As women’s sports continue to gain prominence and a well-deserved place in the sporting conversation, one of its biggest challenges is what goes on after the crowd no longer cheers. Careers for women in sport after their athletic careers reach their pinnacle continues to be an under-represented field.
Among the women in hockey looking to expand opportunities, Dani Rylan is leading the way. Although she is no longer playing competitively on the ice, her love of the game is far from extinguished. Having relocated to New York City for an opportunity to work in production for the NHL Network, she never forgot her entrepreneurial spirit.
During the frustration of the lockout, Rylan spirit of ambition and determination was evident, qualities that would set the table for the exciting revolution in women’s hockey to come. Opening a coffee shop named Rise and Grind during the holiday season of 2013, it would become a labor of love, with Rylan running the shop and engaging in the renovations all by herself.
Enhanced by the involvement of family, as her New York City-based brother was a coffee distributor, it was testament to Rylan’s confidence. The business venture also enabled Rylan to serve as a hockey humanitarian, donating five cents of every cup of coffee sold to Ice Hockey in Harlem.
Bringing an entrepreneurial spirit and an admirable ambition, Rylan is looking to bring a new dimension to women’s ice hockey. Focusing her efforts off the ice, Rylan has spent the last year composing a business plan for a brand new women’s hockey league which sees player compensation as its hallmark.
Announced in late March 2015, the National Women’s Hockey League offers the US Northeast with its first female pro hockey league. With its four charter franchises based in the Northeast, including Buffalo and New York City, they shall be joined by Boston and Connecticut, rounding out the league for its inaugural campaign this fall.
Serving as its Commissioner, Rylan is the architect behind the formation of this four-team league. Set to begin in October 2015, the league shall hold a Draft in New York City, along with an All-Star Weekend.
Hailing from Tampa, Florida, an area well-known for producing elite baseball and football talent, Rylan is helping challenge cultural norms with her growing hockey legacy. Coincidentally, Tampa was also an area where a unique chapter in women’s ice hockey took place when Manon Rheaume competed in an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992.
Fast forward 22 years later, and Anne Schleper (who boasts an NCAA Frozen Four title, a Clarkson Cup win and a Winter Games silver medal) practiced with the Lightning. She would later participate in a hockey camp for girls sponsored by the club as well. Rylan, an alumnus of Assabet Valley, also shares in their proud legacies of playing with the boys, as she was a member of the men’s team at Metro College in Denver, a Division II club based in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
When Rylan decided to pursue her graduate studies in sports leadership, her hockey odyssey took her to the hockey hotbed of Boston, Mass. Suiting up for the Northeastern Huskies from 2010-12, she had the chance to play alongside the likes of Kendall Coyne, Lucia Povova and Florence Schelling (who would all compete in the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships).
Making her NCAA debut on October 1, 2010 against Syracuse, her first points would come the following day. Accumulating a pair of assists (both goals scored by Siena Falino) in a road win against the Union Dutchwomen, it also represented the first multi-point effort in her NCAA career.
Serving as one of the Huskies captains in her second season, the Huskies would win all eight games in which she registered at least one point. In addition, the 2012 edition of the annual Beanpot tournament (contested among all four Boston-based NCAA women’s hockey programs) would lead to one of the most memorable moments in her career.
Assisting on a goal scored by Lucie Povova in the championship game (providing the Huskies with a 2-0 lead), the final score was 4-3 in favor of the Huskies. The opportunity to claim the prestigious Beanpot championship, the 15th in Huskies program history, represented a very emotional moment in her playing career,
“Winning the Beanpot, with my dad watching in the stands, is still one of my favorite hockey memories. Playing alongside Kendall and Flo is like watching a game inside of another game. They have such an elite skill set that it’s easy to become a spectator. Those are the type of special athletes that need a place to shine day in and day out, not just every four years.”
With the consultation of Angela Ruggiero, a world-class player who served as President of The Women’s Sports Foundation, Rylan could not have asked for a better person to deal with. Next to Cammi Granato, Ruggiero is the most iconic woman in the history of USA Hockey.
“Women’s hockey would not have made it to the professional stage without Angela’s commitment to the game both on and off the ice, she is the backbone of the NWHL. She is a living legend in the sport and one of the most respected Olympic athletes of all-time. On top of that, she is also extremely business savvy. Angela is a strategic advisor to the NWHL and is integral in moving women’s hockey to the next level.”
No stranger to women’s hockey fans in Boston, Ruggiero suited up for the Harvard Crimson and the Boston Blades. In addition, she has also been involved with the NHL’s New York Islanders, involved as Director for the franchise’s Project Hope charitable initiative.
For Rylan, the opportunity to have a living legend such as Ruggiero provide advice and support for the NWHL was an important element in establishing a strong foundation for the league. Their roles as not just ambassadors for the league, but as sporting visionaries may one day stand as part of the mythology of early 21st century women’s hockey.
Adding to their momentum is the positive reaction since the announced launch. Even generating coverage from ESPNw, the premier resource for sports coverage, the feeling of encouragement is overwhelming. Projecting a salary cap of $270,000 US per team, along with an overall league budget of $2 million for operations, the hallmark of player compensation would mark an exciting and revolutionary chapter in the game’s continuous evolvement. As Rylan’s vision approaches reality with the first puck drop this autumn, the level of support adds a major league feeling, which is certainly an objective for this ambitious and remarkable venture,
“The women’s game has evolved so much in the last decade, this was a natural progression for the sport. The fans have been patiently waiting for it and they’ve been amazing. The positive encouragement and support show how ready the game is for this next step and we are excited to earn continued support every step of the way.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credit: George Speirs (Obtained from Facebook), Northeastern photo obtained from: http://www.hercampus.com/