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National Women's Hockey League Successful Inaugural Season

The inaugural season of the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) was played this year, ending in a winner of Lady Isobel's Cup.

Hockey hasn’t always been the most popular sport in the United States, much less one that the majority of young athletes play, like baseball, football, or even soccer.  In fact, hockey is probably one of the most regional of all the major sports throughout the country, and some areas don’t even have access to games on TV, with much less places to go see live games.

National Women’s Hockey League Successful Inaugural Season

A little less than a year ago, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) was created, and with that a new following was born. With the best-of-the-best in women’s hockey from around the world, a four-team league started playing last October.

This was the very first paid professional female hockey league, and the teams included the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters. As the season wound down this past weekend, with great excitement and fanfare, the Boston Pride defeated the Buffalo Beauts in a best-of-three series in Newark, New Jersey, for the first National Women’s Hockey League championship. The winners received the “Isobel Cup”, which is synonymous with the Stanley Cup for the National Hockey League.

Many of the fans who came to see these talented ladies skate with skill and precision were young girls, as well as many parents, bringing excitement to the small rinks they called home. Sponsorships were sparse, but growing, and crowds grew with each and every game throughout the season.

Dani Rylan, the commissioner of the league and former collegiate star, said Friday that it was a “no-brainer” to name the N.W.H.L. trophy after Lady Isobel, who had a large role in women’s hockey history in Canada from the late 19th to mid 20th centuries.  Lady Isobel was one of 10 children of Frederick and Constance Stanley. In 1888, her father, Lord Stanley, became governor-general of Canada, which had gained independence 21 years earlier but was still a dominion of the British Empire.

The family moved into Rideau Hall in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, and later attended an ice hockey game between the Montreal Victorias and the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association at a winter festival in Montreal, “and fell in love with it,” said Jennifer Conway, a cataloger at the University of North Dakota library and a hockey historian. According to The Montreal Gazette, Lord Stanley “expressed his great delight with the game of hockey and the expertise of the players.”

The children wanted their own rink, so Lord Stanley had one built next to the house. The whole family often played. Winter parties at Rideau Hall included hockey games between pickup teams of men and women. In a photograph from 1890, wearing a long skirt, Lady Isobel played regular shinny games among other women at the rink. The family decided to move back to England, but not before Lady Isobel talked her father into buying a silver cup to present to the best amateur ice hockey team in Canada.

Lord Stanley stipulated that the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup would never be owned by one club, no matter how many times it won. The Montreal A.A.A. won the first Cup, and professional teams from the National Hockey Association began competing for it in 1910. NHL teams first vied for what became known as the Stanley Cup in 1927.

For those that are not hockey aficionados, nor really have a rooting interest in hockey, they have like heard of the Stanley Cup.Integrating Lord Stanley’s daughter into the new National Women’s Hockey League is not only fitting, but appropriate in bringing the sports to a new level throughout the country. Yes, there were only four teams this first season, and they were located in the Northeast, but there’s good reason to think positive about potential expansion of other teams, and the future of the league.

For other female sports leagues – like the WNBA – it’s a constant struggle trying to get a following of fans, that usually just watch the professional and collegiate men’s leagues.  Women’s sports have come a long way, and this new hockey league will only help to enhance and promote the great female athletes from around the world, not just during the Olympics. Hopefully, the new National Women’s Hockey League will encourage young girls around the country to get more involved in not only playing hockey, but also other sports that show the true competitiveness and fortitude that all athletes, regardless of gender, can display on a level playing field.

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