Canada falls to U.S. in women's hockey Rivalry Series opener
International rivals hope to spark public interest in potential new pro league
The United States' women's hockey beat team Canada 4-1 on Saturday night, with players hoping the first in a series of five games between the international rivals will help kindle the public's interest in both their sport and their fight off the ice for better professional opportunities.
More than 7,000 fans showed up for the international competition, which comes after more than 200 members of what has since become the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association announced in May they would not play professionally in North America during the 2019-2020 season.
"I think it's important for people to watch us play and see the level of talent and entertainment that's out there," Kessel said. "It's getting that understanding that we need to help get us a place to play year-round so that people can see us more than five times a year."
WATCH | U.S. tops Canada in Rivalry Series opener:
The women are seeking a professional league that provides a living wage, health insurance, infrastructure and support for training. The Canadian Women's Hockey League shut down in the spring after 12 years of operation, leaving only the five-team National Women's Hockey League, where most players make less than $10,000 a season.
Lack of consistent competition
"The product is there," Kessel said. "The people to watch it are there. We just need a structure set in place."
Sarah Nurse, a forward for Team Canada, whose cousin Kia Nurse plays for New York in the WNBA, said players are hoping to get support from the NHL, which has, so far, expressed little interest in investing in a women's league.
"We can look at [the WNBA] and see that women's sports have value and they have a place in this world," said Nurse, who made $2,000 last season playing in the CWHL. "That is definitely a model that we look to."
Without a viable pro league, players who are out of college have been training on their own at random rinks across North America in between gatherings of the national teams or training sessions and exhibitions sponsored by the players association.
Canada won two of those over the U.S. in Pittsburgh last month.
But the lack of consistent competition can stunt the players' development, especially when it comes to be being prepared for world and Olympic competitions, the players said.
Paving way for future generations
"It's very unfortunate," Nurse said. "Games are when we truly get better and test out our skills, so it's unfortunate that we don't have more games to play."
Cayla Barnes, who plays defence for the U.S. team and Boston College, said she and the other college players on the national teams understand what is going on and appreciate what the older players are doing.
"They are putting so much on the line for the younger generations," she said. "Not just for us college kids who are coming up, but for U-8, U-10 girls who are coming up so they have opportunities later on. So I think all of us who are younger are trying to support them in whatever way we can."
Hundreds of girls wearing their youth hockey jerseys attended the game, chanting "U-S-A" as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"I want to be like them, like in the Olympics when I get older," said 14-year-old Leila Espirito Santo, of Glastonbury "I started playing when I was in fourth grade and I wasn't the best, but watching them play made me want to be better. It showed me I could do it."
The teams will meet again on Tuesday in Moncton, N.B. Other games part of the 2019-20 Rivalry Series are slated for Feb. 3 and Feb. 5 in Vancouver and Feb. 8 in Anaheim, Calif.