks fan in Wisconsin.

“I’m super exited to play there,” the two-time Olympian said, adding, “my brothers are definitely jealous.”

Decker is particularly impressed by the support the PWHPA has generated from NHL players and its franchises.

“Kyle Turris saying he wants his daughter to have the same opportunities as himself, that’s what we’re striving to do,” she said. “Right now, we have college hockey. And if you’re at the elite level, you make the national team. But after college, you’re usually just done playing, which is sad.”

Decker played at Wisconsin, where she had more access to resources and training facilities than when she played in either the CWHL or NWHL.

“There should be something bigger and better out there for us once you’re done with college,” she said, referring to a dedicated dressing room to being able to do your laundry at the rink. “Those are some little things that we’re striving for, aside from a financial backing.”

And that’s where PWHPA members say the NHL needs to step in. The league has provided some monetary support in the past, while also increasing the visibility of top female players by including them in each of the past two All-Star weekend festivities.

The NHL, however, has stopped short at committing to back a women’s pro league.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has previously said the league is open to establishing a league, but not at the expense of forcing an existing league like the NWHL out of business. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league’s position hasn’t changed.

“I think the league and our board are supportive of women’s hockey, period,” Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Friday. “We understand it’s importance to the game generally and the growth of our game going forward. But as you are seeing, that support can (and does) take a variety of forms.”

The NHL Players’ Association has also been on board in providing the PWHPA both monetary and organizational support, including attracting corporate sponsors.

Timing is becoming an issue, with the PWHPA hoping it can align the launch of a league with the quadrennial boost women’s hockey gains from Olympic competition. The Beijing Games are a year away.

“We want the NHL to step in and be like, `We’re going to support your league.’ We want that and we wish it was that easy,” Decker said. “Hopefully, Gary Bettman and the NHL can figure out a way to have our league started and get going, and have something that’s going to be long-term for us soon.”

hockey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

Last year’s flood season stretched from April through early July, as this picture of flooding at Cache Creek park on July 4, 2020 shows. With area snowpacks at slightly above normal, temperatures and rainfall will play a role in determining what this year’s flood season looks like. (Photo credit: Tom Moe)
Snowpacks in area slightly higher than normal as freshet starts

Temperatures and rainfall are critical flood risk factors in coming weeks

The Clinton Annual Ball went ahead in 2020, albeit in a different format and with far fewer guests than usual. (Photo credit: Clinton Annual Ball committee)
Clinton Annual Ball postponed again in 2021, but still carries on

Thanks to some creativity, ball is still the longest continually-held event of its kind in Canada

The 2020 financial statements for Cache Creek show that the village needs to look at either increasing revenues or cutting services in order to maintain a balanced budget. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Cache Creek council advised to increase revenues or cut services

Presentation also shows that continued use of Landfill Legacy Fund for operations is unsustainable

A group of outdoor enthusiasts and heritage buffs learning more about the history of the iconic 1926 Alexandra Bridge during a pre-COVID-19 tour. (Photo credit: Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning)
A group of outdoor enthusiasts and heritage buffs learning more about the history of the iconic 1926 Alexandra Bridge during a pre-COVID-19 tour. (Photo credit: Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning)
Major grant will help refurbish historic Alexandra Bridge near Spuzzum

The 1926 bridge, which last saw vehicle traffic in 1964, is major attraction on Fraser Canyon drive

(Instagram/Qtcatspictureclub)
8 people arrested after anti-pipeline protestors chain themselves to Vancouver buildings

Cst. Tania Visintin said demonstrators caused ‘a serious safety hazard’ for hours Wednesday

Jamie Coutts recorded a man following her around downtown Vancouver for a half-hour on Wednesday, March 18. (Instagram screenshot/Iammjammbamm)
Man charged in alleged high-profile Vancouver stalking case that went viral online

Man faces five other charges including criminal harassment and assault with a weapon

A sea lion swims past the window of an empty viewing area Vancouver Aquarium is pictured Thursday, September 10, 2020. The Vancouver Aquarium has had to close its doors to the public due to the lack of visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
U.S.-based theme park company buys Vancouver Aquarium

Aquarium had to shut its doors in September due to COVID pandemic

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

A deep cut on a humpback whale is shown in this recent handout photo in the Vancouver area. A conservation organization is warning boaters to be extra careful to prevent further harm to an injured humpback whale swimming in the Vancouver area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Ocean Wise, Vanessa Prigollini *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Boaters urged to use caution around hurt humpback off Vancouver

Ocean Wise says watchers first noticed the wound 3 days ago and believe it was caused by a vessel strike

Ron Rauch and his wife Audrey are photographed at their home in Victoria, Friday, March 5, 2021. Their daughter Lisa Rauch died on Christmas Day 2019 when a tactical officer with the Victoria Police Department shot her in the back of the head with plastic bullets after barricading herself in a room that was on fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. families push for changes as special committee examines provincial Police Act

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged the need to update the legislation last year

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

Most Read