Why I’m a women’s hockey fan: Start of something new

NWHL glass seats: $20. Watching Olympic-level hockey every weekend? Priceless.

Welcome to the refreshed The Ice Garden site! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card [contest rules]. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!

For some of our women’s hockey fans, there are not one, but two stories of hockey fandom: how they became a hockey fan, and how they became a women’s hockey fan. Photographer Al Saniuk is one of them. This is Part II of his hockey fandom, you can read about how he became a hockey fan here.

I was a big hockey fan. Like, huge. I have a bit of a man-crush on David Krejci of the Boston Bruins. I bought an autographed picture of him, then went to meet him and have him sign a jersey & puck at a charity event. I even had a Czech artist create a piece of David Krejci art for my apartment. Yeah. Love that guy. And by extension, I love hockey.

The Olympics are quite possibly my favorite sporting event ever. I watch everything from skeleton to ice dancing, biathlon, ski-jump, you name it I'll watch it. But of course I love the hockey the most.

The 2014 Winter Olympics were a pretty big dud for Team USA Men's Hockey. Aside from the epic performance of T.J. Oshie against Russia in the shootout, they were not very entertaining to watch, and did not make it to the medal rounds. I did however notice that Team USA Women's Hockey was plowing through the competition and had made it into the Gold Medal game with Canada. That seemed about right. After the 2010 Olympics ending in a game of USA v Canada for the men, I felt better that at least one USA Hockey Team had made it to the gold medal game this year.

Unfortunately I was at work during the final Olympic Women's Hockey game between Canada and USA. But I distinctly remember checking the score and refreshing my phone's browser every minute or two to get updates. Sadly, Team USA gave up a couple of goals in the final few minutes to lose to Canada, and had to settle for a silver medal.

Following the game, I did manage to pick up on a few of the names from the women's hockey roster, Hilary Knight being the most prominent.

The next summer I saw an article somewhere online about Hilary Knight joining something called the NWHL. I'd never heard of it before and looked into it briefly. Seemed like an interesting and intriguing idea, starting a new league and all. This was somewhere around May or June, so I filed the mention of the NWHL and Hilary Knight in the back of my mind and barely gave it another thought.

Then a few months later I heard an interview on Bloomberg Radio with Dani Rylan, the commissioner of the NWHL, about the league and its business potential. Odd, I thought, that I would be reminded of the NWHL from a Bloomberg Radio interview. But again it was thrown on my radar, sometime around August.

I read about the NWHL yet again in an edition of The Hockey News right before the season. I quickly made a few calls and found a buddy who agreed to go to the first ever Boston Pride home game. What I saw there changed my mind about professional women's sports.

For $20 I got to sit on the glass on a game featuring several Team USA Olympic hockey players. $20!!!! That won't even get you a hotdog and a beer at the Boston Garden, let alone on the glass!

In one of the first plays of the game I saw Hilary Knight bust down the wing with the puck, coming towards where I was seated. She had a defenseman closing in on her from the side, and one who was backpedaling trying to angle her off. In one quick motion she flicked the puck into the air, between the two defenders closing in on her, and batted it out of the air back to the ice right on her stick. She was bumped off the puck because two people were running into her at the same time, but seriously, like damnnnnnnnn! What a move! This was Olympic-level hockey. Up close and personal. For $20.

I was so impressed by what I saw that first game that I immediately went home and bought season tickets, which cost me less than one Bruins game at the Boston Garden (depending on where you sit). I've since brought my sister (who also now has season tickets), my aunt and uncle, a co-worker, a few dates, and several other friends.

I've also made a bunch of friends from the awesome people who come to support the Boston Pride and the NWHL. One of which is a friend from Virginia who has season tickets to the Boston Pride, and she makes the drive up from Virginia for every single game!

The players and the fans themselves are rabidly passionate about the NWHL and women's hockey. It's a little subculture that I cannot believe I had the good fortune of stumbling upon. I hope for nothing but the continuation of the NWHL, and the growth of women's hockey throughout the US and the world.

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