The current state of professional women’s hockey, explained

January 19, 2021
By Alex Azzi

Later this week, the only professional women’s hockey league in North America – the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) – will begin its sixth season. All games will be played in a bubble environment at the 1980 Rink-Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York, the site of the iconic 1980 “Miracle on Ice” game.

But it seems unlikely that any player who competes in Lake Placid this month will travel to next year’s Beijing Olympics as a member of either the American or Canadian Olympic team.

Of the 23 players named to the U.S. roster for the 2020 World Championships (the event was ultimately called off due to COVID-19), zero are currently playing in the NWHL. Instead, 16 are members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), five are still in college, and the remaining two are playing abroad in the Zhenskaya Hockey League. Canada’s current roster tells a similar story.

So how did we get to the point where the only professional women’s hockey league in North America doesn’t include any American or Canadian Olympic hopefuls? Here’s a brief history of the saga:
Recent women’s hockey timeline:

    - Following the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics – where the U.S. women’s hockey team defeated Canada to win its first gold medal in 20 years – most American and Canadian players returned to either the NWHL (founded in 2015) or the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (founded in 2007).
    -In March 2019, the CWHL announced that it would be ceasing operations on May 1, 2019.
    -On May 2, 2019, over 200 female hockey players – including every post-grad member of the U.S. team that won Olympic gold in 2018 – announced via twitter that they would not play in any North American professional league during the 2019-20 season, essentially boycotting the NWHL. The statement pointed to low wages and lack of insurance coverage as the motivating factor: “We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game. Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level.”   
   - On May 17, 2019, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) filed its articles of incorporation. In an announcement, the PWHPA said its goal was to “provide financial and infrastructure resources to players; protect and support their rights and talents; provide health insurance; and work with companies, business leaders, and sports professionals worldwide who already have voiced support for women’s hockey.”
  - Beginning in September 2019 and continuing until March 2020, PWHPA players competed in a series of exhibition tournaments called the “Dream Gap Tour.”
  - On October 5, 2019, the NWHL began its fifth season. Each of the league’s five teams played 24 games (up from 16 the previous season). The championship game between Boston and Minnesota, originally scheduled for March 13, 2020, was ultimately cancelled due to COVID-19....

Learn More: The Current State of Women's Professional Hockey Explained