On March 15, the Rangers hosted the Anaheim Ducks in what they were calling Women’s Empowerment Night. The national anthem was sung by a female police officer, New York Governor Kathy Hochul dropped the ceremonial first puck to a cascade of booing from the stands, Amanda Kessel flashed her recently won Olympic silver medal, and players wore warmup jerseys designed by a local female artist, Soraya “Indie184” Marquez.
While that was certainly a nice gesture and highlighting a local artist is more meaningful than what has been done in the past, the idea that Women’s Empowerment Night or Military Appreciation Night, or Pride Night is often reduced down to some colorful warmup jerseys and a puck drop by someone notable who fits the bill and maybe, if we’re lucky, some charity money goes one way or another just doesn’t sit right with me.
The last few years have been a time of reflection for millions of people around the world. The hockey world is not immune to these discussions. and the hockey world is not immune to everything happening in the world. When it comes to gender equality and the fight for women in sports and in the hockey world, not much has changed. There’s still no pathway to sustainable full-time hockey careers for women outside of a few dozen who are on national team stipends or have found a way to be compensated as true pros overseas. The percentage of women in NHL front offices is still abysmally below the 10% mark. As of 2019, the Rangers ranked 29th in employing women in hockey operations roles. Not good.
One light in the dark tunnel? The Rangers have done a good job of providing opportunities for girls to play hockey. They hired Amanda Kessel as the girls' hockey ambassador to help grow the sport, and the Junior Rangers have always done a great job at including girls in their initiatives. However, that in itself reinforces the idea that young girls can be in hockey and be inspired to play but when it comes time to invest in the women, the inspiration, who those young girls grow into...the NHL and a lot of their teams are silent.
Instead of celebrating Amanda Kessel and the likes as someone who had to overcome so much adversity and inequality to play and that’s why it's extraordinary for her to have Olympic gold medals or an Isobel Cup ring...why don’t we just try and make it so none of that adversity exists? That would be too easy, right?
So where do we go from here? What can the Rangers do?
And I know some of you are asking, why should they have to? Truthfully, they shouldn’t. But if you aren’t a believer that gender equality in sports should be at the forefront of our minds and efforts along with equal rights and resources for all, respectfully, you’re wrong. Some financial investment and partnership for the women’s game is a drop in the bucket for one of the richest teams with one of the most expensive stadiums in the history of the league. I promise it wouldn’t mean the team couldn’t sign a Shesterkin extension and your beer wouldn’t suddenly be $30. Those things will happen for entirely different reasons, probably.
This afternoon, @AmandaKessel28 and @abby_roque - the first indigenous woman to suit up for Team USA at the Winter Olympics - hosted a clinic @TheGarden in honor of Women’s Empowerment Night. pic.twitter.com/hfopDHi3L7— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) March 15, 2022
The Rangers are also in a unique position to be one train ride away from two professional women’s teams in the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF). The Metropolitan Riveters, who were previously partnered with the Devils and still currently play at their practice facility in Newark so for the sake of the rivalry, I suppose I understand not working with them as much.
However, a current favorite to win this year’s Isobel Cup Championship for the first time currently resides in Danbury, Connecticut. The Connecticut Whale play just an hour away from the Hartford Wolf Pack, who for a time shared the same team name to honor the Whalers. Their head coach is also former Ranger, Colton Orr.
The Rangers have dabbled in their support for the Whale by purchasing cardboard cutouts of the players to support both the Whale and Riveters in their 2020 Lake Placid COVID bubble, as well as having players like current Whale forward, Cailey Hutchison, a New York native who grew up a Rangers fan, host girls hockey clinics and events. But that’s a far cry from meaningful investment in the current women’s game.
The NHL has been hesitant to fully invest in any women’s league since the folding of the CWHL and subsequent creation of the PWHPA that they believe could directly rival the PHF. Factually, that isn’t true. There’s more than enough room for both entities to exist with support from the NHL and its teams. Regardless of that, the men’s league pushed a meeting between the two under the guise that if there can be one joined league, it would receive the NHL’s support. Again, there’s room and money for both.
However, individual NHL teams have partnered with PHF teams in the past and two currently still do. The Boston Bruins have worked extensively with the Boston Pride, the Pride playing home games at the Bruins’ practice facility, the teams sharing resources, and the Bruins promoting the Pride when they can. It’s a similar situation in Minnesota where the Whitecaps and Wild share resources, support, and a rink.
While those markets are huge for hockey on their own, the fact that the Pride and Whitecaps are two of the most successful teams who bring in the highest attendance isn’t just a coincidence.
Just the exposure of some tweets, joint clinics, or players in attendance has done wonders for those two teams. Meaningful investment for all teams and real partners with individual NHL teams could do so much more. And for the Rangers, who regardless of standings, are one of the most recognizable teams with the highest attended games, it’s honestly a shame for them to not lead the charge or even be involved here.
It wouldn’t cost much at all for the Wolf Pack and the Whale to share a home rink, to offer double header events, for the Rangers to regularly tweet about the Whale, or offer amenities to PHF players who work with a sliver of what NHL players do and complain about it a hell of a lot less. It wouldn’t cost much for a team who brought in 94 million dollars during a COVID-impacted season to lend a hand, or their wallet, to a growing league of extraordinary players who shouldn’t have to deal with inequality anymore.
PLAY BRASS BONANZA! THE WHALE AEE OFF TO THE FINALS! watch to the end for goalie hugs! pic.twitter.com/ElRMPHgjzH— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) March 27, 2022
The Connecticut Whale will play for their first-ever Isobel Cup tonight at 9 p.m. EST against the two-time champion Boston Pride team. It will air live on ESPN2, and with an off night for the Rangers, I’d highly suggest you not miss out.