The last tour on the PWHPA showcase was Philadelphia, a hockey-crazy market but one without women’s hockey.
1. This is more than just USA vs. Canada
If many of the names from the showcase sound familiar, it’s because many of them are national team members with the U.S. or with Canada. The hockey world is small. Many of these players played against each other in college, too.
But the PWHPA showcases has given players a chance to team up with the people they used to only see on opposite ends of the ice.
For Canadian National Team member Rebecca Johnston, it’s the opportunity to know the U.S. Women’s National Team.
“We’re always pitted against each other in the US – Canada rivalry,” USWNT member Hilary Knight said. “Building something equally as strong at the pro level where you have talented players, you know you look at the Flyers. They don’t have all Canadians or Americans or Europeans. I think that’s something we’re striving towards.”
Knight, who moved to Canada last year to play for the now-defunct CWHL’s Montreal Canadiennes, has already started learning about her counterparts.
“You get to know people on a different level and have a greater appreciation for the person off the ice than when you’re dueling on the ice,” Knight said
2. Kelsey Koelzer comes home
It’s rare for players to stay close to home for their whole careers. It’s even rarer in the Mid-Atlantic, where girl’s hockey isn’t as robust as elsewhere. But Philadelphia’s Kelsey Koelzer managed to do just that, never living an hour away from her home. Even when she had to play games in North Jersey. Even when she went to college, opting to play Division I at Princeton University.
This was the closest Koelzer had ever played to her home. And she brought her own cheering section filled with around 15 of her aunts, uncles, cousins and even her boyfriend and his family.
“To see just the amazing growth in this area and to be able to contribute back, you can’t put a price on that,” Koelzer said.
3. This was more than just a showcase
And I don’t mean in the “they’re fighting for the game” sense. I mean in the way they played. Both games were competitive, characterized by extreme back-and-forth play and intense physicality. (Yes, there were hits.)
“We don’t get to play that many games in the season so when we do, we want to put on a great show especially being here, seeing those little girls in the stands and seeing all the fans that we have, we want to showcase the talent we have, so we’re going to bring it,” Natalie Spooner said.
It was interesting that the first game of the first day was primarily Canadian and the second game of the second day featured primarily Americans. The second game was much more physical than the first.
4. The overall product
There were some minor issues. Well, a few minor and one major. The showcase was marketed as being in Philadelphia (so I actually thought it would be at the Wells Fargo Center) until I read the fine print and realized they just combined Philadelphia and South New Jersey and it was actually in. Voorhees, NJ at the Flyers Skate Zone.
The Flyers skate zone is nice, but it lacked capacity. Tickets sold out quickly and people were relegated to standing room only. While it’s better to have a sold-out barn than a bigger, half-full one, it would’ve been great to have an arena — like if they played in the Wells Fargo Center and only kept the lower bowl open. (I’ve seen college hockey games there that draw fewer crowds.)
The game could’ve been slightly hard to follow for some, as some players wore duplicate numbers. The PA announcer incorrectly announced several goals. In general, The PA announcer could’ve done a better job, often hesitation and stumbling over names.
But, I think most people were there for the hockey and the talent and speed of play more than made up for the minor, if cringeworthy, problems. And the most important thing is we now know there’s a market for women’s — and girls — hockey in Philadelphia.
The power also did go out in the building briefly, but that’s isn’t the fault of the PWHPA.
“They were kind of flickering during the game, so I was wondering if they were going to go out,” Sarah Nurse said.
5. So was this a positive step in exposure?
Despite all of the flaws, it was. A big reason for that was streaming. Even though there were technical difficulties over the weekend, the stream will (hopefully) be running smoothly on the rest of the barnstorming tour — which is huge if you want to attract new viewers.
“The biggest frustration for us as player sis we have a great platform but we don’t have great platforms to show and showcase the product,” Knight said.
And, as Sarah Nurse pointed out, marketing needs to be a huge focus for the success of a new league.
“When we played in the CWHL, people didn’t even know we were there,” Nurse said. “They didn’t know we had a league until the league folded. We were kind of buried. We really need that marketing, we need that exposure, we need people to see us. Wo when our games are on TV, that’s huge for us.”