Ten Riveters Among 200 Pro Players Who Opt to Sit Next NWHL Season

Yesterday afternoon, over 200 women’s hockey players from across multiple professional leagues and the NCAA posted a message to social media explaining they will opt out of the 2019-20 professional league season in solidarity with each other for better treatment and a sustainable league.

This comes just a day after the official fold of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and subsequent auction of league memorabilia and trophies to ensure players receive their bonuses.

They all posted the same message with this photo, linked above, and have said they will not make any statements regarding it at this time. “We may represent different teams, leagues and countries but collectively we stand as one. #ForTheGame.”

The Riveters who posted the messages are starting goalie Katie Fitzgerald, and backup goalie Kimberly Sass, Kristin Lewicki, Audra Richards who is coming off an impressive rookie season, Captain Shelly Picard, who is also a member of Team USA, fellow Team USA member Amanda Kessel, defenders Jenny Ryan and Courtney Burke, Lexi Slattery, Kristin Lewicki, and Alexa Aramburu.

All ten of these players will be notably absent as they created big waves on the ice and were responsible for a lot of the scoring this past season. In Sass’ case, she is a strong leader and locker room presence for the Riveters, creating her signature “Kim Code” to talk about her teammates on social media with emojis, and Kessel may be one of the most recognizable names in women’s hockey.

Alongside that, three of the five draft picks from the Riveters this season have also posted the message. Number one overall pick, Annie Pankowski, out of Wisconsin had already previously announced she would not be playing with the Riveters because she is continuing her education in Wisconsin. However, she joined in on the #ForTheGame trend anyway. Joining her were the Rivs’ No. 2 and 5 picks Kendall Cornine, and Cailey Hutchison respectively.

The players in question are citing a lack of healthcare and wages “as low as two thousand dollars a season” for their reason to boycott. This has become an issue among women’s hockey players and fans over the years. The lack of physicality and hitting in the game has often been a source of frustration, however, with the lack of healthcare available for players it’s the only option they have. Requiring a certain level of healthcare would allow for more flexibility in that regard.

That, along with higher salaries across the board would allow players more time and training to dedicate to the game. As it stands, many NWHL and former CWHL players had full time “day jobs” on top of playing in their league and often had to miss games as to not interfere with those day jobs. A more adequate salary would help that tremendously, especially since the NWHL just announced its plan to expand the season by eight games per team.

Since the folding of the CWHL, the NHL has given $100,000 to both leagues. The money for the CWHL allocated toward helping them pay their dues after folding; the money to the NWHL to expand and grow.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said over the years that he is in support of the growth of women’s hockey and wants the NHL to partner with and support a league, but that they wouldn’t do so until there was one league and not two competing North American leagues as there has been for five years. Despite this, the NHL has been noticeably absent in the month since the CWHL announced their fold.

The NWHL has since put out a statement addressed to the players and fans in an attempt to be more transparent than they’ve been. “After a series of highly constructive and positive discussions with the NWHL Players’ Association over the last month, we are offering increased salaries and a 50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals. Coming off an incredible 2018-19, we are confident another fantastic season is ahead.” Despite this, those opting to stick with #ForTheGame are staying strong.

By The Numbers…So Far

Throughout the day more and more players have posted the message on some platform so with the expectation that these numbers do change in the coming days, here are the significant numbers of who is #ForTheGame besides the Riveters:

  • 92 CWHL players
  • 38 NWHL players (18 Buffalo Beauts, the most in the NWHL)
  • 22 NCAA players
  • 18 USA National Team members
  • 23 (All) Canada National Team members

There have been a few players from both the CWHL and the NWHL who have spoken out against the #ForTheGame movement, but that seems to be a very small minority. For years there has been a great debate over whether or not NHL involvement would help or hurt a women’s hockey league in North America. Most of the players are saying that the time is now to get financial backing and security from the successful men’s league.

Going forward without that, it is unlikely any NWHL team will be able to build a playable roster by the time October comes around. With the Minnesota Whitecaps, and presumably other teams already beginning to sell season tickets, that spells a lot of financial confusion and trouble. It is easy to deduce that the players involved would like to have their boycott needs be met before the season starts in order to not put the NWHL out of business alongside the CWHL. This essentially puts the fate of these women in the hands of the NHL and Bettman, which is a scary thought to say the least.

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