A star-studded group of women’s hockey players dazzled the Buffalo, New York, crowd last year during the first National Women’s Hockey League All-Star Game.
The festivities this year will be bigger and better, highlighted by fourteen active members of the U.S. Women’s National Team program.
The NWHL has expanded to a two-day format, this Saturday and Sunday, for this year’s event at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Pittsburgh.
“We’re excited to test a new market and bring this show on the road,” NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan said. “Pittsburgh and the Penguins and the whole city have been incredibly welcoming and we’re very excited to see what we can do there.”
There will be plenty of familiar faces competing in the all-star festivities for women’s hockey fans. Fourteen of the 28 women who will be competing in the All-Star Game are actively involved with the U.S. program and are among those in contention for an Olympic spot with Team USA.
“Just seeing what the players can do with the open ice and the passing and the development you’ll see with the plays, the whole thing is an exciting display of the game and how talented these women are,” Rylan said.
Team Kessel — captained by 2014 Sochi Olympian Amanda Kessel, whose brother, Phil, plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins — will feature five skaters that are two-time Olympians for Team USA: forwards Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight and Kelli Stack and defensemen Gigi Marvin and Kacey Bellamy. Duggan is tied for the most goals in the NWHL (10) and is tied for second in total points (16).
Team Steadman is led by Kelley Steadman, last year’s All-Star Game MVP. The only two-time Olympian on Team Steadman is goalie Brianne McLaughlin. Forwards Brianna Decker and Alex Carpenter played for Team USA in the Sochi Games. Carpenter is leading the NWHL with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) and Haley Skarupa is tied for first in goals (10) and second in total points (16). Decker is fourth in points (15).
Duggan, who is a member of the Boston Pride, loves playing with and against solid hockey players in the all-star atmosphere.
“You definitely recognize that you’re playing with great players,” Duggan said. “Every player that’s there is a top player in the country, in the world arguably, so you get to see them, try some unique things, try some new skills and have fun with it.”
In the first all-star weekend, a skills competition took place prior to the actual game on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. Because of the overwhelming response in Pittsburgh, Rylan said, the event was expanded to two days.
The skills competition includes: hardest shot and fastest skater, as well as a fastest goalie challenge, shooting accuracy, breakaway challenge and rapid-fire shootout challenge. Last year, one of the most exciting events was the hardest shot, which was won by Megan Bozek with 88 miles per hour.
The game will feature a four-on-four format once again, something the players really enjoy.
“There’s just so much more space, obviously more opportunities to score goals and I think that’s what people like,” Duggan said. “It was certainly exciting to watch the NHL All-Star Game this year and the whole new format that they have with the three-on-three. The way [they] did it, there were so many goals and so many fantastic plays it gets the crowd excited and that’s what people want to see.”
Rylan is hoping the all-star weekend will help women’s hockey and the professional game to continue to grow across the country.
“Whenever we can be on a bigger stage and draw more attention to one event, it’s great for the game,” Rylan said. “It’s great to introduce the game to new girls and introduce to them new role models for them including national team players, and think that, ‘Wow, one day I want to grow up and be just like her.”
Said Duggan: “It should be a fun weekend. I’m looking forward to it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.