Last week, Meghan Fardelmann played hockey in Japan. This past Sunday, she scored a hat trick in front of a capacity crowd in Buffalo. On Thursday, she'll take the ice at Gillette Stadium for the first ever women's exhibition game at the Winter Classic, between Les Canadiennes of the CWHL and the NWHL's Boston Pride. Welcome to the world of a professional hockey player.
Fardelmann is one of several NWHLers (including Riveters teammate Bray Ketchum) who will fill gaps on the Pride roster left by players committed to attend USA Hockey camp in Minnesota. For her, however, it's not about the name on the front of the jersey; it's about getting to wear a jersey at all. "Since the NHL has put the word out there, I hope it will reach a broader fan base," she told me via email. "The fact that young girls now have two leagues of women's professional hockey players to follow is unprecedented."
"History Begins" is the official NWHL slogan, but the unofficial mantra for both leagues has always been "Grow the Game." Fardelmann hopes that the Winter Classic will expedite that goal: "It could really springboard hockey participation." Details of the game's availability for viewing/streaming are still being finalized, but judging from the response to the announcement, as well as viewership for the gold medal match in Sochi, an audience for elite women's hockey is definitely out there.
Asked about the challenge of stepping on the ice for a new team against a talented, cohesive machine like Les Canadiennes, who, unlike the Pride, will not be missing their Olympians, Fardelmann was realistic. "I'll be listening to the Pride's coach and adapt accordingly. We will have to try harder to control the puck. The settings on an outdoor rink are different, and can throw any team off." When it comes to playing outdoors, however, Fardelmann is, first and foremost, a hockey player. "I jumped at the chance to play in the outdoor game, because it's such an awesome opportunity." (She is also, unfortunately, a Patriots fan, who described herself as thrilled at the prospect of "skating on Tom Brady's turf." Shudder.)
The odds may be against the Pride this time, but Fardelmann is ready for action. "I think the key will be who can maintain composure in all the excitement," she conjectured. One thing is for sure: it won't be the fans.