(Photo: Melissa Burgess)
Slowly but surely, the NWHL is progressing toward its third season. The biggest recent news: a partnership between the league and Twitter.
The partnership, announced on June 20, will see 19 NWHL games broadcast live on Twitter in the 2017-2018 season. This will include 16 regular-season games, as well as the All-Star Game and two games of the Summit Series against Team Russia. At this point, it's not clear if the partnership will/could expand to include Isobel Cup playoff games.
According to the league's press release, Twitter will collaborate with the NWHL on "marketing and promotion of the league and broadcasts."
Currently, a number of other professional sports leagues have games broadcast live on Twitter, including the NHL and NFL. In May, the WNBA announced a partnership to broadcast 20 games on Twitter.
“Fans around the world will now be able to view live the fast-paced, exciting action on the ice on the same platform where the conversation about hockey is happening." - Anthony Noto, Twitter COO
When a game is being broadcast on Twitter, a notification appears at the top of the mobile app for logged-in users. People without Twitter who are interested in watching can also access the broadcast via link. This global reach is expected to grow the NWHL's audience and give the league a bigger platform.
The NWHL's live stream on Twitter will also include "advertising packages with TV-style ad spots." This could help open the door for more league sponsors. The league's YouTube broadcasts have been mostly ad-free until this point, and it's unclear if these ads will also be featured on the YouTube-broadcasted games.
The Twitter broadcast schedule is expected to feature one NWHL game per week and will be announced in September.
Commissioner Dani Rylan called the partnership a "big and important step forward for our league as we approach our third season."
It's just another piece of the puzzle as the NWHL prepares for the upcoming season. Here's what we know so far: The season is expected to begin in late October, with Summit Series games against Team Russia being held between October 11-23. Boston, Connecticut and New York will all face Team Russia. No preseason action for Buffalo has been announced yet.
The regular-season schedule may also include a number of neutral-site games, designed to further expand the league's reach and act as test markets for potential future expansions. The league has said that it will not consider expansion until at least the 2018-19 season.
Players will once again be paid, but salary information won't be released until just before the season's opening.
With Olympic team players out of the league this coming season for Pyeongchang centralization, and several other players either retiring from hockey or signing contracts overseas, NWHL teams have an interesting challenge on their hands to build competitive rosters.
As of June 22, New York has signed 11 players, while Boston has signed 10. Buffalo has eight players on next season's roster so far, while Connecticut has six.
The Pride already have eight forwards: newcomers Paige Savage and Brianna Laing; Janine Weber, Jillian Dempsey, Mary Parker, Jordan Smelker, Kathryn Tomaselli, and Micaela Levine.
Kaliya Johnson and Lexi Bender will be two pieces of the blueline for Boston, but they've yet to sign a goaltender. Who they end up signing for the goaltending spots could make a huge difference for the Pride. They'll also have a new head coach, with Thomas Poeck taking the reigns behind the bench.
Unlike Boston, New York has its goaltending on lock. Katie Fitzgerald, top NWHL netminder last season, returns to the Riveters along with her partner, Sarah Bryant.
Also returning to the Riveters: forwards Bray Ketchum, Miye D'Oench, Alexa Gruschow, Lauren Wash, Cheeky Herr and Rebecca Russo, along with defenders Kiira Dosdall and captain Ashley Johnston. They've also added free agent forward Lindsay Hwlya.
As of early June, the Beauts had signed just one player for next season: returning forward Corinne Buie. The team announced a whopping seven signings in one swoop, and at first glance, it appears they'll have at least a few returning players.
Amanda Leveille and Kelsey Neumann are set to be Buffalo's goaltending tandem, with Jordyn Burns, Sarah Casorso and Kayla Parsons part of the defense. Hayley Scamurra returns to Buffalo alongside Buie, and the Beauts also added newcomer forward Jordan Ott.
Now, the Connecticut Whale have the most work to do on their roster. They've signed draft pick goaltender Sydney Rossman but still need another netminder.
Defenders Shannon Doyle and Elena Orlando return to the Whale, along with Juana Baribeau. Anya Battaglino, listed as a forward/defender, is also headed back to Connecticut.
The NWHL will also see its administration change a little, with the addition of Hayley Moore as deputy commissioner. She'll also act as Director of Player Development. Per a league press release, Moore's duties will including being "the league's liaison to the four teams for hiring staff, scouting, player development, free agency, trades and the draft. Among her other responsibilities will be game and event scheduling, the development of grassroots women's hockey programs, and building on the league's relationships with national governing bodies and collegiate women's hockey programs."
The broadcast partnership with Twitter and signings of players are great signs for the league, which faced financial difficulties and had to cut salaries midseason in 2016-17. There are still questions ahead, including salary amounts, league sponsors, and the possibility of neutral-site games. The coming months will be interesting as the league continues to prepare for its third season; stay tuned to The Victory Press for more information!