(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For $50, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by Molly.)
I was asked to give a quick primer on women’s hockey by someone who lives in Boston, i.e. “What do I need to know?” The long and short of it is that the women’s season, excluding the NCAA tournament, has now ended, with Minnesota, BU, Cornell, and Mercyhurst having won the WCHA, Hockey East, ECAC, and CHA titles, respectively. Two of those — BU beating BC and Cornell beating Clarkson — could be considered upsets, though the former far more so than the latter; Cornell and Clarkson are currently fifth and third in the national polls, while BU is No. 11 to BC’s No. 4. The title was, I believe, BU’s third straight in Hockey East.
What you also need to know is that this is a weird year in women’s college hockey because some of the best players in the age group are not actually playing this season; most took the season off to concentrate on the Olympics. That includes some of the best young players in the world like Amanda Kessel (Minnesota/USA) and Marie-Philip Poulin (BU/Canada), among many others.
Anyway, the NCAA tournament starts next Saturday, with BC at Clarkson, Mercyhurst at Cornell, BU at Minnesota (in a 2013 national championship rematch) and Harvard at Wisconsin. The winners of those games move on to the Frozen Four at Quinnipiac the following weekend, which kind of sucks because it comes the day after all the NCAA men’s conference final games and thus probably won’t get the attention it deserves.
As to the second question asked: “What do these players do after college?” The answer when it comes to continuing their hockey careers is, unfortunately, not much. For example, 24-year-old Finnish netminder Noora Raty, who played at Minnesota and is widely considered the best at her position in the world, recently announced her retirement from the women’s game but wants to catch on with a low-level men’s pro team in her native country. Likewise, Shannon Szabados, who won gold for Canada in Sochi, recently signed a contract to finish out a season in the low-level SPHL here in the U.S., having played men’s hockey in college in Canada, as well as men’s juniors. Beyond that there is a women’s “pro” league in North America, the five-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which pays equipment expenses but not salaries. Many of the better athletes in the sport can also continue to play with their national teams in the Women’s World Championships and so on, but that, too, is about it.
Until the NHL is in a position to support a women’s hockey league of its own — one that actually pays players — this is going to continue to be an issue. Unfortunately, Gary Bettman doesn’t believe it’ll happen any time soon. Until such time, USA/Canada national team games should be a regular feature — schedule a seven-game series every year, have one of them at the Winter Classic, etc. — and college games should be on TV more. But they won’t be, because that would be cool and easy to do, and sadly no one has any interest in that kind of thing.
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