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

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynaecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Essie Boelema, a 17-year-old lavender farmer, is passionate about the plant. (Screenshot/Special to The Star)
VIDEO: Langley lavender growers say season soon to be in full bloom

Family-owned farm marks five years by preparing for a summer of sales, tours, and growth

Mounties say they “corralled” four Ford Mustangs April 4 after an officer saw the muscle cars racing down 184 Street near 53 Avenue at about 10 p.m. (File Photo)
Mounties impound four Mustangs

Surrey RCMP say they seized four cars for street racing

Work was underway on the interior of the new Tennis Centre location in Langley. Popularity of the sport has risen during the pandemic (Special to Langley Advance Times)
Tennis business expands into Langley

‘Busiest we’ve ever been’ says manager

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to register people ages 40+ for COVID-19 vaccines in April

Appointments are currently being booked for people ages 66 and up

A volunteer disinfects a historical Mohabat Khan mosque ahead of the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)
For Canadian Muslims, second pandemic Ramadan is a time of hope and sadness

Many members of the association are trying to find ways ‘to help people stay connected to one another’

Most Read