Last March, the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, which eventually became a global pandemic and shut down most things, including sports. This forced a lot of teams and leagues to adjust, as some were able to play out this season, however, a lot of sports saw their ratings go down. This said, that left one sport remaining that surprisingly saw a boost in numbers that was Women’s hockey. The biggest way they expanded was on Twitch which is where all their games were streamed in Lake Placid and continued in Canada during Championship because in Canada they didn’t have a major network pick up the game. Twitch averaged over 67 thousand viewers during the duration of the protected environment.
One of the main reasons that caused women’s hockey to thrive is a sad but true one and that’s the fact there wasn’t anything else going on. The spotlight was on them and only them for about two or three months and it finally brought some light to the wonderful world of women’s sports. The NWHL took to Twitter, revealing their sixth team as the league made history, adding their first in Canada, as the Toronto Six joined the league. Toronto had a lot going for them, especially adding the all-exciting Digit Murphy to serve as President and their first Head Coach.
Murphy brought a ton of experience to the newest franchise, the league’s second expansion team. On the social media side, the Toronto Six couldn’t have picked a better person to run and operate their accounts. Alyssa Turner, who came in with prior experience handling social media for the Toronto Furies, made sure that women’s sports got the attention it deserved, and even now, is continuing to do that. As we all know, women’s hockey is a lot smaller than the NHL, however, you still need insiders, and once again, the NWHL delivered in that department. Marisa Ingemi is basically the Elliotte Friedman of the league, in the way that if she reports a deal of any kind, it’s likely done, if not, close to it.
However, there were concerns, especially with the pandemic, on how both the IIHF and NWHL were going to approach staging events and if it was going to succeed. Now that the NWHL season is over, the question is did they reach their goal? Their original plan was the Lake Placid bubble, which went well for about a week and then came to an abrupt ending, leaving many questions unanswered and the season in limbo. In came newly appointed Commissioner Tyler Tumminia, who was committed to finding a way to finish the season, which she did with Championship Weekend held in Boston, MA and aired on NBCSN. The event went off without a hitch and saw the Boston Pride upset the top-ranked Toronto Six and then use that momentum to win the Isobel Cup Championship. Sadly, it took a pandemic, but it looks like women’s hockey is finally back on the map and is here to stay.
The IIHF, has always been able to draw some eyes to their annual tournaments, as the women’s game takes the stage internationally. This year, the IIHF had the momentum of the NWHL and could have used that in their favour to grow the game, however the IIHF took a big step in the wrong direction after canceling the Women’s World Championship due to sudden infection spike across the province of Nova Scotia. Unlike the Men’s U18 World Championship, there wasn’t a backup plan of any kind drawn up, which left the players and fans up in arms regarding their priorities. That said, one noteworthy item is that the Women’s World Championship doesn’t bring in any revenue to the IIHF, as President Rene Fasel later shared on Sportsnet. Recently, The Puck Authority’s Justin Levine reported that the Women’s World Championship will now be hosted in August, and will stay in Canada, with the city not yet known.
The PWHPA has already gotten some NHL support this season, as teams have individually stepped up to provide venues and resources for the players competing in the Secret Dream Gap Tour. Those teams include the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Calgary Flames. The Dream Gap Tour, alike the NWHL’s Championship weekend, has also been televised on NBCSN. That in mind, when the time is right for both parties, I expect the PWHPA and NWHL to merge, which would be a great thing for the future of women’s hockey. The PWHPA has been hosted in many cities and could be a stepping stone for more expansions in the NWHL moving forward.
As we come to a close, we must ask ourselves how we can continue to grow and support women’s hockey, and the answer to that is rather simple. Make people aware of it. Once people are aware of it, they’ll want to grow it because it’s an absolutely amazing game and women deserve to get equal coverage as men’s sports, which people have sadly still yet to realize.