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CWHL Season Preview(Ish): A Look at the League From a Relative Newcomer

You probably wouldn't ask someone with just a learner's permit to DD your upcoming bar night, so I'm not providing a fully comprehensive preview. Instead, here's an honest opinion of the Canadian Women's Hockey League from someone just getting into the coverage in earnest.

Natalie Spooner (Canada #24) and the Toronto Furies took the Clarkson Cup last season and look to do it again as the CWHL turns a new leaf in its quest to expand its platform.
Natalie Spooner (Canada #24) and the Toronto Furies took the Clarkson Cup last season and look to do it again as the CWHL turns a new leaf in its quest to expand its platform.
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

By now, you've probably read the detailed analysis of the upcoming CWHL season over at Watch This Hockey or The Hockey Writers. If not, go read them. Now. They contain a lot of great insight, certainly better than I could have brought to the table as a girl almost brand new to the wonders of women's hockey.

This is my first full season as a women's hockey writer and viewer. Yep, I know -- what am I doing here writing about it, then? To be honest, sometimes I don't know. I read stuff from my favorite writers on the subject and immediately feel as if I'm in over my head, much like I did 10 seasons ago when I first started watching the NHL and men's hockey. The game's not new, but the names and the league are, and that both scares me and excites me just a bit -- the prospect of having something new to get used to, especially at this point when women's hockey is starting, just starting, to gain a bit of a platform in the hockey world.

That said, it is a small platform -- perhaps fit for just one foot up. It has to be said that most of the CWHL's teams have embraced social media (though the most obvious tool, YouTube, isn't used nearly as effectively as it could be). They've done a good job of promoting women's hockey with various platforms, but social media can only get you so far -- it has to be used in conjunction with other things. There's also a streaming package available for $10 CAD, which provides 23 live games. The league's deal with Sportsnet allows for Clarkson Cup coverage and at least one "special event" to be televised in Canada, along with CWHL scorers to be featured on Sportsnet.ca. That's how far we've come in seven years. Any progress is good progress, but why has it taken this long for the CWHL to be promoted on a major network in Canada, of all places? And why is it that a league whose players were heavily featured on the North American teams (among others) at this year's Olympic Games has close to no real recognition amongst many hockey fans?

A big part of it is marketing, and Elena at Watch This has covered that aspect of it brilliantly in this post. Her emphasis is on the commissioner, Brenda Andress, and others promoting the "good, clean family" aspect of it, and not so much the "fun" (or the sport, really). Meanwhile, there are some truly great athletes in the league getting buried in favor of focusing on how there's no contact, no violence, and more "pure" hockey. (Because we tuned in to the U.S.-Canada exhibition games for purity's sake...?) Focus on the game and its athletes, and in turn you will get more people (heck, more hockey fans!) interested. Seems simple, right?

(Don't think the above video has much in the way of "purity" -- but it IS entertaining, and it DOES showcase the passion these athletes have. Nothing wrong with that.)

I got into writing about women's hockey because I believe in the goal of getting a women's league on par with the NHL one day. I believe in the excitement of the sport, not just in its storylines (that's right, Men's Journal!) but in the beauty and athleticism of its players, the numbers, the variables, the unpredictability. I love watching the women who play with just as much talent and passion as the men I've watched since 2005, and I want them to be better known, be marketed, be paid for the work they do. I wanted to become as much an advocate for the game as an observer and reporter on it, and I'm learning every day. So learn with me, why don't you?

(For a full list of websites, Twitter handles, and other stuff associated with the CWHL, check out my master post from March 6.)

Women's Hockey Roundup:

  • The A Lot of Sports Talk podcast hosted CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress on its show last weekend, providing some interesting discussion and insight.
  • The U.S. team was announced for this year's 2014 Four Nations Cup and includes a dozen members of the silver medal-winning Olympic team. The Americans open play Nov. 4 against Finland.
  • It's a big matchup this weekend for Minnesota as the Gophers take on the Badgers. Minnesota fell to No.2 in the polls with a win and a tie against UMD last weekend (they had issues getting the offense started and lost the extra point in the shootout Saturday), while No.1 Wisconsin soldiers on with a 6-0-0 record, taking over the polls for the first time in two years. The Gophers are 12-1-1 against the Badgers in the past three seasons, but there are some differences in this Gophers team that could sway this in favor of Wisconsin. While you're gearing up, check out this spotlight on Lee Stecklein from the Gophers' website,as well as this video from the Badgers talking about the upcoming tilt and rivalry:
  • UMD faces its first road test this weekend against North Dakota, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State face off against each other, and undefeated Bemidji State opens WCHA play at Ohio State.
  • VICE Sports has an incredible look at Mexican women's ice hockey, which has a shot -- a long one, but a shot -- at Olympic play in 2018.
  • AJ Mleczko of the gold medal-winning 1998 Nagano U.S. team was inducted into Harvard's Hall of Fame this week. Mlezcko also won a national title with the Crimson in 1999.