Over 200 female hockey players proclaimed in May they would not engage in playing this sport in any professional league within North America unless they were provided the resources necessary for playing hockey professionally.
Significant Olympians, such as Shannon Szabados and Hilary Knight, used the leverage they had thanks to their scores to support other players, who were less established.
The players in question joined the movement although they were aware that rejecting the National Women’s Hockey League could lead to them never being able to play hockey professionally again. One of the players who took the chance and put their career at risk was Katie McGovern from Scottsdale.
McGovern, who graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth, signed for the 2018–19 season with Minnesota Whitecaps. She played the second-line center position in sixteen games and managed to score six goals and eleven points. The season marked the first year in the NWHL for the Whitecaps. The team reached the final, where McGovern was given a chance to host the Isobel Cup.
McGovern described the game by saying she was rather nervous, as she really wanted to win. As said by her, winning the championship was an extraordinary experience, as it made everything fall into place.
However, the impression the championship left on her did not last. McGovern was by a pool, relaxing, at the moment when she received a call from Kendall Coyne-Schofield, her teammate.
A movement had already commenced establishing a stable league for the upcoming generation, as Coyne-Schofield told McGovern. She explained the plan was for the players to sit out the following season. Coyne-Schofield requested that McGovern join the movement.
Apparently, McGovern accepted the challenge.
Nevertheless, the plan to sit out was not concerted. Since the NWHL exclusively operated on one-year contracts throughout the season, every athlete with a contract had to make a decision. A vast number of McGovern’s teammates in Minnesota decided to participate in the team’s second year in the league.
The NWHL debuted in the 2015–16 season with four teams. Whitecaps joined in 2018, which marked the first time the NWHL expanded. They expected to grow further by including Montreal and Toronto. However, they canceled those plans.
Originally, the league has reacted to the movement by offering compromises, such as higher salaries. However, the issues of players related to the league are beyond wages, according to McGovern.
McGovern claimed she respected both sides, and that in her opinion, everyone shared the same goal — the expansion of women’s hockey. She said the movement represented their response to not being treated professionally.
Although in Whitecaps, McGovern was not supplied with skate laces, tape, or meals before games. The team often used to travel late, flying the night before a game. Since there was no team bus, they used to wait at airports for hours to be taken to a hotel.
As the Whitecaps had certain independent sponsorships, the team could afford its own trainer. Other teams in the league did not have that option.
When McGovern’s thumb got injured in the middle of the season, the Whitecaps provided adequate medical aid for her. However, if she was on another NWHL team, she would have had to pay for the service herself.
McGovern commented on the situation by stating the professionals ought to be treated differently. As claimed by her, money is not the only issue. She stated there were many things that affected them as players.
The limited salary was merely one of the factors. Self-funded players, such as McGovern, were forced to do other jobs alongside their regular ones, which included constant training and practices. She had a long commute from Duluth, so she had to travel for two hours for every practice. At the time, McGovern used to work at a local and a school rink in Duluth.
Money issues caused mistrust between the NWHL and the players, who have generally been distrustful ever since the 2016 season. During that season, the league cut their agreed salaries in half, aiming to reduce costs.
According to McGovern, some of the main people in the union do not even want to have anything to do with the NWHL. As claimed by her, the said people do not trust the league in terms of the way it operates, which is why she believes they have distanced themselves from it. She also thinks they are looking forward to the NHL taking over.
In her opinion, the purpose of the movement is not for the league to change, but to close.
The NWHL represents the sole professional league for women in North America. It has been this way since the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which used to include six teams, folded this spring. Closing the NWHL could clear the path for the NHL to establish a new stable league. The NHL has only made a contribution of $50,000, which represents this league’s standard CWHL investment, to the struggling NWHL. For the sake of comparison, that amount equals 1/13 of a base salary of an NHL player.
Gary Bettman, the NHL Commissioner, gave a statement to AP News in October, saying that the women’s league would have to have a fresh start if it was to be fully funded by the NHL.
In May, when the news regarding the plan to sit out the season became widely known, Bettman told AP that in the case of a void, which was not something anyone hoped for, they would look into their options and determine the best one. He stated that the goal was not for anyone to be out of business. As claimed by him, they wish luck to the NWHL on the condition that the league manages to meet the requirements.
In her interview with ABC News, Coyne-Schofield called the movement “a gap year.”
McGovern is not sure if the progress will happen soon. At the moment, NWHL is planning to keep operating for the 2019–20 season in all five cities.
McGovern stated that the movement was rather strong and decisive and prepared to wait for their requirements to be met.
Whereas they are not in any league at the time, the newly established Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association is offering the opportunity to practice to players from cities such as Buffalo and Boston. In case the situation does not get resolved in a timely manner, the top athletes could look into the option of transferring to European leagues. However, players such as McGovern may be forced to stop playing professional hockey indefinitely due to financial reasons.
McGovern said the decision not to play was rather difficult, especially because they had just won. She expressed her ambitions regarding professional hockey and made a remark about wishing that was available at the moment.
Instead, she is looking into her options and building a career. At the moment, she is coaching the Arizona Kachinas, a Coyotes’ youth team.
During her time in Scottsdale, McGovern was unaware of the fact that female hockey teams existed. In order to play competitively, she needed to move to Colorado. Nowadays, a vast number of girls are given the opportunity to play hockey in Phoenix, and those are just the ones in the Kachinas program.
This July, McGovern is planning to bring the Isobel Cup to Chandler, in order for them to take part in an open skate. Given her current situation, the whole endeavor will be rather challenging. However, she aims to be an example for those girls and make them see how a girl from Arizona can succeed on the rink.
According to McGovern, they will not achieve their goals by sitting out. However, she believes that their engagement in the upcoming generation will help those children have a true national women’s hockey league.