photo By Michelle Jay
The opening of the signing period for Season 4 of the National Women’s Hockey League is still ten days away, but several of the league’s top players are already making plans to return. One of those players is Alyssa Gagliardi, the all-star defender of the Boston Pride coming off her best season as a pro.
Gagliardi, an original NWHL player out of Cornell, expects to sign a contract in the coming weeks for her fourth season in the league and with the Pride.
“I'm planning to return to Boston again next season,” Gagliardi said over the weekend. “It's always an honor to be involved playing in great organizations and with top players, and I'm hopeful to have that chance again.”
She continued, “I also love competing and the opportunity to continue to grow the game, and to be playing in a league that young girls can aspire to play in down the road. It's been a fantastic opportunity to play in the NWHL and to be able to be a role model for younger generations. I really enjoy working with the youth players and organizations and being a part of the community events.”
Gagliardi has been at the forefront of advancing the sport and the league. She was one of four recipients of the NWHL Foundation Awards in 2017 for applying the core values of hockey in the community. Raised in North Carolina and developed in the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association and the Carolina Eagles program before playing at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota, Gagliardi has been a role model – especially for young players in the south. On social media, youngsters, parents and fans from the Carolinas often appeal to the NWHL to bring a game or a team to their region.
Photo By Michelle Jay
Over the last year, Gagliardi has experienced or witnessed a series of significant strides for the NWHL, including NHL alignments with two of the Pride’s rivals – the Riveters (New Jersey Devils) and Beauts (Pegula Sports and Entertainment) – and games streamed globally to large audiences on Twitter. She was in the league’s 2018 All-Star Game in Minnesota – an event that played a big role in the eventual expansion to the state – and was a top defender on Team NWHL, which played a two-game series against Team USA before the Olympians left to win gold in Pyeongchang.
Gagliardi, who was 2-6-8 in 16 games and led the Pride in plus-minus in 2017-18, looks back on the last year as a particularly meaningful one for women’s hockey.
“The growth over these last 12 months has been tremendous,” she said. “From as far as China teams joining the CWHL to the USA girls bringing home the gold medal, to the addition of the Minnesota Whitecaps last week and the other partnerships developed in the NWHL, this is a really exciting time to be a part of women's hockey. It's a crucial time to continue to show how much women’s hockey fans are invested, and how we are committed to continue building the audience and participation numbers in the game.”
Photo By Kristen Burton
The news last week of the NWHL expanding to Minnesota certainly caught the interest of Gagliardi and her fellow players around the league. Having played at Shattuck, she’s quite familiar with how much the game means to the state, and of the quality of players from the area.
“It was incredibly exciting news to hear that the Whitecaps joined the NWHL,” Gagliardi said. “For the league to expand going into year four and to know the quality of talent across all the professional teams in North America is incredible. The cool part about the Whitecaps is that they’re an organization that has been around a long time and they have a built-in fan base in the State of Hockey. That will bode really well for this first season and beyond. I can't wait to get out to Minnesota to play them.”
Asked if there were other American cities where she’d like the NWHL to expand, now that it has taken the giant step of branching out to Minnesota, Gagliardi was quick to point to two places.
“Pittsburgh is an obvious one that comes to mind based on their success at the youth levels and the strong reaction we got there for the NWHL All-Star game in 2017,” she said. “And it would be awesome to eventually see a team in the South. I'm biased saying Raleigh because that's my home city, but the growth over the last five, ten years has been astounding, and I know that will only continue to grow with all of the efforts the Hurricanes put into getting kids involved in hockey.”
Photo By Michael Hetzel
As for the upcoming season, Gagliardi is focused on the Pride bringing the Isobel Cup back to Boston for the first time since winning the league’s first championship in 2016. The Cup has seen three different winners – Boston, Buffalo, Metropolitan Riveters – in its first three seasons.
“I'm eager for the opportunity to bring the Isobel Cup back to Boston,” she said. “Getting a taste of it that first year and then falling short the last two years has been tough, but it shows how much parity there is and that it's a championship that's hard to win. We all play sports because we love to compete, and it's fun to compete to be the best.”