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An Introduction to the NWHL

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The NWHL’s All-Star event is in Nashville this weekend, and we’ve gotten some help from our colleagues at The Ice Garden to catch you up on the names and faces.

Minnesota Whitecaps defender Lee Stecklein during a game in Boston, MA on Jan. 12, 2019.
Michelle Jay

Women’s professional hockey is heading your way, Nashville, as the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) All-Star Weekend is being held in your fine city this weekend! Here’s a few things you need to know heading into the weekend.

The basics of the league:

The league currently has five teams: the Buffalo Beauts, the Boston Pride, the Connecticut Whale (based in Stamford, CT), the Metropolitan Riveters (based in Newark, NJ), and the Minnesota Whitecaps (based in St. Paul, MN). This is the fourth season of the league.

The players are largely former Division I players with a good mix of current Olympians as well. There’s a few Division III players as well.

The Beauts are owned by Pegula Sports and Entertainment, while the other four teams are owned by the league. All the teams have the same salary cap and roster restrictions, though players do not make living wages playing hockey. Most players have full-time jobs outside of hockey.

Three of the four league-owned teams have partnerships with the NHL team in their city, with the Whale being the lone team without a partner. Typically these partnerships include help with marketing, ice time, and some sort of financial aspect.

For a slightly more detailed history of the NWHL, check out The Ice Garden’s primer on the league from their season previews.

What’s the deal with the All-Star Weekend?

The weekend is super similar to the NHL’s weekend: there’s a skills competition, followed by a game. The skills competition will be Saturday at 5 p.m. It will be held at Ford Ice Center. The league recently announced it has sold out, so you may be out of luck. But on Sunday, the All-Star game is after the Predators-Blues game. A ticket to the Preds game gets you into the All Star game after, or you can buy a separate ticket for $20 for just the NWHL All-Star Game.

Rather than a traditional three-period game, or the NHL’s 3v3 tournament format, the NWHL All-Star Game will feature two 25-minute halves. The game is always competitive but also sprinkles in fun moments.

The skills competition will include fastest skater, fastest goaltender, accuracy shooting, trick shot challenge, hardest shot, and a shootout relay. Only one player has ever repeated their title—now-retired Kalley Steadman won the accuracy event in 2015-16 and 16-17. This year, only two players have the chance to win a second title. Blake Bolden won the hardest shot in 16-17 and will be back this season. Amanda Levelle won the fastest goalie challenge last year and could possibly repeat this season.

So, what’s happening this season?

The league plays a much shorter season then you might be used to. There’s a 16-game regular season before the playoffs, which are must-win, one-game showdowns. This year, because of the addition of the Whitecaps, there will be a “play-in” game to determine the fourth-place team who will face the regular season champions in the semifinals.

After the All Star Weekend, the league is entering the home stretch of the season. With only three games left, the top three seeds are still undecided. The Whitecaps—who went undefeated in their first eight games and sold out every single home game—currently hold the top spot in the league with 20 points, but also have a game up on the Beauts and Pride, who are tied for second in points at 18 each. The Beauts hold the tiebreaker as they won the season series. The Riveters, last season’s champions, took a big tumble this season and will face the Whale in the play-in game.

The season could literally come down to the second to last day, when the Whitecaps visit the Pride on March 2.

How can I watch the rest of the season?

The NWHL has partnered with Twitter for the past two seasons, so one game a weekend is streamed via Twitter. You can watch all of the other games on the league’s YouTube channel, for free!

How do I pick a favorite team?!?

If you don’t mind your team taking more penalties than the other team and still managing to score more goals, you cheer for the Boston Pride.

If you enjoy speedy, technical play, you’ll like the Minnesota Whitecaps.

If you’re a fan of a forever underdog, adopt the Connecticut Whale.

If you like a team that’s really good one season and really not the next, breaking your heart, then you’ll love the Metropolitan Riveters.

If you love goaltenders, then the Buffalo Beauts are the team for you.

What’s the best way to follow the league?

Honestly, Twitter. Start with the NWHL accounts and, of course, The Ice Garden. We also have an NWHL Twitter list that will help get you started on who to follow.

All of TIG’s NWHL content is conveniently in our NWHL section as well.