PHOTO BY MICHELLE JAY
The 2019 NWHL All-Star Game in Nashville, played before a record 6,120 fans at Bridgestone Arena and hundreds of thousands more watching on Twitter, was a momentous event in the collective efforts to advance professional women’s hockey in North America.
The crowd established a new record for professional women’s hockey in the United States.
“Women’s hockey keeps on rising, and you’re seeing that this weekend in Nashville,” said Audra Richards, who opened the scoring in the 3-2 shootout victory by Team Szabados over Team Stecklein. “This entire experience has been awesome.”
Led by captains Shannon Szabados and Lee Stecklein — who put their hearts and minds into this achievement every step of the way — and with the relentless support of the Nashville Predators, the NWHL All-Stars took their exhilarating show to another, but just as impassioned hockey market: Smashville.
And wow, did these players and supporters deliver.
The Smashville fans were treated to the NWHL’s stars playing 4-on-4 for two 25-minute periods. Someone forgot to tell Szabados and her teammates that this was an All-Star Game because they played team defense and Szabados stopped everything as they took a 2-0 lead after the first half, with Katerina Mrázová scoring the team’s second goal.
During a break in the action in the first, goalie Katie Burt yelled to her teammate Szabados, “Hey, ya wanna play the whole game?”
But Team Stecklein rallied in the second half, with Lisa Chesson scoring the team’s first goal, redirecting a shot from Gigi Marvin. Emily Fluke then knotted the score at two midway through the second half.
Burt then made a number of highlight-reel saves to keep the score tied and force a shootout. Amanda Kessel, who shot first, scored the only goal of the shootout, with Burt making all three saves for Team Szabados.
“It was an incredible weekend,” said winning captain Szabados. “With the skills competition yesterday and then today with the game, the atmosphere was incredible both days. We had a blast.”
The weekend featured a sold-out Skills Challenge (with more than a half-million fans watching on Twitter) and record crowd for the All-Star Game, proving that Nashville is a fantastic hockey town and that there are no boundaries to success for professional women’s hockey.
“Nashville is a unique hockey community, and it’s great to be able continue to grow the girls’ side of it here,” said Stecklein. “We really felt welcome in Nashville, and that’s something we really appreciate.”