[Originally written March 2017, when the Premier Hockey Federation, PHF, was called the National Women’s Hockey League, NWHL]
Summer. The time of year when hockey fans sit around wishing that October could come around so that they can get back to watching their beloved teams go at it on the ice, rather than on the trading block. However, what if the NWHL utilized this gap in the NHL season and claimed it as their own?
Currently the NWHL has their schedule running from October until mid-March, overlapping completely with the NHL season. This means that the NWHL and the NHL are in direct competition for attention, (from the fans and the media). To continue to grow, the NWHL is going to have to convince the casual hockey fan to watch and follow the league, and realistically this isn’t going to happen if they are competing with the NHL. Let’s not hide from the fact that the NWHL level of play isn’t on the same level as the NHL- the dream is that one day it will be, but it isn’t at the moment. Sadly, there just isn’t enough training and infrastructure set up for women’s hockey yet. At the moment, a casual fan is always going to pick the better quality product to follow. So, moving the NWHL season to the summer would mean that all of these fans wanting and waiting for hockey can get what they want, and the NWHL will gain new fans and exposure in the process.
If this were to become a reality, there are a couple of technical things that need to be considered. The 2017 NHL offseason will be 115 days in total, meanwhile the NWHL season spans around 160 days. The NWHL playoffs would occur sometime in November or December, so this is perfect timing in my view. Hockey would be back in the spotlight with the NHL season underway but it wouldn’t be at a time when all eyes will be elsewhere, (i.e. the Stanley Cup Playoffs).
Then the availability of the rinks and players need to be considered. Rink availability should be fairly easy, and hosting matches at more prime times (i.e. in the evening) would be more realistic. As for the players, moving the season would hugely benefit them as it would free them up to be able to play in the world championships each year- (this coming year is an exception with the Olympics). The NWHL had to shorten their season, ending in mid-March as the world championships started at the end of March. This meant that the playoffs were squeezed into just one weekend to ensure that the players were able to leave to play for their countries. Moving the season to the summer would eradicate this problem, giving the Isobel Cup Playoffs the time they deserve.
However, some people could claim that this move would limit the eventual growth of women’s hockey. Moving it to the summer could make it seem like a sideshow to the men’s league: a filler if you will. I’m not entirely sure that this will be a huge problem as women’s hockey sadly has a long way to go, and so any more exposure is a positive thing. When the league grows and perhaps looks to extend the season, with more teams and so more games, then the season could just stretch further into the conventional hockey season. If necessary, the league could always shift back to a schedule mirroring that of the NHL as it does already.
It would be a huge move if they were to make this change. As far as I know, no one is seriously thinking about making such a momentous shift in the schedule at this moment in time. However, there are some other options that the NWHL could take to capitalize on this “dead time” in the hockey calendar. The league is once again seeing its team’s face off against team Russia in the ‘Russia Summit Series’ in the pre-season. This sort of series could be moved to the summer, and being some of the only hockey games on at the time, it would be able to get far more exposure in the media rather than being drowned out during the regular season. Another option is to introduce a similar series against other teams- perhaps the Minnesota Whitecaps. NWHL teams played four games against the Whitecaps during the 2015/16 season, but no games have occurred since- a huge shame for the players and fans alike.
There’s a lot of time until the NHL season starts and a lot of fans sitting around waiting for that puck to hit the ice, and the NWHL could make that happen.