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

Traffic was tied up at the intersection of Scott and Old Yale Roads in North Surrey on Tuesday afternoon, after a semi truck hauling a load of pipes flipped while making a turn. (Shane MacKichan photos)
VIDEO: Semi hauling load of pipes flips in North Surrey intersection

Traffic near Scott and Old Yale Roads tied up by Tuesday afternoon incident

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising five years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions (Screen shot)
Minister of mental health tells Surrey audience COVID-19 ‘has made everything worse’

More than 23,000 people in B.C. are receiving medication to treat opioid addiction

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Tens of thousands of farmers descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Delta council stands in solidarity with protesting Indian farmers

Farmers have been protesting for months new laws they say leave them open to corporate exploitation

A sign posted to a tree in Maccaud Park urges people to email White Rock City Council and oppose the construction of pickleball courts in the park. (Contributed photo)
White Rock council deems Maccaud Park pickleball courts out of bounds

Unanimous vote against constructing courts follows public feedback

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

In a 2019 photograph, Yin Yin Din held a picture of her brother Kyaw Naing Din, 54, and her late father Hla Din who passed away in 2014, during a trip to Victoria. (The News files)
Family of B.C. man killed by cop appeals to Attorney General for help

The Din family want B.C. Attorney General David Eby to forward their case to Crown

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

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

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Of 46 arrests made between March 16 and 19 at Metrotown mall in Burnaby, 27 suspected shoplifters are now facing charges. (Twitter/Burnaby RCMP)
RCMP arrest 46 people in 4 days during Metrotown shoplifting crackdown

$4,800 in stolen merchandise was recovered and returned to businesses inside of the mall

Maple Ridge's Doug Ubell caught some photographs recently that he was anxious to share, one taken while on the Trans-Canada Trail looking southwest towards the Pitt River Bridge, and another from on Golden Ears Bridge. (Special to The News)
Traffic on Golden Ears Bridge returning to pre-pandemic levels

Commuters from Greater Vancouver still driving more, taking transit less

Most Read