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Choosing the PWHPA: A non-national team member’s perspective

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This piece was originally published by its author, Kristen Richards. You can read more about her CWHL career here.

“Dear Readers,

I wrote this piece on April 26th as a way to help myself understand the climate of women’s hockey. After sharing it with a few close friends, I realized it might be of value to understand the perspective of a current player. Admittedly, I was nervous to put my name on it, but I have come to realize the importance of being accountable for my experiences. On that note, this is not intended to be a persuasive piece, but rather an account of one non-national team member’s sacrifice.

It’s not lost on me that there are much larger issues at hand in terms of the culture of hockey and the state of the world, namely in regards to racial injustice and racism. At the time of writing, I was mostly concerned with gender inequality, but it has become crystal clear that we cannot separate this discussion from racism as the PWHPA moves forward. My intent is not to take away from the Black Lives Matter conversation, but to continue advocating for what women’s hockey deserves. I hope this is a small step to understanding our lives as women athletes.

Why a Non-National Team Member chose to stay with the PWHPA

As a non-national team member in the GTA, receiving a phone call about the NWHL expansion to Toronto was intriguing. I listened closely to the pitch and couldn’t help but think about the opportunity at hand. Although there were few answers to questions surrounding the season such as what rink we would be playing at and who the coach was, the idea of a guaranteed spot on a team and some extra cash in my pocket was definitely worth considering.

The next few days were interesting. I found myself listing names of players that are currently in the GTA as well as potential incoming talent. Why? If I’m being honest, it was to see where I would fit in. The reason a guaranteed spot in the NWHL is so intriguing is because there are no guarantees with the PWHPA. Now I am going to warn you that this next statement might upset WOHO fans across the nation, so please take a deep breath and remember that this is an honest, non-national team member’s opinion.

The PWHPA is home to the most elite women’s hockey players in the game. You can argue with me until you are blue in the face, or for those who prefer the safety of being behind a computer screen (like me), until your fingers bleed, but this is simply a fact. Before you take out your barbeque tongs and grill me for that statement, give me a chance to explain. The PWHPA is home to the most elite women’s hockey players in the game BECAUSE it is home to the only players who have the ability to focus on hockey full-time. Contrary to popular belief, by no means am I saying that there is not any talent in the NWHL. Many of these athletes are my old teammates, competitors, and friends. I respect all that they have given to the game and I know at some point, even they dreamed of playing in the Olympics because it is currently and always has been the pinnacle of our sport.

After carefully considering where I would fit in amongst the GTA players next season, I hit another roadblock while deep in the rabbit hole on Twitter. “The PWHPA is all about the Olympians.” I know that I may upset a few national team members when I say this but staying true to being open and honest throughout this piece; I get it. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to run to a practice straight from work and hear one of your national team members across the room talk about how busy her day was. I can only imagine how difficult it is to train for the Olympics, but it’s important to understand that at one point or another, that was all of our dreams. Frustrated or not, I geared up for practice and gave it my all to play alongside these incredible athletes.

But why would a non-national team member play in the PWHPA if it truly was all about the Olympians? I think at this point, it’s important to recognize the bravery of our national team players. For years, they have been the only women’s hockey players who had the ability to train full-time and focus on what it takes to be the best. The PWHPA is fighting for a sustainable professional league that creates this opportunity for everyone. By spearheading the PWHPA and the #ForTheGame movement, the national team members are not only giving up the comfort of regular competition, but in some ways jeopardizing their positions on the national team. Simply put, if the goals of the PWHPA come to fruition, what was a player pool of “40” has the potential to grow exponentially.

The PWHPA had some big moments this year: attending NHL games in different regions, meeting THE Billie Jean King, participating in the NHL Allstar game, etc. Of the three things I just mentioned, I was a part of zero. Cue the, “All of the cool opportunities go to the Olympians.” This is one complaint of the WOHO community that I will never understand. If the goal is to showcase the most elite talent to prove to the world what our game can be, then yes, Olympians will and should be the ones playing. But what about the opportunities that don’t involve being on the ice? Why do the Olympians get to be the “face” of the movement? Well, for the same reason that Tim Hortons chose Sidney Crosby over Evan Rodrigues (and yes, I had to look his name up before I wrote this sentence). I feel for you Evan, had this not been an anonymous letter, many people would still have to look my name up too. Although both athletes have dedicated their lives to their craft, one is the golden child of Canada and one is not. Definitely easier to swallow being Evan who is making $2,000,000 this year, but I think that’s one of the purposes of the PWHPA. Although non-national team members don’t need to be in the spotlight, they very well should be receiving something for their dedication to the game. Please, call me Evan.

Part of my phone call included a conversation about the divide in women’s hockey and the importance of working together. Following the announcement on Twitter, I watched as the WOHO community scrutinized the PWHPA for their statement regarding the expansion.

It would be easy to make this an ‘us versus them’ story, but we have no interest in that narrative. Our mission at the PWHPA has not changed and we are still moving forward with next season – in full force. Simply put, the opportunities that the NWHL will provide may be good for some players, but it’s not the opportunities that we want for our players or for future generations of young girls who will play the game at the highest level.

Ladies and gentlemen, get out your magnifying glasses because how dare the PWHPA make a statement about the growth of women’s hockey? If I’m being honest, what the NWHL is offering IS the right opportunity for me. As an older player with a full-time career, my time left in the game is limited. However, by joining the NWHL, I would be forfeiting my right to speak fairly about both. The irony of people scrutinizing the PWHPA for making a statement is the fact that I can outwardly support the NWHL expansion without compromising my position with the PWHPA, however the same cannot be said for NWHL players. The NWHL has done a great job of positioning themselves as the solution to a problem that they have created. Again, I hear your arguments, and I want to recognize the validity of the fire burning inside of you right now. ‘The NWHL was created as a response to players who wanted more.’ Correct. But please remember, it was in this moment the divide happened.

In my opinion, #OneLeague is the worst thing that happened to women’s hockey because it implies that female hockey players only deserve one league after college. The opportunity that the NWHL provides for many players is exactly that, an opportunity. It is a chance to continue playing hockey and make a bit of money while doing it which is not one that we take for granted. However, the PWHPA is a collective voice of players demanding more and I fully support what they believe in.

To sum this up, I am a non-national team member who chose not to sign NWHL. I recognize that by saying that in this moment, there is a chance that I will not be playing hockey next year should I not be at the level of competition appropriate for the PWHPA, and if that doesn’t make my point clear to you, I do not know what will. In my opinion, the short-term benefit that I would see from signing NWHL does not compare to the long- term benefit the game will see from the PWHPA. The easy choice for me would be to go play in the NWHL and make some money next year, but I believe that nothing worth having comes easy. It wasn’t until I sat down and put my thoughts into writing that I truly saw what the PWHPA was all about: Sacrifice. In this moment, I want to give my personal thanks. Thank you to the NWHL for providing opportunity to women’s hockey players beyond college; and thank you to the PWHPA for demanding more for our sport. In the words of Maureen Dowd, ‘the minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.'”

 

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