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Why the New Jersey Devils Deal is Massive for the NWHL and Women’s Hockey

By Dan Rice , 10/06/17, 12:00PM EDT

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Ashley Johnston Shooting puck in a game vs. Connecticut. Photo By: Troy Parla

The NWHL and New Jersey Devils just announced a three-year hockey partnership that is both historic and exciting for the fans of the league as well as its players. But what does it all mean? For starters, the New York Riveters are now the Metropolitan Riveters, and their colors will be switched from red, white, and blue to red, white, and black to align with the NHL franchise’s colors. Everything at the Prudential Center is red, white and black and this just keeps everything looking nice and uniform.

The Riveters will have access to state-of-the-art facilities and the Devils franchise will provide more exposure also. That starts with opening day when the Riveters will play their game against the Boston Pride on the Prudential Center ice, ahead of New Jersey’s game vs. the Arizona Coyotes later that night. If you’re a Riveters season ticket holder, congratulations. You now also get the Devils-Arizona game included in your package, free of charge. That’s an extraordinary deal for an NWHL fan.

The goal of the alliance is to support the growth of the NWHL, and also increase the development and visibility of girls’ and Women's hockey in New Jersey and across the metropolitan area. The Devils and the Prudential Center will share their resources in order to enhance the Riveters’ operations - including marketing, sales, events, game presentation, and facilities. The Riveters will do their part to work with the Devils to promote all levels of the game of hockey.

Tomorrow, at the Devils home and season opener, the Riveters and the players will join 60-plus local girls youth players from the AHAA. In addition to going to the game, a special Q and A with all of the Metropolitan Riveters, the players will participate in an exclusive skating clinic after the game with the Rivs on the Prudential Center ice. 

Also, select Riveters games will be featured on The One Jersey Network on newjerseydevils.com, the digital network of the New Jersey Devils. There will also be cross-promotion on digital and social channels and during game broadcasts to enhance the visibility of the team and the NWHL.

The league had a conference call on Thursday to discuss these game-changing announcements with commissioner Dani Rylan, Riveters captain and defender Ashley Johnston, and goaltender Katie Fitzgerald. Here are some of the highlights from the 20-minute call.

Dani Rylan

How the agreement came about: “In a way we’ve been partnered with the Devils since our inaugural season. You probably recall that the very first Isobel Cup Final was held at the Barnabas Health Hockey House. Because of the success there, we worked with the Devils to move the Riveters from Brooklyn to Newark. From that success, the growth that they saw, us bringing fans to Newark every weekend to support the Riveters — the conversations became a little more serious this offseason. We couldn’t be any more excited about the way this evolved. We really believe that this will be a great domino for the league, not only as a blueprint for the other NHL clubs in our (current) markets, but also expansion opportunities in other markets.”

Why Metropolitan and not New Jersey or Newark: “We want our New York fans to come to New Jersey, and the Devils and the Riveters are committed to growing the game in the entire metropolitan area, not just Newark, not just New Jersey. We wanted to make sure that we had a name that appropriately covered the entire market. The logo is just slightly different. We will never get rid of Rosie.”

The goal of the partnership: “We’ve been able to witness the growth of the girls game across all of our markets since we launched, and when you look at the growth of the sport. For us to be able to leverage the Devils marketing engine to educate more people in the metropolitan area that there’s a professional women’s team as well, we believe that will continue to accelerate the girls grassroots growth of the game. It’s not only nice to see the players’ reaction, but the fan reaction as well. Lifelong New York Rangers fans or otherwise saying they’re now Devils fans or fans are proud of their Devils for doing this.”

Where will the NWHL be in five years: “In five years, I see this league thriving. At that point we’ll have two Olympic cycles under our belts. Internally we have highlighted those Olympic years as opportunities to expand the league. My hope is that this Devils deal is the first of many, and we believe that this is a good blueprint for other NHL clubs and shows them what a true partnership looks like. We kind of tested the waters with our All-Star Game in Pittsburgh and in the month of February our fanbase grew by 15%, just because of the Pittsburgh Penguins commitment to the NWHL and our All-Star Game there. As we continue to get traction and support from bigger organizations we expect to see the league continue to grow at an accelerated rate. In five years, bigger goals -- hopefully we have a linear broadcast deal, a handful more teams in the league, and more NHL team partnerships.”  

Ashley Johnston

Reaction to the news: “For me this a highlight, a huge step for women’s hockey. Our partnership with an NHL team really solidifies our place in the professional sport market. It’s something that I think for Dani, and I think every single player was striving towards. This is a great step in the right direction and the Devils have been super supportive of the Riveters and everything we’ve done. Playing in that facility at Barnabas has been great. It’s a first-class facility. We’ve been treated well and that’s a great thing. I can’t speak enough to how helpful they’ve already been. This partnership is really fundamentally rooted in the correct vision of wanting to spread the word about women’s hockey. To have the Devils be committed with that, and we have countless players in the league doing volunteer events that flies under the radar.

Growing the game: Michelle Picard is very involved with Hockey In New Jersey, I help coach with the New Jersey Colonials, and also Erika Lawler is involved with them, and Madison Packer. Every player on this team is involved in the community and wants to see this grow through the New Jersey and New York City area. This is great opportunity to be positive role models for young females everywhere. It’s a great thing, again, I can’t speak enough about how the league is a positive focal point for women’s sports and I think this partnership is really going to help bring it to the limelight across the nation.”

Are you a Devils fan now? “We have a lot of players that are from the area, but having any NHL team partner with you is a huge deal. I personally didn’t grow up a Devils fan, but yeah, now I can definitely call myself a Devils fan — just because what they are doing is so monumental. I know Moose (Rebecca Morse) has been a diehard fan since day one, so I know she’s definitely head over heels. Kiira (Dosdall) is definitely excited. Everyone is excited to have this opportunity, have this partnership and see what happens. Like I said before, the Devils have been amazing to us - and that was when they were unofficially working with us. So we’re really excited to see what’s in store now that it’s official.”

Katie Fitzgerald

Reaction to the news: “The Devils have been incredible, starting with the Isobel Cup Final the first year, and last year with open ice slots and helping us get more ice. Just the little things, and being so supportive. But to have this become official is a great feeling and I think we’re all excited abut the future and what the future holds for not only us - but the future of the league, the future of women’s hockey. With the investment that they are making in the youth hockey in the area I think speaks volumes to their commitment to the NWHL and women’s hockey. Not just for this year or the three-year agreement, but far into the future as well.”

Playing in a building where there is a statue outside for one of the great NHL goalies: “I think it’s special for the players that played here and grew up in this area, that went through the programs that are now being coached by some of the Riveters. Tying back to your roots like that is always special and makes it even cooler to be at the professional level where we are at. I didn’t grow up in the area but I was always a huge Martin Brodeur fan. His FatHead (poster) is still on my door, so it’s pretty cool. It’s a big moment, and like Stretch said, to have any NHL team back our team like this is huge. We were all kind of hoping for it, but I think we weren’t really sure. Looking at the big picture and how long it would take for an NHL team to back our league, I think a lot of us weren’t sure it would happen in our playing time. But we’re all very excited that it happened this quickly and that we get to be a part of it.”

“Playing in Brodeur’s crease will definitely cross my mind for the first game, especially in warmups. Your eyes are settling in, you get the feel for the ice and the boards, and all that stuff. But once the puck drops I think it will be all business, and I think it will be such a special moment not only for us, but also for the Boston Pride.”