At first glance, the impact of hockey on the Central New York community is hard to overlook. With a mixture of professional, collegiate, and amateur teams, towns across the region feel the impact of the game of hockey.
Nowhere is this impact more prevalent than in the Ithaca and Tompkins County community. The fans come in droves to Lynah Rink to catch a glimpse of Cornell’s programs, while family and friends file into the rink at Cass Park to see the Ithaca Little Red teams.
One of the most influential teams in the area is the Cornell Big Red Women’s Hockey team, that found itself competing in the NCAA Frozen Four just two months ago. The program has always been a force on the local and national scene, and now, former players are hoping to make a big impact, off the ice, just as they did on it.
On March 31, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League announced that it would be ceasing operations at the beginning of the month, stranding hundreds of professional players without teams. The closure forced all the pressure onto the National Women’s Hockey League, the lone remaining women’s league in North America, to find a way to accommodate the players from the CWHL.
Things seemed to be going as planned for the NWHL, as the league announced expansion into Canada and was receiving more financial aid from the NHL. That all changed on May 2, when a group of over 200 professional players announced that they would not be playing in the NWHL or any other formed league, citing a lack of resources and the demand for equal opportunity.
Among the professional players, former Cornell standouts Brianne Jenner and Alyssa Gagliardi, along with other alumni currently active in professional hockey, took to social media to call for reform in the professional hockey system.
The show of unity from the alumni of one of the nation’s premier women’s hockey programs inspired some of the current Big Red players to tweet and comment their support.
While the effect is immediate on the collegiate players looking to make it into the professional ranks, a much more important, and local, impact is in play.
Eric Eisenhut, President of the Tompkins Girls Hockey Association, says that the professional issues draw attention to much broader situations. “This situation brings attention to women’s hockey and all of women’s sports,” he said. “It elevates the importance of girl’s playing in USA Hockey, as well.”
Eisenhut believes that what is done at the top level of the sport has a way of trickling down to the youth level. “A change like this can lead to a better support structure for girl’s hockey at the USA Hockey level,” he said. “That support structure helps girl’s hockey, which leads to collegiate hockey and then to the professional game.”
One thing that is left to question, because of the boycott at the professional ranks, is the lack of players at the NWHL level going to have an impact on girls playing locally for TGHA. The boycott, while shocking higher levels of the sport, does not have nearly the direct influence on the local game as the Big Red does.
“We have the benefit of having a top-tier women’s hockey program, in Cornell, in our backyard,” Eisenhut said. “Our girls have a great relationship with those players and watch the national teams compete because of that relationship.”
Because of the inspired and passionate hockey at Cornell, Eisenhut said he’s confident that the growth for TGHA will continue to follow the national, upward trend of girls playing hockey.
Although not speaking on the exact matters that accompany the professional boycott, Eisenhut did weigh in on his mindset of the need for some sort of well-exposed women’s professional league. “Women are alongside men in filling the stands at hockey games,” he said. “The passionate woman hockey fan can only exist if she has a place to play the game.
The NHL, one of the largest contributors to the NWHL has not released a statement on its position in the matter, but the NHL Players Association did, expressing its desire to stand with those boycotting professional hockey.
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