Can Women's Olympic Hockey Turn Pro? Three Steps To Possible

Can Women's Olympic Hockey Turn Pro? Three Steps To Possible
Team USA's Hilary Knight takes a hit to Canadian captain Caroline Quellette

I don't care if you're watching men or women. Olympic hockey...any hockey, really... doesn't get more exciting than the gold medal stunner between the rivals of Team Canada and Team USA Thursday afternoon.

As most of the world knows, the US led through nearly three periods, shutting down the one team that had eluded them and outsmarted them since 2002. As CBS Sports recounted...Meghan Duggan and Alex Carpenter scored for the Americans. Jesse Vetter made 28 saves for the U.S., shutting the powerful Canadians down for 56:34.

Tweets were already hailing the USA's gold medal with five minutes to go in the third period.

AND THEN...with 3:26 to go in regulation, as reported by Yahoo Sports, Brianne Jenner knocked a shot off a defender's knee and into the net, and Poulin took advantage of a miscue by goalie Vetter to tie the game with 54.6 seconds left. The Canadian goalie pulled for an extra skater, U.S. forward Kelli Stack sent a clearing shot down the ice, missing a potential game-clinching empty-net goal by inches. With Szabados still off, Poulin tied it and sent the game into overtime.

Let CBS Sports tell it. It's too painful for me:

"After six tense minutes, the U.S. picked up a power play when Catherine Ward was sent off for cross-checking. But five seconds later, Jocelyne Lamoureux was called for slashing for swiping at the goalie's pads after a save. And during a sloppy player change by the Americans, five-time Olympian Hayley Wickenheiser got free on a breakaway before she was bumped from behind by Knight and sent sprawling."

It could have been called a penalty shot. It wasn't.

Finally...

Marie-Philip Poulin, who earlier sparked a third-period rally for Canada, scored from the left circle past Vetter with 11:50 left in overtime, giving Canada the 3-2 win, its 20th straight Olympic victory, its fourth straight gold medal and leaving their arch rivals Team USA stunned.

And now..what? What happens to the great women who gave us so many moments?  How about local products like Megan Bozek of Buffalo Grove and Kendall Coyne of Palos Hills?

Aside from building a new women's Team USA and Team Canada to go to South Korea for the 2018 Winter Olympics, the time has come to take steps toward building a Women's National Hockey league. Otherwise, there will be more stories like that of Finnish goalie Noora Raty, hailed as one of the greatest in the game, who announced her 'retirement' from the game in Sochi:

"As much as I would love to just play the game I love and that has given me so much, I have to choose a work career (unless I can make a living from playing). Why? Because who would then pay my rent, car loan and insurance, and other bills? I’m 24-years-old, out of college, single, and the money doesn’t grow in [sic] trees so yes you are right, the answer is no one. I’m done living from hand to mouth and now it’s time to start building wealth and think[ing] about my future.

And I’m not the only player having this problem… the majority of female players have the same problem."

If softball, soccer and basketball can have their professional leagues...WHY NOT HOCKEY?

The Olympics have been the catalyst for a number of sports to catapult to a pro team. Softball used the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta as a springboard to organize National Professional Fastpitch (NPF) The WNBA was announced the same way...at the Olympics.Soccer used the success of the Women's World Cup in 1999, The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) coming up to its second season, seems to be working pretty well.

As a child, I dreamed of being a writer. Today, I am one. It would be nice if pee-wee hockey players could see role models get paid for something they love to do.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was asked if a Women's Professional Hockey League might be in the NHL's future. According to Yahoo Sports, "We actually had a consultant (Val Ackerman, Commissioner of the Big East and former WNBA President. Nice lady). take a look at this for us," Bettman told Al Michaels Thursday on NBC Sports Network. "The overall development at women's hockey at the grassroots level through the college level isn't at the point where a pro league is viable."

If it's not viable through fronting the money in the NHL, here's how it can be made viable:

Yes, the Cup is smaller, but the Boston Blades are champions of the women's hockey world

Yes, the Cup is smaller, but the Boston Blades are champions of the women's hockey world

1) Expanding the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) The only professional hockey league in the world has five teams, including the current Clarkson Cup champion Boston Blades.  Let's expand it slowly...add a team in Minnesota, the #1 hockey state in the country. That's close enough to Canada to make travel viable. And Buffalo, New York. God knows the Sabres faithful need to have some excitement.

2) Finding ways for the NHL to cross-promote to men and women Bettman has been honest about the fact that he's still trying to grow the men's game. Has he looked at the number of females who love hockey? Host clinics across the nation. Use your AHL facilities. Rob Gronkowski of the New England Patriots hosted one on Harvard's campus recently to great success.

3) Utilize your Hall of Famers - Geraldine Heaney, the female Bobby Orr, Chicagoan Cammi Granato and Canada's Angela James as the only females in the Hall. Granato and James were inducted in 2010, and Heaney  was inducted last year. Jenny Finch almost single-handedly got a movement together to reinstate softball and baseball into the Olympics (it'll be presented in Sochi). Along with all of the Olympic medalists, there is no shortage of organizers. They would be the best champions for such a grassroots movement.

"We very much believe in the importance of the women's game," Bettman told Michaels. "It's going to take some more time, some more development. And, you know, we're still trying to grow men's hockey."

Your time starts now, Commissioner Bettman!

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    Sports Commentator, WRLR 98.3 FM (http://wrlr.fm) Women's Sports Director, SRN Broadcasting; Guest Lecturer on Women's Sports/Women's Sports Issues

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