I’ll admit that I’m a casual fan of women’s hockey. I know certain all-star names because of their incredible performance in the Olympics...Shannon Szabados, Amanda Kessel, Nicole Hensley. So when I found myself able to attend the NWHL All-Star game after the Preds-Blues contest last Sunday, I made sure to nab a front-row seat.
The NWHL All-Stars held a Skills Competition and on-ice clinic on Saturday at Ford Ice Center. The Skills Competition was sold out and nearly 500,000 people tuned into the Twitter livestream.
On Sunday, the crowd at Bridgestone Arena was excellent. Most of the lower bowl was full. I was impressed when the total attendance flashed across the Jumbotron...6,120 fans. This sets a huge record for a women’s hockey game in the United States.
I sat next to a girls’ hockey team from North Carolina. Aside from holding up posters and screaming for their favorite players, it was pretty evident that these girls were taking serious notes while watching these All-Stars put on a show. They would consult with their coaches and with each other during every stoppage to discuss a particular play, shot, or save.
Shannon Szabados, captain for Team Szabados, started in net against fellow Buffalo Beauts goalie Nicole Hensley. Szabados showed Nashville her Olympic-caliber skills by posting a shutout in the first half. Audra Richards of the Metropolitan Riveters scored first for Team Szabados off a beautiful one-timer in between the circles. Richards has 8 goals in 12 games for the Riveters this season.
The Smashville crowd, in true Smashville fashion, gave the referees a some boos after a controversial offside call.
Katka Mrazova added another for Team Szabados a few minutes later. Mrazova has 9 points (6 goals, 3 assists) in 12 games for the Connecticut Whale. Meanwhile, Szabados did Szabados things on the other end of the ice that could put most NHL goalies to shame. There were audible gasps from the crowd as she made several breakaway saves. Team Szabados went into the intermission leading 2-0.
Katie Burt took over the net for Team Szabados in the second half. The Boston Pride goalie has posted a .913 Sv% in 13 games this season. Burt practiced with the Predators on Friday and was praised by captain Roman Josi and goaltender Pekka Rinne.
.@NWHL All-Star goaltender @KatieBurt33 joining the #Preds for practice today - and giving 35 & 74 a run for their money. She’ll play in the NWHL All-Star Game on Sunday following the Preds game at @BrdgstoneArena. pic.twitter.com/duUFaCFqNn— Brooks Bratten (@brooksbratten) February 8, 2019
Amanda Leveille tended goal for Team Stecklein in the second half. Leveille has a .916 Sv% in 14 games for the Minnesota Whitecaps.
Team Stecklein grabbed their first goal of the night from Emily Fluke of the Connecticut Whale. Fluke has 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in 13 games for the Whale. Fluke added the tying goal for Team Stecklein a few minutes later, and a shootout would be necessary to determine the night’s winner. Fluke had a fairly big fan base right in front of my seat...they were pretty rowdy and very fun to watch.
Team Szabados was ultimately successful in the shootout. Szabados herself was named the game’s MVP after posting a shutout in the first half.
The entire game was a showcase in skill and talent. The All-Stars on the ice could very well skate circles around some NHLers. I’m also fairly positive some of them could deke a few NHL players out of their skates. The kids in the crowd were able to see talented women take the ice in a NHL arena, and to me, that’s the most important part. All-Star coach Chris Mason said the following after the game:
"I tried to get them to play hockey before. They couldn't care less if I played but for them to see women, at the top of their game, is what made them want to try hockey."— Jeremy K. Gover (@govertime) February 11, 2019
- #Preds Analyst @cmace30 after the #NWHLAllStar Game
(pic: @ShannonSzabados signs his daughters jersey) pic.twitter.com/NxSY9JfNtT
Hal Gill coached Team Stecklein.
Team Stecklein honorary coach @Skillsy75 and his two daughters and son delivered the pep talk. “What you’ve done, what you’re doing in the NWHL is nothing short of amazing. Let’s have some fun.” pic.twitter.com/K2bomRNiXw— NWHL (@NWHL) February 10, 2019
A combined ONE MILLION viewers tuned into the Skills Competition on Saturday and the game on Sunday on Twitter. The NWHL All-Star Weekend was an incredible success in Nashville. Young female hockey players had the opportunity to see their role models up close...role models with numerous Olympic medals, professional championships, and college trophies.
Hockey in the south, a once unheard-of concept, could soon include women’s hockey in the south.