During the first intermission of Sunday’s matchup between the Metropolitan Riveters and Buffalo Beauts, NWHL Players Association director (and Riveters color commentator) Anya Packer talked with Matt Falkenbury, the Riveters play-by-play commentator, to discuss the future of the league as well as how far it’s come.
Falkenbury introduced the small segment with the fact that Anya Packer was considered the 22nd most powerful woman in hockey by Sportsnet earlier in the week. She began by stating how proud she was of the lawyers who work pro-bono for the league as well as the players and the fans who dedicate their time, and sponsors from recovery product companies. However, she stated the most important thing she was the proudest of is the environment the league has cultivated, whether that be through Twitch or any communication.
“This year the NWHLPA has created a narrative that we are a part of the conversation, we are in the largest deals on the sponsorship side, we are in the conversation there. We know what’s going on. We are actually part of the calls, we’re involved. We’ve created subcommittees and boards that work on things like equipment, what players are needing for the future, or what our schedule looks like. There’s just so much that the PA is doing now that we didn’t have access to before,” she stated.
“We’re just part of the conversation and that hasn’t been the case always. After four years, my four years at least, really fighting to normalize partnership between the league head office and the players. That’s the best part of the job right now,” she added.
She was then asked what are things she is hearing from players around the league on what can be improved upon for next season, a topic many conversations have been had about.
“I think that first and foremost, getting more fans to games. What we’ve done on Twitch is tremendous but getting more fans to games, getting deeper into the community. These things are great on a league level. If I try to separate myself and think about the players, getting more readily accessible equipment. If somebody’s stick breaks, not necessarily worrying about where that’s coming from. There’s certain things where we’re really pushing forward. We’re excited about the progress and what’s happened in the past couple of conversations that we’ve had.”
“There’s also the other side of things where our players have had a really good experience. That’s why this upcoming year we’re going to retain the same contract. We’re excited about that. We’re excited about the 50/50 revenue share. We’re excited about the progress that we made last season and this year it’s more infrastructural changes. Getting more rinks that are up to a certain quality or getting more seats for more fans to come to the games. Or getting more opportunities for our players to develop, whether that’s in training, whether that’s in rehab in different facilities that our players have to have access to. Different things like dry-needling or chiropractic work or body work. There are so many things that we want to continue to push forward on.”
She goes on to discuss the relationship between the league and the Player’s Association, as of this season with the hiring of Shelly Picard as the new Deputy Commissioner of the NWHL.
“We were also really excited about Shelly Picard who comes to the Deputy Commissioner role with that kind of player first mentality. She is a former member of my PA, a former captain of the riveters, a former Olympian. She is so ‘player forward’ that when we approach her with an idea, we’re often met with ‘Oh yeah, I was already thinking that.’ And so it’s so great to have these conversations.”
Packer hinted that season six will be very “insane” and exciting for a lot of reasons, some of which she can say and some of which she can not. Falkenbury urged her to talk more about the future.
“I’m excited to watch the growth. I think there’s going to be a lot of growth in the off-season. There’s a lot of conversations hosted today that will affect tomorrow. There’s a lot of conversations that happened before the season began that are going to make some major strides and changes as we move into season six. I’m excited for season six and having players who were juniors in high school when we kicked off. These were players who were committing to colleges at that time, but also knew that at the end of that four year stint at their NCAA college, they had the accessibility to play.”
She went on to talk about the excitement of infusing NCAA talent into rosters but also that the preseason would be longer next year. “I’m excited to see what happens in our preseason which should be a little longer, and a little extended to give our players more time to gel and mold as a signified group so we have less of a gap of what a team like the Riveters look like in game one versus where we’re at now in game 24. There’s a lot.”
She cited Jillian Dempsey as another woman named on Sportsnet’s list and said they had talked for hours after this year’s All Star Game just about things that can change and things that can be better, and how to advance the idea of what women’s hockey can be. “She is never content. She is a change maker.”
NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan was also on the list coming in at number three and Packer spoke about her as well. “In the face of what could have been the most challenging business decision she’s ever made, made a call that...made her the enemy, right? Made her the challenge, the frustration of women’s hockey but it right-sided the business and we’ve now grown the fifth year of this league.”
“We’ve seen salaries increase. We’ve seen a 50/50 revenue share. We’ve seen a business woman that is able to admit when things aren’t going well and to right-side the business. And as frustrating as that may have been as a player, in that environment when my salary got slashed, today I am grateful that we made that sacrifice to fix women’s hockey. I’m proud to be aligned with her, and I’m proud to be on that list with every single woman who is on that list because there is not one single person on that list that I could point to that I don’t genuinely believe is continuing to pioneer forward for women’s hockey in any facet, whether that’s working in the NHL, whether that’s Kendall Coyne-Schofield and her constant conversation starting, I think that every single woman on that list is-...I can’t even believe I’m on it.”
Jokingly, she took the union hat off as the zamboni left the ice and the second period started, and the two began their in-game analysis once more, just another part of the multi-faceted life a lot of these women are used to dealing with.