When Dani Rylan ended her college hockey career at Northeastern, she realized she couldn’t step away from the game. The 27-year-old needed another avenue through which to stay connected to the sport, and she was considering an effort to install an expansion arm in New York of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), which already has a Massachusetts team in the Boston Blades.
After reaching out to the hockey community, Rylan linked up with Angela Ruggiero, a member of the United States Women’s National Ice Hockey Team with four Olympic medals to her name (and yes, she was also a contestant on “The Apprentice”). Last August, however, the two began thinking bigger; namely, they wanted a league in which players are paid. “She was like, ‘What if you bring a whole league to the US,’” Rylan says of Ruggiero. “I got hooked on that idea, started running with it, and before I knew it I had other people on board and here we are.”
Right away Rylan found herself ushering in the dawn of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), which is slated for its premier face-off in October, has a player draft coming this summer, and is already developing teams across the northeast like the Connecticut Whales, the New York Riveters, and the Boston Pride. By May, outfits will be hosting training camps, while Rylan will be working fundraisers and luring corporate sponsors. Come showtime, the Pride will host 18 games in the first season, with nine home games to be played at the Allied Veterans Memorial Rink in Everett, where many of the top talents train between international play and their NCAA schedules.
“Right now it’s all about creating awareness,” says Rylan, who is formally the NWHL commissioner. “Each home game will be marketed as its own event to get more butts in seats.” She adds that the league will have “community partners helping with outreach,” and that she hopes to “bring in people from all over the region.” So far, the NWHL has verbal commitments from more than 40 players, deals established with four ice rinks, several advisors including Ruggiero, and four general managers who will sit on a board of governors.
Importantly, Rylan stresses that the NWHL isn’t a glorified rec league. The opportunities they’re hoping to provide are paid gigs for dedicated athletes: each team will have a salary cap set at $270,000; average salaries will be around $15,000 (more than $800 a game); contracts will be negotiated between players and team operators. For revenue, money is already coming in from gifts and sponsorships, while ticket sales will come closer to the season. On the personnel side, there are currently 72 total roster spots available league-wide, and managers and coaches will recruit top college players, both current and former, as well as women who compete at the international level.
“I think that we’re going to have to prove ourselves,” Rylan says. “The women’s game has evolved so much over the last decade. When you look at viewership numbers from last Olympics, 4.9 million people were watching the women’s gold medal game on NBC. [Not] because it was a women’s or a men’s game, they were watching because it was an amazing hockey game. It’s the right time for women to be recognized on the national [hockey] stage.”