While many athletes hope to be able to accomplish something historic at least once in their careers, Austria’s Janine Weber was blessed to achieve it twice in one year. In the aftermath of becoming the first European-born player to score a Clarkson Cup-clinching goal, she holds the unique distinction of becoming the first player to sign a contract with the NWHL.
Complemented by contributing towards Austria’s admirable silver medal effort at the 2015 IIHF Division 1A Women’s World Hockey Championships, Weber has become more than just a sporting icon in her homeland. She now represents an opportunity to become one of the flagship stars for an exciting, new league that may revolutionize women’s hockey.
Having been first exposed to the NWHL by attending the Connecticut Whale’s free agent camp, Weber was signed by the New York Riveters, signifying a landmark moment in league lore. Such an acquisition also adds to remarkable run of momentum for the Riveters.
Of note, the Riveters won the league’s Lottery, earning the right to make the first overall selection in the upcoming Player Draft. Although that pick is likely a toss-up between second generation star Alex Carpenter and two-time NCAA Frozen Four champion Hannah Brandt, both are once-in-a-lifetime talents whose franchise player status would complement Weber’s relevance as a league pioneer.
Another element that adds to the Riveters momentum is the fact that the club is poised to call Brooklyn its home. Having reinvented itself as a hip, urban center, the resurrection of this once dormant community was punctuated by the relocation of pro basketball’s New Jersey Nets to its perimeters. Taking into account that the NHL’s New York Islanders shall be sharing tenancy in the Barclays Center with the Nets, Brooklyn has suddenly become the hub of a sporting revolution.
For so many generations of New York-based baby boomers, Brooklyn was nothing more than a sporting graveyard of lost memories, attributed to the departure of its beloved Dodgers baseball club to Los Angeles. The subsequent demolition of Ebbetts Field would haunt Brooklyn sports fans, reinforcing the notion that its role as a sporting city was now reserved for reminiscing.
Suddenly, the Riveters, one of the NWHL’s founding four franchises, adds to this exciting period, bringing Brooklyn its first-ever professional women’s hockey team. In this regard, Janine Weber and Riveters general manager Dani Rylan have the potential to become a significant part of Brooklyn sports history, akin to the magical legacy of Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey.
Rylan, who is also the league’s founder, has the same spirit of ambition, entrepreneurship and risk-taking that made Rickey one of baseball’s greatest executives ever. From transforming the Dodgers into one of the classiest organizations in all of professional sport, Rickey showed great compassion, innovation and respect in helping baseball break its color barrier with the acquisition of African-American players such as Robinson, Joe Black and Roy Campanella.
It is that same type of drive, complemented by dignity that has transformed Rylan into a woman that may one day wield great power and influence in sport. In an era when women’s hockey has struggled to establish a living wage for its players, Rylan has shown more than bravura, but courage and compassion, in an effort to share her visionary NWHL dream with other women in hockey from all corners of the globe.
As the first player signed by the league, Weber becomes the first player to officially share Rylan’s dream. In this regard, the dignity and humility that she has displayed since becoming a hockey hero mirrors Robinson’s sporting legacy in Brooklyn. Although his was a legacy that stretched into cultural and social circles, his realization that he was opening the door for so many others was more important than the man himself.
In this regard, Weber has the maturity and understanding to know that she is not bigger than the game, but that she is contributing towards making it bigger. For a city like Brooklyn, one that observed its Dodgers with a romantic admiration, simultaneously embracing them as heroes, women such as Rylan and Weber bring this same wonderful potential for the Riveters. With the potential to establish a profound sporting connection with the borough’s female sports fans, it may contribute to a sensational spirit of sisterhood that would elevate the women’s game to unprecedented heights.