Hilary Knight of Boston (left) battles Elana Orlando of New York (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
With a chance to showcase its game as part of the NHL's Winter Classic weekend, the National Women's Hockey League made one of its teams available before consulting with USA Hockey.
Sources tell thn.com that the NHL is scrambling to find a way to the solve a potential debacle that has materialized over a women's hockey showcase game at the Winter Classic in Boston.
As was reported by Bob McKenzie of TSN earlier this week, part of the Winter Classic festivities were to include a game between the Montreal Canadiennes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the Boston Pride of the first-year National Women’s Hockey League. The game was to be comprised of two 15-minute periods and was to be played prior to the game between the Canadiens and Bruins alumni teams on Dec. 31, the day before the Canadiens and Bruins face off in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium in Foxoborough, Mass.
But that date also conflicts with USA Hockey’s evaluation camp for the Women’s World Hockey Championship, which means that eight of the best players on the Pride would not be able to play in the game. A source close to USA Hockey said NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan has lobbied the organization to have the eight players – led by women’s hockey superstar Hilary Knight – be excused from some or all of the camp to participate in the game and has been flatly turned down.
The USA Hockey source said the players themselves are free to skip the camp to play in the game if they choose to, but it would put their chances of playing in the World Championship, scheduled for March 28 to April 4 in Kamloops, “in serious jeopardy.” The source said USA Hockey wants to do everything it can to help promote the women’s game, but has had this camp in place for more than a year now. Since the camp takes place in Minnesota and the outdoor game is in Boston, it would necessitate the players missing two of the four days of the camp, one that is critical in evaluating who will represent the country at the World Women’s Championship.
There is precedent for USA Hockey to excuse players from World Championship camps and has done so in the past to allow players to play in the Frozen Four tournament, the championship to decide the national collegiate champion in the U.S. But there is a marked difference between a national collegiate championship where all of the players involved are on athletic scholarships and an exhibition outdoor game.
This, of course, raises the question as to how such a blunder could have occurred in the first place. A source close to the CWHL said the league originally had an understanding with the NHL to provide two of its teams - the Canadiennes and the Boston Blades - for the outdoor game, a plan that changed only recently when a source said a lobbying effort by the NWHL to the NHL prompted a change in plan to allow the Boston Pride to replace the Blades in the outdoor game. A spokesperson for the NWHL said Rylan has no comment and will have a statement on the status of the game on Monday.
One possible scenario would see the Pride round out its roster with players from other NWHL teams with New England roots, something it’s believed the CWHL does not support. It is not known whether the CWHL would withdraw its participation from the game, but it’s clear the Canadian league is not pleased with the most recent development. A source close to the CWHL said the league is waiting to see what will be planned for the game before it makes any announcements.
Another possibility would be to have the Canadiennes play against the Boston Blades of the CWHL, but that would not be much of a game. The Blades have won the Clarkson Cup two of the past three seasons and were in the championship game in 2014, but have been hurt badly by defections to the Pride, which pays its players to play. Women in the CWHL are not paid. As a result, the Blades have just one shootout win in 12 games and have scored only 13 goals so far this season.