Top women's hockey players announce series of tournaments
Group launching what's being called 'The Dream Gap Tour'
The biggest names in Canadian women's hockey will play in a series of games organized by their union in an effort to push their game forward.
The "Dream Gap Tour" announced Wednesday by the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) opens in Toronto with a four-game tournament Sept. 20-22 at a community venue yet to be announced.
October dates in Hudson, N.H., and Chicago were also announced.
"The number one thing is in the title, the Dream Gap," said Canadian forward Brianne Jenner from Pickering, Ont. "Showing little girls, and boys as well, young hockey players and athletes that we're here.
"We really believe we have a great product. We want to engage in the communities and showcase what we can do."
Demise of CWHL
The PWHPA sprung up in the wake of the Canadian Women's Hockey League folding in May after 12 years.
The international association of roughly 200 players includes Canadians Marie-Philip Poulin, Natalie Spooner and Shannon Szabados, American stars Kendall Coyne Schofield and Hilary Knight and Finnish goaltender Noora Raty.
The players declared they would not play in any league — including the four-year-old, U.S.-based NWHL — until they can establish a league they deem financially viable and sustainable.
"A couple of months ago, when we had disappointing news of the CWHL shutting down, I think as players we were looking ahead to a season without competition," Jenner said.
"We have the opportunity to compete against the top talent in women's hockey and we've also got the opportunity to showcase for the next generation. That's really at the heart of our movement."
Creating a buzz
So the tour's goals are to both keep women's on the radar of the public and hockey's power brokers — the NHL, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey — as well as keeping the players' skills sharp.
"Creating a buzz, getting people out to watch the games, it's all about exposure and attention and showcasing what we have," said forward Rebecca Johnston of Sudbury, Ont.
"We just want fight for a league, a professional league that is a liveable wage for us and we don't have to have multiple jobs and try to play hockey and try to train as well."
CWHL players were paid between $2,000 and $10,000 in its final two seasons of operations.
When the NWHL arrived in 2015, it announced a salary cap of US$270,000 per team for an average of US$15,000 a player.
But the league slashed salaries by up to half the next year as a cost-cutting measure.
The NWHL announced this summer it would increase salaries and offered a 50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media rights deals.
Many of the game's stars have indicated their lack of faith in that league, however, with their refusal to play in it.
Closing the gap
PWHPA president Jayna Hefford says the name of Dream Gap Tour speaks to what's missing in the dreams of young girls who play hockey — the option of playing hockey for a living like men can.
"The idea of closing that gap really resonated incredibly with all of us when we first heard it," Hefford said.
"We all grew up with a different idea of what the dream of being a hockey player was and how do we change that so a young girl can dream to be the next Kendall Coyne and Marie-Philip Poulin and have a future in the game be able to be a professional hockey player? That's just not something we had."
The Hockey Hall of Famer and four-time Olympic gold medallist for Canada says additional tour dates will be announced later.
During the tour's first stop in Toronto, PWHPA players will also be deployed to play exhibition games against Boston College on Sept. 21 and against the Sharks alumni in San Jose on Sept. 22.
Adidas is among the tour's sponsors, according to The Associated Press, and tennis great Billie Jean King is also a supporter.
The players will not be paid on the tour and Hefford hopes it will break even. Television and streaming broadcasts of the games have yet to be worked out, she said.
"People ask, 'how can I help?' The simple answer is, you've got to show up," Hefford said. "If you believe in this movement and want to be a part of it, come to a game.
"When we skate out for the first time at the showcase in Toronto, I hope the stands are full because that's going to show these players who were so courageous to take a leap of faith like this . . . it's actually going to be a reassurance to them that the decision they've made to push this cause forward, which really in our minds is a societal cause, it's all worth it."