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The Effect of Pro Women’s Hockey Growth on College Programs

Professional women’s hockey is on the rise, whether it be as a result of the growth of the NWHL in the U.S., the CWHL’s expansion, or the growing opportunities for players in the various European leagues. This leads to the obvious question of what effect this growth has on college programs and the players within them. Four coaches offered their thoughts and offered different takes from their perspectives.

Katey Stone, Harvard University

Katey Stone, The Landry Family Head Coach for Harvard Women’s Ice Hockey, is the winningest coach in the history of Division I women’s hockey, and has been coaching at Harvard for 23 years. She also coached the U.S. Olympic Team in Sochi in 2014. The Crimson have sent many alums arrive to the professional game, including Julie Chu, Michelle Picard, Miye D’Oench, Jillian Dempsey, Emerance Maschmeyer, and Brianna Laing.

It may still be a bit early to see the real value of the NWHL & CWHL on the college game,” Stone said. “However, it is already clear how these post-college leagues have benefited international hockey, providing a place for players to train post-graduation. Hopefully a future benefit to the college game would be greater exposure to the game through partnerships with the NHL, for example the Devils and the Riveters. These partnerships will likely help grow the game at the grassroots level and bring more young aspiring women to the sport.“

Brian Durocher, Boston University

Brian Durocher has been the Head Coach at Boston University since the program went varsity 13 years ago. The Terriers have produced a large number of professional players including Marie-Phillip Poulin, Kaleigh Fratkin, Tara Watchorn (now BU’s Assistant Coach), Sarah Lefort, Rebecca Russo, Kayla Tutino, Shannon Doyle, Maddie Elia, Taylor Holze, Jenelle Kohanchuk, Anya Battaglino, Dakota Woodworth, and more. The program also produced 3 NWHL 2017 Draft Picks, Victoria Bach, Rebecca Leslie and Nina Rodgers.

I am not sure if it directly impacts the collegiate game but having a professional league gives women’s hockey extra coverage and shines a nice light on the talented kids that play the game,” Durocher said. “Having teams in big market areas like Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Buffalo, southern Connecticut and New Jersey provides good visibility for the game. Women hockey players, much like the men, love the game and often times have a vision of playing in one of the professional leagues. Being able to play after college is something that many of them enjoy and use to stay sharp for national team events. The continued growth and support of women’s hockey will be welcomed by everyone associated with the game.”

Cara Morey, Princeton University

Cara Morey just finished her first season as Head Coach at Princeton University. The Tigers have produced several professional players including Kelsey Koelzer, Denna Laing, and Gabie Figueroa. Current Princeton Assistant Kelly Nash also played for Metropolitan Riveters as well this season.

Morey began by noting college hockey used to be the end result for players but continued saying that “by the end of their career, they were kind of moving on from hockey into future careers. But now they kind of have a little bit more energy in those last years because they either can go to the NWHL, the CWHL or even over to Europe to play pro. I think it was huge having Kelsey Koelzer be the number one draft pick and having such success with the Riveters right now. Coach Kelly [Nash] even still plays with the Riveters. They get excited, they really love when Kelly has great games. They go up to watch her too. I think it just brings a lot of energy and a lot more passion for our sport.”

Rob Morgan, Vanke Rays (Formerly of Yale University)

Vanke Rays Head Coach Rob Morgan before his time in the CWHL served as Associate Head Coach at Yale. The Bulldogs as a program have sent several alums into the pro ranks including Bray Ketchum, Jaimie Leonoff, Taylor Marchin, and Stephanie Mock. Previous Yale Assistant Jessica Koizumi and current Assistant Amanda Boulier also suited up for the Connecticut Whale at various times in the NWHL’s history. Morgan has the unique perspective of recently coached in the college game but now being at the epicenter of the CWHL’s expansion into China and the opportunity that has brought. While speaking highly of his program he also touched on a few general issues clearly in play regarding the pro and college dynamic.

“Each centralization year there’s a ripple effect. The growth of the college game has seen an increased number of strong college graduates who may wish to extend their playing careers,” Morgan said. “With reasonable salaries for our Sport Ambassadors here in China we now offer professional opportunities for women to extend their careers who might not have been able to prior due to lack of opportunities/available spots.”

Calgary for example is a very good team right now,” Morgan continued. “When their Olympian’s return plus players acquired thru next year’s draft…there are going to be players left off the roster. Ultimately the playing career of most CWHL players appears to be on average 2-5 years (some programs much longer i.e. Montreal) thus where are all the college graduates in both USA and Canada going to play? It’s a great thing when we can provide more professional opportunities for women in sport – even if it takes them thousands of miles away from home – at the end of the day, all those involved are helping to grow this great game. “

It is interesting to see the various angles the growth of the pro leagues have created, but also it is clearly early in the process whether it be that the NWHL is only three years old, or the CWHL only started paying salaries this year, and naturally the Chinese teams are brand new as well. Numerous former college players also played in Europe prior to the opportunities in North America, and many still do, as those leagues grow in popularity as well.

As a note, several other coaches were asked their opinions, and if responses come in I will update or create a part two to this piece.

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