In a league that needs to grow and develop, the exclusion of the Minnesota Whitecaps, the most successful women’s club team in modern United States hockey history, augments much discussion. The use of reasons such as budgetary restraints (including travel costs) or scheduling conflicts are not substantial enough.
Competition creates a better product, and Minnesota would help to improve the overall quality and marketability of the CWHL. The Whitecaps feature Winter Games gold medallist Jenny Potter and Minnesota high school legend Winny Brodt. The state has so much talent, that it could easily stock a second team.
Decades ago, there were rival leagues in professional basketball, football and hockey, and not all teams were absorbed into more lucrative, high profile leagues. Many of these exclusions were deemed as personal or part of a hidden agenda.
If there is any possible resentment attributed to the Whitecaps 2010 Clarkson Cup victory, such animosity needs to be left in the past. The CWHL, as a player run league, should have an open vote among the players to decide if the club should be allowed membership. For a league that hopes to one day be a self-sufficient, profitable business, the most important element is what is good for business. With the CWHL hoping for the NHL as a sponsor, the Minnesota Wild have been a key factor in women’s hockey in Minnesota, and would probably be a champion in helping the Whitecaps grow with the league.
The CWHL Draft would be much more viable for American born players with the inclusion of Minnesota. As the draft employs a clause in which players can select which region they will be drafted into, Minnesota would help the league give players the opportunity to play in their home state after their NCAA careers come to a close. In the history of the CWHL Draft, the Boston Blades have drafted many players from the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin (notably Erika Lawler and Jessie Vetter).
With all the personal sacrifice involved in the life of a CWHL player, to have to play halfway across the country (the way Wisconsin residents Erika Lawler [playing for Boston], and Molly Engstrom [playing for the Brampton Thunder]), it is a sacrifice that the league cannot afford to address. Many top level players from the United States come from Minnesota and Wisconsin, and without the Whitecaps, it is inevitable that many worthwhile players will give up their careers.
The added benefit for Minnesota is the opportunity it presents itself for rivalries. Manitoba is quickly becoming a prominent area in Canada for developing elite hockey talent (including NCAA talent Christine Bestland, Bailey and Shelby Bram, Meghan Dufault, Kayleigh Chipman), these players will eventually find their way towards the Maple Leafs. The trend has already begun with Ste. Anne native Jocelyne Larocque joining the squad after her NCAA career.
Geographically, Minnesota and Manitoba have the potential to develop a superlative rivalry. One of the key cornerstones in any sports league are its rivalries (Montreal vs. Toronto, New York vs. Boston, Chicago vs. Green Bay). Quite possibly, a strong rivalry between the two would stimulate interest in Wisconsin (another US hockey hotbed) to form a franchise.
The invovelment of Minnesota brings adage to the credo, Strength in Numbers. In addition, the management of Minnesota might help bring a fresh perspective to the league’s woes. If the CWHL claims it is where the elite play, it is time to bring substance to those words, and open the door to the elite of Minnesota.