Minnesota and the NWHL

Expansion or not, the NWHL’s presence in Minnesota is a big deal.

Last Friday, the NWHL reported that it would be making a major announcement on Tuesday in Minnesota.

Among those attending the media availability at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday will be NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan; NWHL deputy commissioner Hayley Moore; Winny Brodt-Brown and other representatives of the Minnesota Whitecaps; 2018 NWHL Goaltender of the Year Amanda Leveille; and Mark Dayton, the governor of Minnesota.

Yep, you read that right. The governor of the state and representatives from the Minnesota Whitecaps, the independent pro women’s team founded in 2004, will be there. If that wasn’t enough to get you thinking about expansion, there’s some more language from the league’s press release that has the hockey world buzzing.

“... to discuss a major announcement regarding professional women’s hockey in Minnesota.”

That sounds an awful lot like the Whitecaps are joining the NWHL, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

A bit of history

The Whitecaps and the NWHL first collaborated back on Oct. 4, 2015, when the New York Riveters hosted the Whitecaps at Chelsea Piers New York for an exhibition game. The Whitecaps won that contest 5-3 and headed back to Minnesota reflecting on a meeting with a paid pro women’s team.

A little over a year later, in January 2017, Seth Berkman of the New York Times wrote a story outlining the Whitecaps’ decision to remain independent in a new women’s hockey landscape centered around the CWHL and NWHL. It’s important to note that Berkman’s piece came out after the NWHL cut its players’ salaries in November 2016. That notorious setback clearly left an impression on the women who had crossed sticks with the NWHL 16 months earlier.

“The Whitecaps definitely have stayed neutral and are pretty much watching to see what happens,” Lamoureux-Morando said. “But if you look at the N.W.H.L., I mean any logical person would say that’s probably not the smart move to join in that league right now considering their financial situation.”

Of course, a lot has changed since then.

The NWHL’s growth in the past year — with members of the U.S. women’s national team out of the league because of the Olympics — surprised even the most optimistic fans. In the past eight months the rebranded Metropolitan Riveters forged a partnership with the New Jersey Devils, the Pegulas bought the Buffalo Beauts, and the NWHL brought its All-Star Game to Minnesota.

Winny Brodt-Brown, a founding member of the Minnesota Whitecaps who will be present at tomorrow’s announcement, coached Team Leveille. Whitecaps skaters Kate Schipper and Sadie Lundquist took to the ice during the NWHL’s All-Star Weekend, playing for Team Leveille and Team Ott respectively. By all accounts, the collaboration between the Whitecaps, Minnesota Wild, and the NWHL was a tremendous success.

The state of Minnesota

The NWHL dipping its toe into Minnesota’s hockey market back in February was a big deal; it’s called the “state of hockey” for a reason.

Minnesota and Massachusetts are the binary stars of the United States’ women’s hockey solar system. One needs look no further than the number of elite college programs in the two states for evidence of that claim.

In addition to being the home of the Whitecaps, Minnesota is also home to five NCAA D-I schools — including the University of Minnesota and its six national championships — and nine D-III schools. The Land of 10,000 Lakes has been the proving ground for dozens of women’s hockey stars from all over the planet.

Minnesota is also the birthplace of countless women’s hockey players, including seven players from Team USA’s gold medal roster in PyeongChang: Hannah Brandt, Maddie Rooney, Sidney Morin, Kelly Pannek, Dani Cameranesi, Lee Stecklein, and Gigi Marvin. The State of Hockey is also the birthplace of seven players who skated in the NWHL during the 2017-18 season, including Beauts captain Corinne Buie and Whale rookie goaltender Sydney Rossman.

Waiting on tomorrow

Back in September we heard that the NWHL had expansion plans that included two new teams as early as the 2018-19 season. Is that what this is? We won’t know until we know, but, just like you, we can’t help but guess and ponder over the possibilities.

Whatever happens tomorrow, we’ll have comprehensive coverage for you right here at The Ice Garden.