EXPANDING HORIZONS: GROWING THE NWHL

Our Pod may soon be swimming in some new waters on the road, as the NWHL appears poised on the brink of expanding, perhaps as soon as the 2018-2019 season. There have been rumblings and rumors among both players and fans on the subject. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit and Minneapolis are usually somewhere in the discussion. Cetacean Nation reached out to some of our Whale players to see what they thought about expansion and they answered with the type of insightful and thoughtful remarks we’ve come to love and admire as much as their play on the ice. Whale players Sophia Agostinelli #10, Emily Fluke #11, and Elena Orlando #14 were all gracious enough to take time to share their thoughts on various aspects of NWHL expansion with the fans of Cetacean Nation. Major stick taps to each of them. This is as they say, a developing story, so Cetacean Nation will keep tracking any developments or sharing additional input. But let’s drop the puck and and get started.

 

Elena Orlando responded, “I personally feel like expansion is a great next step, it will help to continue to grow the game and expand the fan base. As for the speculated cities, I have no preference for one over the others, they are all great cities with huge hockey fan bases. I’m confident that when and where the league decides to expand, it will be successful. We’ve seen how excited people are for the potential expansions with the success of the games in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis this past season. The all-star game was a sell-out, and there was a ton of coverage for the game. Also, having played against the Beauts in Pittsburgh this year in front of a packed crowd, you can see that people are ready for the league to branch out.” Sophia Agostinelli agreed, stating “I don’t have a preference on where, but I suspect Minnesota and Pittsburgh”. Emily Fluke also leaned towards the Twin Cities and the Steel City as likely landing spots for new franchises. She added “All of the above mentioned I think would be great choices. Personally from our game against the Beauts in Pittsburgh, I think this would be an excellent choice. I was pleasantly surprise at the amount of fans that came out for the game. It was a packed house and we had a massive line for autographs. A lot of the fans came from hours away and had our gear. (They) just hadn’t been able to see a game in person before. It seems like there is an established fan base already and the facilities are also top notch.”

 

Additionally Emily offered this interesting observation. “I don’t think it is happening any time soon but would love to see a team in North Carolina. I think the connection to the Hurricanes and the old Hartford Whalers make for great Whale fans.” Elena also has a vision of the NWHL eventually reaching across the nation, saying “Well I’d love to see a team on the west coast, preferably somewhere like San Jose haha! (Maybe sometime in the future!)” In case you didn’t know it, Elena is from the San Jose area, and currently rooting for Sharks in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

 

Another possible component of NWHL expansion that the players touched on was the importance of affiliation or partnership with the NHL. Sophia was unequivocal in her assertion of the importance of such a relationship moving forward. “ It’s huge. It validates the league, brings in new fans, new sponsorships, and new possibilities for growth.” Emily also emphasized the benefits that increasingly close ties with the NHL would accrue. “I think the importance of the nhl affiliation is evident by the success of the Beauts and the Riveters” she said.  “The facilities and ice time are so key to forming a complete team. People love the NWHL and the talent in the league is incredible. We just need people to know we exist and get to see us play. So the exposure the NHL can provide I think is crucial to the leagues growth”.

 

Going into the past season Cetacean Nation had observed that people thought that the league would struggle a bit with the loss of the players to the Olympic team this year. But the opposite happened, and the overall play in the league was better than ever. Just as the NHL found out with the Golden Knights, there were more really good NHL ready players than anyone imagined. It seems that the talent pool in the NWHL has grown so rapidly, that there needs to be expansion just to accommodate the sheer number of quality players alone. Emily acknowledged our take on this, saying, “Completely agree with you”, modestly adding “maybe biased because I am one of those players that got a chance to play this year haha”. “I think that now that college players know that a league exists in the US after college, they can prepare to play in it. This has been attracting more players right out of college and the already existing players in the league want to continue to play. So hopefully there will be expansion to accommodate all of the talented players that want to play”.

 

Elena also weighed in on the aspect of the talented player pool helping to drive expansion. “It was great to see the league shine and grow the way it did this year even without the presence of the Olympians. I feel like this year really served to show the depth and talent of the league. People didn’t think the competition or level of play would be as good as it had been in the past so it was great to show everyone how strong the league is as a whole. That’s not saying the league didn’t miss those players, because obviously their talent and level of play is something so spectacular. It helps to elevate everyone around them, and you want that in the league. They are truly the best of the best and I can’t wait to see how the league continues to grow with some of those players (Olympians) returning for next season and all the potential new players coming in”.

 

Sophia summed it up with a great analogy, citing an example from the NFL and the New England Patriots. “Drew Bledsoe got hurt, and a little known quarterback became a legend by the name of Tom Brady. Likewise in the NWHL, many players who went under the radar got their chance (this season). Expanding the league will give more opportunities for both the famous names and the hardworking hustlers”.

 

The player’s remarks highlight the differences in genesis of the NWHL from the WNBA, our sisters on the hardwood. The WNBA began as NBA team sponsored, but now all but four franchises are autonomous. The only NWHL team owned by an NHL team are the Buffalo Beauts, who were purchased by the Pegula Group during the past season. The Isobel Cup Champs the Metropolitan Riveters also have a close working relationship. with the NJ Devils. And as you just read, our players are hoping that changes.

Dani Rylan launched the NWHL with the knowledge of the struggles the WNBA overcame to get to where they are today. The early years can be trying at times to any start-up enterprise, but the fans and players believed in the their Founding Four teams. And none more so than the fans and players of the Whale. The NWHL is on the same upward vector that the WNBA experienced, and may one day exceed it. Emerson once wrote: “The most powerful force in nature is an idea whose time has come”. Cetacean Nation believes women’s hockey is that idea in 2018. The Future is Female it is true, but the Future is also Now! The tide of women’s hockey is about to rise via expansion, and as we all know Whales love to ride the tide. Fins Up!