Zoë Hayden

NWHL: Pittsburgh a Curious Choice for All-Star Game

The National Women's Hockey League announced last week that their second annual All-Star Game will be held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, which is the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins' practice facility. Opened in August 2015, the facility is located north of Pittsburgh in Cranberry Township, just off of Interstate 79.

This continues the NWHL's practice of bringing their game to the practice rinks of NHL franchises. The Riveters play at the New Jersey Devils' practice facility in Newark and the Boston Pride play at the Bruins' brand new practice facility in Allston.

Last year, the NWHL held its All-Star Game at the HARBORCENTER in Buffalo, New York, where the Beauts play. They held their Isobel Cup Playoffs at the Barnabas Health Hockey House before it officially became the Riveters' new home ice.

The difference, of course, is that there is no NWHL franchise in nearby Pittsburgh. In the NWHL's press release, they cited the overwhelming growth of ice hockey in the Pittsburgh metro area, particularly in youth and girls' hockey. Players from the Pittsburgh metro area have risen to prominence in recent years in the NHL, most notably players like Brandon Saad, J. T. Miller, and John Gibson.

The NWHL picked two ASG captains who have ties to the Pittsburgh area. Amanda Kessel's brother, Phil, just won the Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2016; and Kelley Steadman is the director of operations for women's ice hockey for Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. Kessel has been out with an injury, playing only one game this season and tallying 2 assists. While Steadman has only played three games, she has 3 goals and 4 assists over those three.

The intent of this choice is hard to pin down, but it definitely seems like the NWHL is priming its Pittsburgh connections for a possible expansion, but considering the recent financial news about the league, that could come years down the line, if at all.

This also opens the door between the NWHL and the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins managed to send a tweet about the game and post the news release on their website:

Penguins CEO David Morehouse was also quoted in the league's release:

Women's hockey is growing rapidly both in Pittsburgh and across the world, and this will give our fans the chance to see some of the most talented players in North America and create new role models for aspiring players in the Pittsburgh area.

Notably, Morehouse didn't imply that the only fans of women's hockey would be women and girls, and spoke of appealing to the existing Penguins fanbase with the talent of the NWHL.

Still, it creates a potential problem, or more of a cost-benefit analysis. Many existing NWHL fans who currently see games live will be unable to attend the Pittsburgh festivities, because they are far away from where the teams normally play. Some hardcore fans may travel, and there are likely many NWHL fans who are already local to the Pittsburgh area or with ties to it. But getting new fans in seats for an All-Star Game put on by a league that few in the region have seen live before may be a tall order. Inviting youth hockey teams in the area should fill the seats a bit and look good on the stream, but who knows how much that will drive more towards what the NWHL really needs right now -- which is cash.

The Victory Press will be covering the NWHL ASG live from Cranberry.

Tickets for fans will go on sale December 14th at 10:00 AM Eastern at nwhl.zone/tickets.

The All-Star weekend will be on February 11 and 12, 2017, which directly conflicts with the CWHL All-Star Game, as it will be held on the 11th at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

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