The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) will begin its second season this weekend with an even more competitive playing environment that showcases several members of Team USA.
All four NWHL squads already feature standout members of the U.S. National Women’s Team, and now the league is getting an influx of talent thanks to the addition of incoming high-end players graduating from the college ranks.
The NWHL is quickly becoming a place to showcase the USA Hockey program and its players.
“It works well that our national team players have a place to play at a high level,” said Matt Kelly, head scout for the U.S. National Women’s Team. “This supplements their time with Team USA and provides a good environment to train and continue to develop their skills. It’s also exciting because we have a wave of kids coming out of college that have been on some of our national teams and now they’re transitioning into the league as well.
“The NWHL should be even more competitive this year.”
The NWHL, which is comprised of teams in Buffalo, Boston, New York and Connecticut, enjoyed a successful inaugural season that saw Boston capture the league championship, defeating Buffalo in a best-of-three championship series.
U.S. National Team mainstay Brianna Decker was the first-ever NWHL Most Valuable Player, while standout Team USA teammate Hilary Knight was the scoring champion with 15 goals and 33 points.
"More than half of the players in the NWHL have represented Team USA at various levels of competition, and are a significant part of the continued success of the league," said Dani Rylan, Commissioner of the NWHL. "Our relationship with the national team players is a mutually beneficial situation and we appreciate their commitment to growing the game together."
Of the players that have recently competed for a national team, Boston features a league-high eight players, while four play in Buffalo, three in Connecticut and one in New York.
Additionally, eight recent national team players are playing for the Minnesota Whitecaps this season. The Whitecaps are an independent professional women’s ice hockey team that plays a slate of games against teams in the NWHL.
The league helps national team players advance their development as they prepare for annual events, world championships and the Olympics.
“I think it’s great because it gives them a weekly plan,” Kelly said. “They know this is their team and that everything is mapped out for the duration of the season.”
There are four recent college graduates among the players who are part of the women’s national team program that are playing in the NWHL. They are Alex Carpenter, Amanda Kessel, Haley Skarupa and Dana Trivigno. Nicole Hensley, Stephanie Anderson, Hannah Brandt and Kendall Coyne also concluded their college tenure and they will be on the Whitecaps’ roster this season.
“The graduating class from college last year was a really strong class and it should really heighten the competition,” Kelly said. “These teams are getting more talent and have a little more depth.”
The creation of the league also aids in the scouting and evaluation process which ultimately helps determine the players who are named to national teams and invited to various camps throughout the year.
“Getting ready and competing every weekend is important for player development because you can’t just flip the switch and be at your top level,” Kelly said. “Now that the league is in place and they are playing every weekend, it’s good to go out and evaluate how consistent players are throughout the year.
“Maybe in years past we would see the players less frequently but now there are opportunities every week. It’s good to see players in the national team pool grow and develop with the feedback we’ve given them from past tournaments, camps and evaluations.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.