Boston won its latest championship in the string of titles its sports teams have captured earlier this month. However, this time, there was no duckboat parade, no celebration and almost no press coverage at all.
The Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League defeated the Montreal Stars 3-2 in the league’s Clarkson Cup championship game to win it all for a second time. Â The team also won the Clarkson Cup in 2013.
The Blades entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, having won 17 of their 24 regular season games. Â They swept the Toronto Furies in the best-of-three opening round, winning 3-0 in Game 1 and 7-3 in Game 2 to advance to the Clarkson Cup final where rookie forward Janine Weber provided the game-winner in the overtime thriller to clinch the cup.
“It was a great team effort, our D’s did an awesome job with the regroup and got the puck to my linemate Corinne Buie,” Weber, who also provided a pair of goals in Game 2 against the Furies, including the game-winner, said. “She gave me a great pass and since our other linemate, Jordan Smelker, was driving the net hard and taking Montreal’s defender with her, that gave me time to take a shot. Â It took me a while to realize what had happened but I’m just really happy we won.”
Her cup-winning goal certainly should have been one of the top stories in the sports news and yet no mention of the goal, or the Blades winning the Clarkson Cup, was made on any major sports show.
“I think even though we have a pretty young team, we have so much talent, experience, and depth,” Weber said. “We had great leadership on the team and everybody stepped up at the end of the season.”
Other strong playoff performances came from forwards Brianna Decker and Hilary Knight. Â Knight provided four goals and three assists during the playoff run including a hat trick in the series-clincher against Toronto. Â Decker provided five goals and three assists during the playoff run, including all three goals in Game 1 against Toronto. Â She also finished second in scoring during the regular season, with 16 goals and 16 assists for a total of 32 points, despite only appearing in half of the Blades games.
“I think there are a couple of things that helped us down the stretch,” Blades forward Casey Pickett, who recorded a goal and an assist in Game 2 against Toronto, said. “Obviously, getting Decker into the lineup was huge. Â She’s such a dynamic player and scored some really clutch goals for us. Â I think that the second key piece to our success is that we rounded out our lineup. Â We relied on the entire team instead of leaning on our first line, which I think we tended to do through the first half of the season.”
The team features numerous Olympians including Decker, Knight, Monique Lamoureux and Kacey Bellamy of the U.S. national team and Tara Watchorn and Genevieve Lacasse of the Canadian national team.
The CWHL consists of five teams: Boston, Montreal, Toronto, the Calgary Infernoand the Brampton Thunder. Â The league does not earn enough revenue to pay its players, which means these women work full-time jobs in addition to playing hockey so that they can continue pursuing the sport they love. Â As a result, teams are usually limited to two practices a week. Â The money that the league makes from ticket and merchandise sales is used to cover expenses such as traveling costs, players’ meals, and renting arenas for games. Â Each player must purchase all of her own equipment and is also required to raise one percent of the $35,000 that all teams must pay the CWHL to compete for the Clarkson Cup.
The monetary problems experienced by the CWHL are a result of their struggle to get the word out. Â Many hockey fans remain unaware of the league’s existence and with the exception of this year’s inaugural All-Star Game, games are not aired on television in the United States and only the All-Star Game and playoffs are aired on TV in Canada. Â To watch other games, people must attend them in person or pay for the online streaming package available on the league’s website.
“I think we need to try and get more of our games aired – not just playoff games, but regular season games too,” Pickett said. “During the last Olympics, the women’s game had something like a million viewers between TV and online streaming. Â People get into women’s hockey during the gold medal game and as soon as they’re into it, it’s off the TV screen for another four years. Â The same thing happens with our league – playoff games and the Clarkson Cup are on Sportsnet [in Canada], but as soon as people start watching, the season is over.”
Following her Clarkson Cup-winning goal, Weber was presented with the opportunity to donate the stick with which she scored to the Hockey Hall of Fame, but was hesitant to do so because she only had one other stick and is competing for Austria in the world championships next month. Â Fortunately, many people jumped in to help spread the word on Twitter, which led to sporting goods manufacturer STX stepping in and donating additional sticks and gloves. Â High-level athletes should not be put in situations like this and deserve to be paid.
The Blades were honored at the TD Garden during the Bruins game on Thursday. Â While they are hopeful that this will help spread awareness, they still feel that much more can be done to promote the team.
“I think that the league and our team [have] done a good job of promoting the league on social media, which has started to pay off,” Pickett said. “After we won the CC, the NHL and the Bruins both tweeted at us to congratulate us. Â It’s a small gesture, but it could make a huge difference. Â The NHL has three million followers, that’s three million people who may have read the tweet and decided to peek at our website. Â I think we need more exposure like that, exposure that quickly reaches the masses.”
While the support shown by the Bruins and the NHL is a good start, both are extremely profitable and surely both can afford to do much more to help. Â The Bruins have declined to offer financial assistance because they feel that it is better for them to invest in youth hockey. Â The NHL also declined to become more involved because they believe that a professional women’s league is not currently viable although the success and endurance of the WNBA would seem to prove otherwise.
It seems that the Bruins and the NHL do not realize the amount of time that is necessary for a professional sports league to become firmly established and believe that it is not worth their effort if that cannot be done overnight. Â It would be useful for them to follow the NBA’s example and understand that it will take time to get the league to a level of profitability. Â The NBA formed the WNBA in 1996, and as with all sports leagues, it took many years to get to the point where teams were making a profit. Â The NHL must realize that it will take years for the CWHL to become profitable but it is in their best interests to help them accomplish this. Â National Pro Fastpitch, the professional league for softball, also features five teams and its players are able to earn from $5,000 to $20,000 per season. Â There’s no reason the same could not be done for the CWHL, especially with the backing of the NHL or other investors.
For girls and young women playing hockey, the CWHL should be able to be their NHL. Â It is a league of talented professional hockey players that they can look up to, learn from, and aspire to play in someday. Â They should be able to look forward to earning a living by playing hockey just as the men do.
“It’s really inspiring that there’s a next level we can play at,” Sydney Collins, co-captain of the University of Rhode Island’s women’s hockey team, said. “As girls we’re told the college level is usually where our hockey career peaks and ends, so the opportunity to continue playing is making strides in the right direction.”
“I think the acknowledgment of it as more than just a ‘club sport’ or a women’s league would do big things for both programs [the CWHL and URI’s women’s team]. Â Women’s sports are often overlooked when we spend just as much time, if not more, than male athletes do putting in work behind the scenes, in the weight room, and on the ice. “
The URI women’s team faced the same problems of promotion and getting people to games that the CWHL does. Â The Rams finished a great season with a final record of 21-7-1 and a total of 43 points tying them for third in the ACHA (American Collegiate Hockey Association). Â Like the CWHL, these players also deserve much more support and fan attendance.
In order for the CWHL to get exposure, games need to be televised so that people can see the players’ level of talent and the league must be better promoted so that more people will be aware of it. Â It’s time for the NHL and other sponsors and investors to step up and help make this happen.
“I’m confident in this league because of people who show interest and passion,” Brampton forward Fielding Montgomery said. Â “That’s the most importantÂ ingredient, and if there’s one thing female hockey players and their fans have in common, it’s passion.”