Start up leagues in the 21st century do not have a good track record. In fact, since the emergence of Major League Soccer in 1996, not a single United States sports startup league that was not sponsored by one of the established major sports has survived for more than 15 undisrupted seasons.
The National Women’s Hockey League is looking to change that.
As the Boston Pride wrapped up their pre season on Saturday night against the Russian national team, debuting their new home stadium Warrior Ice Arena, the theme was progressing from the foundation the league built last season.
Year two retained the same four markets as 2015-2016, seeing no team movement, a rarity in the off season of a non-traditional league. With some form of stability established, the Pride are left to focus on building another title contender without the fears of the league’s future.
Alex Carpenter will be a welcome addition to the lineup after she helped lead Boston College to an undefeated regular season and championship appearance. Carpenter already scored twice in the pre season to showcase her skill.
“I grew up playing with a lot of these girls here,” Carpenter said in the post-game media scrum. “I grew up playing with a bunch of them and went to school with some. It’s really nice being on a team where you’re familiar with the players already.”
Brianna Decker and Hillary Knight return to captain the club. While they remain the backbone of the club, new players on the team are familiar with playing with the Pride’s leaders.
“It’s only a few new faces; we don’t really have to worry about them,” Decker told the media.
Nine members of Team USA will don Pride sweaters in the 2016-2017 season, which is what made part of Saturday’s game against Russia fascinating to watch.
Meghan Duggan, a new member of the Pride this season, stood out beyond just her goal to give Boston a 1-0 lead. Duggan was able to use her speed to easily get past Russian defenders and create space of her own. She and Decker were open along the middle of the ice on several plays entering Boston’s offensive zone, creating an onslaught of chances. Duggan was a member of the Buffalo Beauts last season, and her tenacity and ability to not only create offensive chances but cause turnovers and play along the boards, a style of play the Russians displayed on Saturday.
“I’m playing with my best friends,” Duggan said to the media. “It’s really exciting to be out here, representing Boston with them.”
After two pre season contests, however, the Pride are still yet to face any NWHL caliber competition.
Brittany Ott entered the contest against Russia midway through the third period to earn the win and hold the Russians scoreless on Saturday night. She is expected to be the starting goaltender once again after leading the team to a title last season. Both she and Lauren Slebdnick were not challenged often, and the one goal Slebdnick did allow was questionable after it appeared she had covered the puck up.
The 2015-2016 Isobel Cup champions found a way to strengthen its roster in a four team league that is anything but watered down. One of the challenges of a start up league may be stability, but the quality of play is always elite when it’s the best players in the nation competing, and that’s the base the Pride have.
Boston’s next action will come in the regular season on October 8th when they participate in the NWHL’s opening weekend in Buffalo before they return home on October 15th for their first regular season game in Brighton.