The long-term expectation. The roar of the crowd. The sigh of relief as a lifelong dream is finally realized.
It’s the typical draft day story for any of the major professional sports in the United States. But that was not the case for Taylor Girard, a former Quinnipiac prominent striker who was selected as the first overall by the Connecticut Whale in the 2021 National Women’s Hockey League (now) Premier Hockey Federation) draft.
As Girard’s name was called, the native Macomb, Michigan, was not greeted with cheers from a packed arena, but rather a crowd of 12-year-olds at Premier Ice Prospects Camp in New York, where she was the coach at the time.
“After I was drafted, I came downstairs and it was a bit like a giant party,” Girard said. “It was something that was super special that I feel a lot of people in women’s sports don’t really get – those kind of ‘whoa’ moments.”
These “whoa” moments, though on a smaller scale than other sports, are becoming more common in women’s hockey, a sport that has shown significant growth in the 21st century.
“I’m incredibly optimistic about where we’re going,” said Quinnipiac’s head coach of women’s hockey, Cass Turner. “You look at the excitement around the Olympics … the product, how good women’s hockey is. I think it’s exciting, but we’re in a really crucial moment to get together and create products that people can see all year round.”
Both Girard and former Quinnipiac goalkeeper Abbie Ives are part of the generation of players who want to seize the moment to bring the sport to the forefront.
“The dream … and what I want for all the girls to come is to have this really good, solid league to strive for,” Ives said. “So hopefully it will come in the future.”
Ives and Girard are two of 15 Quinnipiac alumni who have played locally for Whale, the largest pipeline of this type in franchise history.
“I think it has helped in Connecticut because you see these young girls go and watch women play,” Turner said. “They look at it and they say, ‘wow,’ … ‘I can try to be Kelly Babstock one day, I can go and try to be Abbie Ives,’ and they look up to these women, and I think , That’s amazing. “
The women’s hockey team Quinnipiac has been a force in the development of professional talents in its 20 years of existence, mainly due to the way it approaches the game.
“We’re really working on collaborating with our athletes in a way so that they are invested in their development, but (also) in their happiness and their success in enjoying hockey every day,” Turner said.
Ives credits the Bobcats’ coaching staff for allowing her to grow both on and off the ice.
“I think it’s just the staff’s attention to detail and the training they put you through and the preparation they put you through,” Ives said. “It just teaches you how to be a successful, first hockey player, but just a successful worker. Cass is unreal. She’s so detailed and she works just so hard. It’s the same for coach B – Brijesh Patel – the strength coach. “
One of the biggest problems hampering the game’s growth is the divide between the two major professional women’s leagues. PHF and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association have disagreed since the latter league’s formation in the wake of the 2019 Canadian Women’s Hockey League fold.
Much of the enmity between the two leagues stems from the leadership of Dani Rylan Kearney, the founder and former commissioner of the NWHL before its rebrand. Rylan Kearney infamously monitored the league’s salary halving during its second season, which spurred a number of players to advance from the league.
“I think what everyone wants is just all the best players playing in a league, earning a salary and having the resources to be real professionals and the facilities to be real professionals,” Ives said.
While there are improvements on the financial front in PHF, with the salary cap set to more than double to $ 750,000 next season on top of a two-team expansion, many have called on the NHL to subsidize the league in the same way the NBA does with the WNBA. However, the NHL has made it clear that it will not do so until a single overall league exists.
While both leagues may see their own individual successes, there is consensus that in order to reach new heights, PHF and PWHPA need to put their differences aside and work to unite, something that Turner is optimistic will be a reality. 10 years after the line.
“I hope we sit here and say there is a professional league for it,” Turner said. “There is a place to play and really earn a viable salary and have women hockey players, these names are common names not only for young girls but for fans, for sports fans, for hockey fans everywhere.”
Talent-wise, the growth is there, as Turner noted, as she reflected back on her own playing days with Brown and later the Toronto Eros in the old NWHL. The league was later disbanded in 2007 and re-established in 2015.
“It’s just so much more skilled,” Turner said. “There’s more college teams, there’s more money in terms of budgets for programs, there’s more girls playing all over North America and all over the world … there used to be only a few talented players, and now you have a host of talented players. “
Women’s hockey is on the rise and Quinnipiac alumni are helping lead the attack. The players are incredibly talented and there is a clear appetite for the sport when spectator records were set in 2019. It is up to those involved in the day-to-day running to realize the seriousness of the moment they are in, and waive their complaints in favor of the game.