Win­ter Clas­sic gives boost to women’s game

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - NHLREPORT - By Donna Spencer

WOMEN’S hockey has reached an­other mile­stone with its in­clu­sion in the NHL’s an­nual out­door game, al­beit in a lim­ited for­mat.

Les Cana­di­ennes de Mon­treal of the Cana­dian Women’s Hockey League and the Bos­ton Pride of the new Na­tional Women’s Hockey League will square off in two 15-minute pe­ri­ods to­day at Gil­lette Sta­dium in Foxbor­ough, Mass. The NHL re­cently added the ex­hi­bi­tion game to the sched­ule of events sur­round­ing Fri­day’s Bridge­stone Win­ter Clas­sic be­tween the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens and Bos­ton Bru­ins.

The short­ened women’s game will be sand­wiched be­tween a Cana­di­ens prac­tice and a Habs-Bru­ins alumni game on the sta­dium ice this af­ter­noon. No tele­vi­sion cov­er­age or live on­line stream­ing is planned for the women.

“Of course we want to be on live TV and go every­where and be seen by ev­ery­one, but we can’t ask for too much right away,” Cana­di­ennes goal­tender Char­line Labonte told The Cana­dian Press.

“It’s one of their big­gest games of the year and to be in­cluded in that pack­age is al­ready a good first step for the women’s game.”

Those who have tick­ets to the alumni game can use them to at­tend the women’s event. With just three days to pro­mote the women’s out­door game, the CWHL’s com­mis­sioner hopes the word gets out and peo­ple ar­rive early to see it.

“You don’t want it to fail and when I say fail I mean, th­ese won­der­ful women are go­ing to skate out on the ice, and will the fans be there to see them?” Brenda An­dress said. “I just want the fans to come and see them and ap­pre­ci­ate them.”

The seven-year-old CWHL in­cludes the Cana­di­ennes, Bramp­ton Thun­der, Toronto Furies, Calgary In­ferno and Bos­ton Blades. The U.S.based NWHL be­gan oper­a­tions this sea­son with the Pride, Buf­falo Beauts, Con­necti­cut Whale and New York Rivet­ers.

Ac­cess to the NHL’s pow­er­ful mar­ket­ing and so­cial me­dia ma­chine at a mar­quee event is most im­por­tant spinoff for women’s hockey, ac­cord­ing to NWHL com­mis­sioner Dani Ry­lan.

“Our im­print will be big­ger than just the num­ber of butts in seats at Gil­lette Sta­dium,” she said. “Even (Mon­day) on the NHL app, an alert went across ev­ery­one’s phone in­clud­ing my own. That right there is a ton of ex­po­sure.

“Re­gard­less of the amount of ice time that we’re given, this is still a huge op­por­tu­nity and one that has al­ready put the NWHL on some­one’s map where it might not have been be­fore.”

The NWHL has promised to pay its play­ers and com­mit­ted to a salary cap of US$270,000 per team, while the CWHL is not yet in a po­si­tion to pay player salaries. The NHL’s se­nior vice-pres­i­dent of in­te­grated mar­ket­ing and busi­ness af­fairs in­sists it wasn’t wran­gling be­tween the ri­val leagues that made for Mon­day’s late an­nounce­ment of the game, but work­ing through a myr­iad of lo­gis­tics and find­ing a time slot that fit in the sched­ule.

“Both leagues have been ter­rific and worked well with each other and the NHL,” Susan Co­hig said. “We’ve been work­ing on this for al­most a month now.

“The pri­or­ity for all the par­ties is could we pull off a game that would really be great for the play­ers? Those are the lo­gis­tics we’ve had to work through with re­spect to tim­ing, how long the pe­ri­ods could be and can we get the of­fi­cials? Be­cause space is so lim­ited a Gil­lette Sta­dium, where would they ac­tu­ally have locker-room fa­cil­i­ties?”

The CWHL and NWHL both have teams in the Bos­ton area, so the NHL could have in­vited those clubs. But the league wanted a Mon­treal-Bos­ton women’s game to par­al­lel the Win­ter Clas­sic.

Cana­dian na­tional team play­ers and Olympians Labonte, Marie-Philip Poulin, Caro­line Ouel­lette and Lau­ri­ane Rougeau as well as U.S. Olympian Julie Chu all play for Les Cana­di­ennes.

The Pride will be with­out U.S. Olympians Hilary Knight, Kacey Bel­lamy, Gigi Marvin and Bri­anna Decker as they are at­tend­ing a USA Hockey women’s camp this week.

Labonte, 33, has played hockey out­side a lot in her life, but this will be her first out­door game.

CAR­LOS GONZ ALEZ / MINNE APOLIS STAR TRI­BUNE / MCT FILES

Vet­eran goalie Char­line Labonte will play her first

out­door game to­day at Gil­lette Sta­dium.

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