The NHL has arrived in Seattle. Could women’s professional hockey be next?
From: The Tacoma New Tribune By: Lauren Kirschman Reprint of the article found at: https://www.thenewstribune.com/sports/article254119543.html
Professional hockey has arrived in Seattle.
After opening training camp at their new Community Iceplex in September, the Seattle Kraken will finally launch its first NHL season next month. From the overflowing crowd at Gasworks Park for the Entry Draft to the sold-out seasons tickets, the city has quickly embraced its newest professional team.
And Zoë Harris has noticed.
The founder of Women’s Pro Hockey Seattle, Harris was encouraged to see how quickly sports fans jumped on board with the Kraken. In 2019, Harris launched a campaign with the goal of bringing a professional women’s hockey team to the area. The arrival of the Kraken — and all the excitement that came with it — will only help the cause, she said.
“I think that the more hockey we have in the area, all boats rise,” Harris said. “I think bringing an NHL team into Seattle will help the youth associations, the major Junior associations like the (Seattle) Thunderbirds and also would help a woman’s pro hockey team as well.”
Currently, the Premier Hockey Federation — known as the National Women’s Hockey League until a recent name change — has six teams based in Boston; Toronto; Monmouth Junction, N.J.; St. Paul, Minn.; Danbury, Conn.; and Buffalo, N.Y. The league intends to add a seventh team in Montreal for the start of the 2022-23 season.
If Harris’ campaign is successful, Seattle would have the first PHF franchise on the West Coast. Harris hopes to make that dream a reality in three to five years.
“I believe that a woman’s professional hockey team could be sustainable and successful, especially in Seattle, because we have some of the best sports fans in the world,” Harris said.
“They come out with passion and loyalty to support their teams at the collegiate level and the professional level. I just felt that there was no doubt that Seattle would support a woman’s pro team.”
Harris has a long history of launching and building women’s hockey programs.
She attended the University of Maine, where she joined the women’s hockey team, teaching herself how to skate and play the game.
In 1993, she met Cindy Dayley while playing for a co-ed summer team. Dayley has more than 50 years of hockey experience in the Seattle area as a player, coach and administrator for girls’, women’s and men’s ice hockey.
The duo launched a quick coaching partnership — from the first girls’ 19 AAA team in the area to the Seattle Wings (now the Seattle Women’s Ice Hockey Club). They started the first women’s inline league in Seattle and began the 49th Parallel Programs with Vancouver — the first Washington-British Columbia combined program to hold elite camps, clinics and teams with the goal for college scout exposure.
From 1998 to 2004, Dayley coached the University of Washington men’s non-varsity team — the first female head coach in men’s college hockey. Harris served as her assistant and general manager.
With help from Dayley, Harris started the American College Hockey Women’s division in 2000. Serving as the vice president for four years, Harris grew the ACHA Women’s division by 30%. It has since expanded, with more than 30 teams in two divisions.
Dayley also served as a coach, coaching director, treasurer and president of the Western Washington Female Hockey Association — also known as the Washington Wild — for five years. Harris was a board member and treasurer before being hired as the executive director to help grow the association.
In 2019, Harris founded the Women’s Pro Hockey Seattle campaign with Dayley serving as an advisor. She also brought on Kelly Stephens Tysland — a U.S. Women’s Hockey Olympian and Shoreline local – as her spokesperson and asked Maealie Glanzer of Bellingham to be the youth spokesperson.
Over the past two years, Harris and her team have signed up more than 50 ambassador volunteers to help boost interest in the campaign. The group also sells apparel with all proceeds going toward marketing and promotion. In February 2020, the campaign brought more than 50 people together to watch the United States face Canada in the Victoria, B.C. Rivalry Series.
WHAT COMES NEXT
The goal is to help bring a women’s professional team to Seattle within three to five years. To help make that dream a reality, the campaign continually works to raise awareness and grow the game through community relationships, social media engagement, watch parties and tournaments.
“The next step is to reach out to potential ownership parties and connect with them and develop a business plan and proposal and talk about how a woman’s team in Seattle could be sustainable and great for the community,” Harris said.
“A lot of people ask about women’s sports and being successful and we feel like we have a good understanding based on historically women’s leagues and teams — and especially the amazing women’s professional teams in the local area — to model ourselves after.
“To be successful, the team needs to build on their personal core values, much like the Seattle Storm does — with a deep connection and connection to the communities. The (OL) Reign and the Seattle Storm are both excellent examples of that. There needs to be a full investment in these in the league and the teams and the players.”
The addition of the Kraken means more ice will be available in the area, particularly with the creation of the Iceplex. The training facility will host the upcoming 2021-2022 Seattle Women’s Hockey Club season. It will also have junior and adult hockey leagues, public skating events, learn-to-play programs and skills development camps.
“It’s bringing hockey to people who aren’t hockey people,” Dayley said of the Kraken. “It’s bringing hockey to people who are hockey people. The organization itself is very diverse. … They’re very supportive of the community.
“Adding ice sheets to the area is a must. I think we will need more facilities as time goes on and quickly. In the next couple years, I see all the facilities being full again — if it takes two years. It gives us the opportunity to grow in every aspect of hockey.”
Bringing an NHL team to Seattle, said Dayley, might provide the necessary push to launch a women’s professional team.
“It will open everybody’s eyes,” she said. “I know that they will support it in whatever way they can and help it grow. They could be the people who give it its second and third steps on the ladder to bring a team here.
“It’s just awesome to see this happen in Seattle. It’s been a long time coming. I’m really happy that a city of this size of this level will be able to love hockey programs — a men’s professional hockey team and then hopefully a women’s professional hockey team in the future.”
SEATTLE AND WOMEN’S SPORTS
Harris has little doubt Seattle would embrace a professional women’s hockey team — not only because of the immediate excitement for the Kraken, but also because of the success of current women’s teams in the city.
The key to building an enthusiastic fan base, Harris said, is streaming games in a consistent manner and having a schedule and viewing location that is easily accessible.
“All this must be fully promoted to the new fluid fan through a community-based model that uses storytelling and content that is accessible and consistent and interactive entertaining, both with the team and individual player,” Harris said.
The Seattle Storm — with current stars like Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart — are one of the most successful WNBA franchises, winning four championships in 2004, 2010, 2018 and 2020. In 2019, the Storm ranked fourth in the WNBA with an average attendance of 7,562. They trailed only Los Angeles (11,307), Phoenix (10,193) and Minnesota (9,069).
Based in Tacoma, the OL Reign was one of eight inaugural members of the National Women’s Soccer League and currently features U.S. National Team star Megan Rapinoe. The Reign averaged more than 5,000 fans a game in 2018, which was seventh in the NWSL. The Portland Thorns average more than 20,000 fans a game.
“Seattle’s just a great, open city to be in,” Dayley said. “The support of women’s and men’s sports here is great. You take the WNBA and how they’re getting supported and how they’re growing. On the flip-side, you have the Seahawks and the men’s side of sports. And then junior hockey teams and now the Kraken.
“Seattle is more of a hockey town than people realize, I think. The community, there’s a lot of hockey people here. The Pacific Northwest is kind of a melting pot now with people all over the country and all over the world. Hockey fans have come and moved here and are a part of the community. I think that we’re just set up as a culture to be that way and to be supportive and excited about sports.”
WOMEN’S HOCKEY HISTORY
Not only does Seattle have a hockey foundation that is often overlooked, it also has a history of women’s hockey.
Frank and Lester Patrick, brothers who moved from Ontario to western Canada, created the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. But as early as January 1916, the brothers also discussed the formation of a women’s league that would serve as a complement.
While the league never formed, the Vancouver News-Advertiser reported in January 1917 that the wives of the Seattle Metropolitans had assembled a team. Frank Patrick then announced in 1921 that a women’s international championship series would be played in conjunction with the PCHA.
“To create a women’s division was very cutting edge for the 1900s,” Dayley said. “The Patrick brothers were amazing to even want to support that. It also showed the quality (of women’s sports) that Seattle can develop and show good support for. The unfortunate part is they were only able to do the one international tournament, which would have been really fantastic to be involved with.”
The championship consisted of three teams — the Seattle Vamps, the Vancouver Amazons and the Victoria Kewpies. To determine the champion, the teams played a six-game series consisting of two games in each city. The women played 10 minutes each during the first and second intermissions of the men’s games followed by another 15 minutes after the men’s game.
After the 1921 season, the Vamps and the Kewpies ceased operations.
“As many women’s sports do — or anything in its infancy — it starts up and then it hits a wall or it drops and then it starts back up and hits the wall and drops,” Dayley said. “We’ve seen that in the woman’s ice hockey history with Seattle. It springs up and then slows down and it springs up.
“Now, it’s come to a point where it’s grown up and I only see it going forward. I don’t see the lull coming, especially with a pro (men’s) team. And if we bring in a woman’s pro team that will even spark more women to get involved in the sport, kids have the ability to play at a younger age and more and more and more. I only see it growing at this point.”
The Western Washington Female Hockey Association (Washington Wild) is a “non-profit, volunteer-run association dedicated to promoting girls’ ice hockey and developing female players in the Pacific Northwest.” WWFHA launched in 2002. When they started, Harris said, there were less than 35 players involved and two teams. Now, there are more than 100 players with multiple teams and age groups.
There are also groups like the Sno-King Amateur Hockey Association, which runs a full-service 8U-16U girls hockey program. According to the association’s website, girls hockey participation at Sno-King has increased by 42% over the past five years with more than 75 players currently participating.
The Seattle Junior Hockey Association has the Lady Admirals’ program, which hosts Tier 1 teams in the 12U, 14U and 17U divisions. Each division will play in the National Girls Hockey League and compete in Tier 1 Districts tournament in the Pacific District, which includes teams from Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Nevada and Hawaii.
From 2017 to 2018, Harris said girls’ hockey registration grew nationally by nearly 5%. In the Pacific Northwest District, that number was 10%. The Premier Hockey Federation, formerly the NWHL, launched in 2015-16. The number of girls age 8 and under who registered after that went from 16,000 to about 18,000 — a growth rate of about 10.9%.
“I think the women’s pro game is really helping to drive that growth,” Harris said.
Maealie Glanzer is one of the faces of the future of women’s hockey in Seattle. A youth spokesperson for the campaign, Glanzer plays for the Sno-King Amateur Hockey Association’s (SKAHA) Girls Select 14U and the Whatcom County Amateur Hockey Association’s (WCAHA) Warriors Co-Ed 14U teams. She’s also the first local recipient of a Black Girl Hockey Club scholarship.
Her first experience on the ice came during a free skate when she was about 5 years old. Her family then found a program where she could play hockey, and she’s continued with the sport ever since.
“I just felt like hockey, that’s the one thing they were missing — like every other sport to have a women’s or girl’s program,” said Glanzer, who wants to attend a hockey academy or a boarding school before playing college hockey and eventually becoming an NHL scout. “I would like to help bring up the generations to come and start in Seattle or anywhere I can try to get a female program to start.”
For Harris, who has been so dedicated to growing girls’ and women’s hockey in Seattle, young players like Glanzer are a glimpse of a bright future.
“Whether it be seeing girls take their first step on the ice and just the smiles on their face or a player training on and off the ice to reach their goal playing college hockey,” Harris said. “It’s just a phenomenal game and it brings so much to the kids in their lives on and off the ice.”