So you’ve discovered women’s hockey is dope and want to keep watching? Let us count the ways...
Nearly all of the players in the gold medal game played, are currently playing, or are committed to play NCAA hockey. So if you’re looking to follow the next and current stars of women’s hockey, American college hockey is a great place to start!
Three of the conferences are bundled in the Northeast and one is in the Midwest. Tickets to games are usually inexpensive, and games are usually on the weekends. Streams are a bit more touch and go, dependent on the school and the league.
If you’re looking to jump right in, you’re in luck! The regular season is winding down as conferences are heading into their playoffs right now. Its an exciting time of play. The conference playoffs will lead into the Frozen Four, the National Championship tournament.
Looking ahead to the 2018-2019 NCAA season, you’ll see some familiar faces from this Olympics.
US’s Megan Keller and Kali Flanagan are set to return to Boston College and will be joined by Cayla Barnes for her freshman season. Kelly Pannek will head back to Minnesota for her senior season. American hero Maddie Rooney should be heading back to Minnesota-Duluth as well.
Canadian Emily Clark will go back to the Wisconsin Badgers and Swiss phenom Alina Müller committed to Northeastern.
One of the only non-NCAA players in the gold medal game was Mélodie Daoust, who played for McGill University, a school that’s part of U Sports, Canada’s college hockey program.
U Sports also has four conferences - Atlantic University Sport (AUS), Canada West Universities Athletic Association (CW), Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Ligue de Hockey Universitaire Féminin (RSEQ).
In U Sports, conferences have anywhere from five to to 13 teams, and each team will play between 20-28 games in their conference before the national championship. The national championship tournament has eight teams competing, and each conference sends two teams. The host school earns an automatic bid, so universities from those divisions must win their conference’s championship in order to qualify. The other three conferences are allowed to send the top two schools from their conference championships.
Those eight teams compete for the Golden Path Trophy. The Alberta Pandas have won the most championship trophies since the Golden Path Trophy was first awarded in 1998, and they’re also the defending champions- though they lost a dramatic 4OT game against the University of Manitoba Bisons and won’t be defending their title this year.
The Western Mustangs will host this year’s tournament in London, Ontario on March 15-18.
For more information on how to buy tickets, you can check out the U Sports website here.
But what about the players that have graduated college, you ask? There are numerous professional leagues literally all across the globe.
North American-based Leagues
There are two North American-based professional leagues, one in Canada and one based in the United States.
The Canadian Women’s Hockey League is seven-team league that spans three countries. The 2017-18 seasons is the league’s 11th season. Their championship trophy is called the Clarkson Cup.
Four of the teams call Canada home, one calls the US home, and two call China home. The four Canadian teams are the Toronto Furies, Markham Thunder, Les Canadiennes de Montreal, and the Calgary Inferno. The US-based team is the Boston Blades. Before the 2017-18 season, the league expanded to China, adding two teams on the other side of the Pacific: the Kunlun Red Star and the Vanke Rays.
At this point you may be scratching your head over why China for expansion. Why not another North American team? China is hosting the 2022 Olympics, and the creation of the Kunlun Red Star was part of a strategic plan to strengthen the Chinese national team program ahead of the games - though the addition has certainly caused some controversy.
Starting with the 2017-18 season, the league began to pay players. The CWHL has also partnered with Canadian NHL teams- the Clarkson Cup was hosted in Ottawa for two years, in partnership with the Senators, though there is no CWHL team in Ottawa. The Maple Leafs partnered with the league for the past two All-Star games, and the Marlies, their top affiliate in the AHL, have partnered with the league for this year’s Clarkson Cup. Les Canadiennes also have a partnership with the NHL team in Montreal, and the Canadiennes have also played games at the Bell Centre.
The CWHL is a fantastic place to see this year’s Olympians. Noora Räty has been with Kunlun all season already, and she has already returned to her CWHL team. Two US players who were late cuts from the Olympic team signed with CWHL teams - Alex Carpenter with Kunlun and defender Megan Bozek with the Markham Thunder. Another familiar US National Team players you can see in the CWHL is Kelli Stack, who was shockingly left off the centralization roster.
Some of the biggest names from Team Canada may also return to their CWHL teams- captain Marie-Philip Poulin, Lauriane Rougeau and young star Mélodie Daoust are probable returns to Montreal. Laura Stacey and Laura Fortino were on the Thunder last season (Jocelyne Laroque has already signed with the team) and Natalie Spooner and Renata Fast played on the Furies. Almost half of the Inferno roster was centralized, though not all will return - Meaghan Mikkelson has played for the Inferno in seasons past but will finish her season in the SDHL (more on that league below).
The CWHL streams select games for free via YouTube. Ticket prices are also extremely reasonable. The league took a two-week break for the Olympics and are gearing up for an exciting home stretch leading in the playoffs.
The top three teams - Montreal, Kunlun, and Calgary - are separated by a mere four points. The battle for fourth place, the final playoff spot, is between Vanke and Markham, who are tied with 25 points a piece.
You can read more about the league on their website here.
The National Women’s Hockey League is in its third season of existence. There are four teams in the league: the Boston Pride, the Connecticut Whale, the Metropolitan Riveters, and the Buffalo Beauts. The NWHL was the first North American league to pay its players a salary. Their championship trophy is called the Isobel Cup.
Founded by Dani Rylan, the league reportedly came about after Rylan’s talks to expand the CWHL to the New York area went south. Many of the USWNT players, who had been playing in the CWHL for the Boston Blades, left the Canadian league in favor of the U.S. league.
With most of the USWNT playing for the Pride, the league experienced some early problems with parity. The Pride dominated for the first two seasons, though the Buffalo Beauts upset them in the Isobel Cup Finals on the back of former Team USA goaltender Brianne McLaughlin in 2017.
Parity wasn’t the only issue for the NWHL in its first two seasons. The end of season one saw a lawsuit against Rylan and the league from an investor. And, in the first half of season two, the league slashed player salaries. That controversial decision shed some light on issues including insurance accommodation and what appeared to be an ineffective NWHLPA. Later that year the schedule was shortened mid-season to accommodate players leaving for the 2017 Women’s World Championships.
Season three has had more positives. The Riveters changed their color scheme and name after partnering with the New Jersey Devils. The Buffalo Beauts were bought by Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the owners of the HarborCenter and the Buffalo Sabres (among other professional Buffalo teams). The league has also played neutral-site games in Rochester and Pittsburgh and for the second time held its All-Star Weekend outside of an NWHL city. Dunkin Donuts has also been a league sponsor for nearly two years.
Alumna of the league include Team USA players Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin, Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, Amanda Pelkey, Amanda Kessel, Emily Pfalzer, and Haley Skarupa. Skarupa played a few games for the Pride this season before being added to the centralization roster. As of right now it’s uncertain whether or not any of the national team players will be returning to the NWHL this season.
The NWHL is currently heading into the home stretch of its third season. While the top two seeds have been locked in, the Whale and the Pride are battling it out for third and fourth place. The playoffs will be in Newark and Buffalo, though the battle for first place is still on between the Beauts and the Riveters.
The league streams every game, either via a Twitter Game of the Week — thanks to a new partnership this year — or on YouTube. Tickets are, once again (seeing a trend here yet?), reasonably priced.
You can find their website here.
There is also an independent team in Minnesota called the Whitecaps. This team of post-collegiate players is not in either of the two leagues. Typically, their schedule consists of games against nearby college programs. They’ve also partnered with the NWHL twice: once in the first NWHL season for an exhibition game and once in the third for the All-Star Game. Five Whitecaps played for Team USA in this Olympics: Hannah Brandt, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Alex Rigsby, and Kendall Coyne. The Whitecaps had a sixth Olympian in Mira Jalosuo for Finland.
You can find their site here.
The Sweden-based SDHL is the destination for elite women’s hockey talent from all over Europe as well as a slowly but surely growing number of North Americans. The league is home to Finnish superstar defender Jenni Hiirikoski, Swiss goaltender Florence Schelling, and Canadian forward Jennifer Wakefield, to name a few.
All of Team Sweden came from the SDHL, as did fourteen others from Switzerland, Finland, Canada, and the United States. Ten athletes return to the league with medals in hand.
SDHL games are available to stream through SvenskHockey TV and while they’re not free, a one-time payment (around $60 USD) gets you live access to every game across the league as well as unlimited replays. They’re also not geoblocked, so North American fans can catch the action too.
Women’s Hockey League (Russia)
The entirety of Team Russia plays in the Женская хоккейная лига (Zhenskaya Khokkeinaya Liga - Women’s Hockey League), and only Russia sent anyone to the Olympics, as the league only has eight foreign players (Czechs Pavlina Horalkova, Alena Polenska, and Aneta Tejralova, Hungarians Fanni Gasparics and Franciska Kiss-Simon, Finn Karoliina Rantamäki, Slovak Nicol Čupková, and Ukrainian Tatyana Chizhova).
The league came under KHL sanctioning for 2015-16, and the partnership has done wonders for the league’s marketing and promotions. In the words of Russian NT captain and Agidel Ufa superstar Olga Sosina (the league’s current top scorer), teams have gone from playing in front of family and friends to 500 people, and the 2017 All-Star Game in Ufa drew 7,000.
The league currently consists of seven teams: Agidel Ufa, Tornado Moscow Oblast (located in the suburb of Dmitrov), Biryusa Krasnoyarsk, Arktik-Universitet Ukhta, Dinamo St. Petersburg, SKSO Yekaterinburg, and SKIF Nizhny Novgorod. SKIF has the most titles with 12, but Tornado has won three in a row and six of seven, and Agidel Ufa is currently seven points clear at the top of the table.
Every team streams for free on YouTube. Here are the links for each team: Tornado, Arktik Universitet, Agidel, SKIF, Biryusa, SKSO, and Dinamo. Note that some of these are shared with men’s teams or even a university (there’s also Arktik Universitet, which shares with Ukhta State Technological University). Oh, and you can watch full replays afterwards, so if Olga Sosina did another absurd thing you can go back and watch.
The social media and website are all in Russian only, so it can be tricky for non-Russophones to follow the league. However, Patrick Conway’s Russian hockey blog posts weekly updates (and even includes a look at the amateur League of Women’s Hockey) and is a terrific resource.
Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League (AWIHL)
The Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League is currently made up of four teams: the reining champions Sydney Siren, the Melbourne Ice, the Brisbane Goannas and the Adelaide Rush.
Teams play 12 regular games a season over the course of six weeks before the season culminates in a one-weekend finals series in March. One game semifinals between the first and fourth seeds and the second and third seeds decide who will compete for the Joan McKowen Trophy on Sunday.
The league can be followed on social media- all four clubs having a presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In addition to that, this year the league made a commitment to streaming all games through their website and YouTube, including finals weekend on the March 17-18.
In addition to their local payers, AWIHL teams are also allowed two imports per team. This season’s group includes a CWHL draft pick, a couple of NCAA players including Adelaide captain Ashley Pelky and ex-Canadian women’s national team football player Christina Jullien. There’s also a fantastic crop of Australia hockey superstars, many of who represent on the U-18 or national women’s sides each year.