Tuesday, 5 January 2016

NWHL's Dani Rylan the most influential woman in hockey for 2015

In a calendar year that saw Fran Rider and Angela Ruggiero earn Hall of Fame nods, Janine Weber becoming the first European to score a Clarkson Cup clinching goal, and Brianna Decker gaining recognition from The Hockey News as the world’s finest women’s hockey player, all have made significant contributions to the sporting landscape. In the glorious aftermath of such an eventful year, Dani Rylan has staked her claim as the most influential woman in hockey.

As the founder and commissioner of the NWHL, Rylan revolutionized the game, adding a major league feeling and an enhanced sense of importance. From the outset, Rylan brought about the game’s biggest change, and its most long overdue, the compensation of players. With a minimum salary of $15,000 US, it was an unprecedented first in women’s hockey.
While other leagues had tinkered with the concept of expansion into the United States, Rylan was proactive, bringing four US-based teams into the fold. All based in the Eastern United States (Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New York), the quality of the players that made the migration to the league is nothing short of world class. Just as impactful is the fact that Rylan can lay claim to introducing professional women’s hockey to New York State.

Taking into account that Buffalo had the highest TV ratings for the women’s gold medal game at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, and was also the host city for the 2015 IIHF U18 Women’s Worlds and the 2015 IPC Men’s Sledge Hockey Worlds, it was a market ready for pro women’s hockey. The introduction of the Buffalo Beauts proved to be a rousing success, with the likes of Meghan Duggan, Brianne McLaughlin and Kelley Steadman quickly emerging as fan favorites.
Only adding to such momentum was the introduction of the New York Riveters. Based in Brooklyn, the Riveters are the first pro women’s hockey club in Metropolitan New York, adding a major sense of relevance to the incipient league. As a side note, Weber would sign with the Riveters, becoming the first player to sign a contract in league history.

With the club featuring players from Austria, Canada, Japan and Russia, the Riveters are truly a global team, reflecting New York’s cosmopolitan image. Adding to such momentum is the fact that the Riveters jersey was considered by The Hockey News to be among the 50 Greatest Jerseys of all time.
Poised to become the NWHL’s signature franchise, the Riveters also took part in a pair of highly meaningful exhibition games. Travelling to Japan, the homeland of Riveters backstop Nana Fujimoto, the club challenged the Japanese national women’s team. Adding to the emotion of such an event, one which featured an international flair, Fujimoto was between the pipes for Team Japan.

Prior to the league’s inaugural game, the Riveters (and the Connecticut Whale) participated in contests against the Minnesota Whitecaps. Having captured the Clarkson Cup in 2010 (the first American team to do so), the Whitecaps are the longest running women’s ice hockey team in the United States.
The opportunity to invite the Whitecaps to the East Coast was a kind gesture on the part of Rylan, a remarkable show of respect and acknowledgement of the Whitecaps’ impact in American women’s hockey. Before the year would expire, the Whitecaps would host the NWHL’s Boston Pride, representing the first pro women’s hockey games in the state of hockey.

Proving that competition creates a better product, there is no question that the impact of the NWHL was the key factor in bringing about the first-ever Women’s Winter Classic. Contested at Gillette Stadium, home of the NFL’s New England Patriots, the Boston Pride skated against a team from Montreal.
Rylan’s relentless efforts and hard work have shifted the balance of power in hockey. One of the most highly visible female executives in sport, she has been featured on SI.now with Maggie Gray, along with the CBC National News, proudly encouraging the growth of the game. With such enthusiasm, it comes as no surprise that the sports networks ESPN3 and NESN have broadcast NWHL games. Considering that Dunkin Donuts is now on board as the league’s first corporate sponsor, it may prove to be a harbinger of even better opportunities ahead.

The reality is that Rylan’s visibility (and dedication) has been an essential component in helping make professional women’s hockey viable in America. Although there are many more goals ahead, there is no question that she has the charisma and the strong leadership to make it happen.

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