The National Women’s Hockey League was founded in 2015 with a mission of providing strong female role models for the community while fueling the continued growth of the sport and brand of women’s hockey. The NWHL was built and is led by women, including the Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, nearly 100 players and countless event, operations and broadcast staff each season. It attracts many of the best players in the world and allows them to pursue their careers professionally.
When the puck dropped for the start of the inaugural season in 2015-16, the NWHL became the first professional women’s hockey league in North America. For the first time, women were paid a salary to play hockey. The “Founding Four” franchises – Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York (now Metropolitan) Riveters – quickly built loyal fan bases by displaying their immense talents and incredible drive on the ice, and by being accessible to fans at games and on social media.
As an example of the league’s commitment to build a bridge with fans, every member of the home team is available after each game to sign autographs and pose for photos. As long as those lines may be, the players stay until the last supporter has been acknowledged.
All NWHL players are college graduates. While playing professional hockey, the majority of the women are pursuing careers or furthering their education. On the rosters of NWHL teams are teachers, medical professionals, engineers, financial analysts, coaches and trainers, marketing and communications executives, and entrepreneurs. Team practices are at night and games are most commonly on the weekends so players can balance their business and hockey careers. The league strives to be the embodiment of the Declaration of Principles created by the NHL in 2017 and signed by the NWHL, other professional leagues, national programs and collegiate hockey associations.
In 2016, Kelsey Koelzer of Princeton University became the first African American to be selected first overall in any draft of a professional hockey league. Among the players to participate in the NWHL since 2015 are more than two dozen former and current United States National Team players, including Olympic stars such as Gigi Marvin, Haley Skarupa, Hannah Brandt and Amanda Kessel. In 2018, Canadian superstar Shannon Szabados signed with Buffalo.
The Boston Pride won the 2015-16 Isobel Cup over Buffalo. The Cup is named after Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley’s daughter, Isobel, who is known to be one of the first female hockey players in North America. Along with her brothers, she encouraged her father to purchase a silver cup that would be known as the Stanley Cup – the championship trophy of the NHL. During the offseason every player and coach of the winning team gets to spend a day with the Isobel Cup.
Buffalo avenged the first Cup Final defeat by beating Boston, 3-2, on March 19, 2017 at Tsongas Arena to win the Isobel Cup. The victory was a stunning upset, as the Pride were 16-1 during the regular season. Brianne McLaughlin, playing her final game as a professional, made 60 saves to lead the Beauts to victory. Buffalo forward Corinne Buie, who played for Boston in the inaugural season, scored a goal and won her second consecutive Isobel Cup.
In brief time, and against the competitive landscape of the business of professional sports, the NWHL has made some significant strides. The New Jersey Devils became the first NHL franchise to form a strategic alliance with the league, signing a partnership with the Metropolitan Riveters. The first NWHL-NHL doubleheader took place on Oct. 28, 2017, when the Riveters hosted the Pride before the Devils played the Arizona Coyotes. A month later, Pegula Sports & Entertainment – owners of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres – purchased the Buffalo Beauts in full.
The Pittsburgh Penguins served as host of the All-Star Game in 2017, the Minnesota Wild in 2018, and the Nashville Predators are the hosts of the 2019 All-Star Weekend. Previously, the Boston Pride participated in the Outdoor Women’s Classic at Gillette Stadium as part of the NHL Winter Classic.
The NWHL has a broadcast partnership with Twitter for a Game of the Week that can be seen globally.
The NWHL and one of its athletes took a giant step forward for inclusion in 2016 when Harrison Browne of the Buffalo Beauts became the first openly transgender player in North American professional team sports. Committed to creating safe and inclusive spaces while maintaining competitive equity, the NWHL and the You Can Play Project collaborated on a transgender participation policy that was heralded as a landmark for accelerating social progress.
The league has received enormous support from Dunkin’ Donuts, its first major corporate sponsor. Like every professional sports league, the NWHL thrives on the support of fans and corporate sponsors in order to prosper and to continue to empower women, entertain audiences, and grow the game.
The NWHL has plans to form additional strategic alliances and to expand to other major markets across America, and the league remains determined to spread its message for young hockey players to See it, Dream it, Be it.