2017 is proving to be a busy year right out of the gate for a number of reasons, good and bad – however it is also the year that marks the one hundredth anniversary of the National Hockey League (NHL). Prior to the NHL, there was the National Hockey Association (NHA) also known as the National Hockey Association of Canada Limited, which was founded in 1909, by Ambrose O’Brien in Montreal, Canada. The NHA had teams in Quebec and Ontario, Canada, but when conflict between team owners arose, the NHA was suspended, and the NHL was created to allow hockey to continue while legal suits and resolutions were discussed. However, the conflict was never resolved, despite a number of years having been given to the process. As a result, the National Hockey League absorbed and adopted what had been the NHA and moved forward to create professional men’s hockey as we know it today.
And, while celebrating the one hundred year anniversary of what is arguably the best game on earth, is always worthwhile, and today is also international women’s day, which is a perfect reason to discuss the history of women’s ice hockey. And, although women’s hockey was played quite early on in the sports’ history, in both the United States and Canada, this article will focus on play in the United States.
Interestingly enough, Ivy League schools would be among the first to create programs for female ice hockey players, some dates of importance are below:
1964: Nancy Schieffelin attends a practice for the Brown Bears men’s hockey team with the permission of the head coach. Schieffelin was disguised as a man during the practice in order to show the team that women could play as well as men.
1965-66: Brown created a women’s team, the Pembroke Pandas. The women spent the year fundraising and borrowing equipment. They play their first game in 1966, against the Walpole Brooms.
1971: Cornell starts a women’s team.
1975: Yale’s women’s hockey team is founded.
1978: Dartmouth and Harvard found teams.
Outside of Ivy League schools, it was not until 1994 that girl’s hockey would gain more ground. In 1994 the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) sent out five hundred letters to member schools, wanting to know if there was any interest in making girls hockey into a league recognized sport. Out of those five hundred letters, twenty four schools responded. So, on March 21st, 1994, the MSHSL officially sanctioned girl’s hockey as a varsity high school sport, making Minnesota the first state to do so. Following the sanctioning of women’s hockey as a varsity sport in Minnesota, the American Women’s College Hockey Alliance (AWCHA) was founded in 1997-8, promoting the sport at all NCAA levels.
Both the inclusion of women’s hockey at the high school and collegiate level were and are incredible milestones, however, women’s hockey was not done yet. In 1998, women’s ice hockey was included in the winter Olympics for the first time. The XVIII Olympic Games took place in Japan, and the teams included were: Canada, China, Finland, Sweden, the United States, and Japan. The US women’s team took gold in their first showing, while Canada and Finland took the silver and bronze. Since 1998, the US women’s team has yet to win another Olympic gold medal, taking three silvers and one bronze.
The first attempt at a professional women’s hockey league would come in 1999, and run until 2007. There were seventeen teams spread out over three divisions, at the height of the league. Eventually due to funding and resource issues it disbanded. Most recently in 2015, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) was founded – although is distinctly separate from and unrelated to the old NWHL mentioned above. Instead of seventeen teams, the new NWHL has four teams: the Buffalo Beauts, Boston Pride, New York Riveters, and the Connecticut Whale. What sets apart the new NWHL from the old is that the new NWHL is the first professional/top level women’s league to pay its players, making it the first professional women’s hockey league to run nearly parallel to the NHL. However, work is still yet to be done, as professional female ice hockey players do not make the same amount as their NHL counterparts, nor do they receive the same television exposure.
Links of potential interest: