Some of the biggest stars of last year’s Olympic gold medal-winning U.S. women’s hockey team will come to the Philadelphia area Feb. 29 and March 1 for a series of exhibitions.
The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, a group of touring players boycotting the National Women’s Hockey League over its lack of resources, will play a four-team tournament at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees as part of the association’s nationwide “Dream Gap Tour.”
There will be two games Feb. 29, and two more March 1. Tickets are $20 per game, or $60 for a full weekend pass. Click here for more details.
When the PWHPA launched, the organization’s mission statement was not shy about its intentions.
“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game," the players said. “Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level. Because of that, together as players, we will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”
Big names involved with the PWHPA include Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Jayna Hefford, Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando.
“The PWHPA is thrilled to work with Flyers Charities and the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation to grow the game and bring awareness to the need for a sustainable women’s professional hockey league,” said Hefford, who serves as the PWHPA’s executive director. “This event will be a great celebration of women’s hockey, and we are excited to showcase some of the best players in the world to the valued hockey fan base in Philadelphia.”
The players also have fought with USA Hockey over their national-team compensation and benefits over the years. In 2017, the players threatened to boycott that year’s World Championships, and won significant increases in compensation and off-ice benefits. They went on to win that tournament, and a year later won the gold medal at the Pyeonchang Olympics.
Philadelphia-based lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr represented the U.S. players in that labor dispute and now represents the PHPWA.
“The idea is to elevate the game, create interest and explore other professional opportunities," Langel said. “Being connected to Comcast for this weekend in February is a huge boost."
The players, Langel said, want to “see if they can help create an appropriate professional league that would be full-time, practice full time, [with] a living wage and health benefits. And they’ve really been remarkable.”
The NWHL has five teams: the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale (playing in Danbury), Metropolitan Riveters (Monmouth Junction, N.J.), and Minnesota Whitecaps (St. Paul). There hasn’t been much conversation about Philadelphia joining the group, and in the Flyers’ announcement of the tour dates, there were’t even any hints about it.
In February 2018, The Inquirer reported that Comcast-Spectacor had some preliminary discussions about bringing a NWHL team here. There hasn’t been any news on the subject since then.
In recent years, there was also the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, but that entity folded in March because of a lack of money.
A lot of people around the women’s hockey world are waiting for the National Hockey League to step up and make an investment similar to the scale of what the National Basketball Association does for the WNBA. But thus far, there are no signs of it happening. As of now, the NHL contributes just $100,000 per year to the NWHL. What is holding back the NHL is unclear — in particular, whether the NWHL’s own internal politics are a factor.
“To have a first-class women’s professional hockey league similar to what has been created with the National Women’s Soccer League and the WNBA would be significant," Langel said.