The NWHL post-season came to a close Saturday night with the Boston Pride winning the inaugural Isobel Cup, but the league turned some heads with a tease toward potential expansion and a message for fans to “stay tuned.”
The Boston Pride capped off an outstanding opening season for the NWHL Saturday night with a 3-1 victory and series sweep of the Buffalo Beauts to win the inaugural Isobel Cup. The Pride’s victory wasn’t the only news to come out of the NWHL Saturday, however.
Following the Pride’s post-game celebration, announcement of Brianna Decker as playoff MVP and the trophy presentation, the NWHL’s live video stream of the contest flashed a graphic on screen that gave promise that the off-season could be a big one for the burgeoning women’s league:
There’s been no confirmation yet of pending expansion, but the dots appear to be located in Toronto and Montreal, which would suggest the NWHL could be having its first two Canadian clubs as soon as next season. NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan has never committed to announcing expansion, and on a recent episode of The Hockey News Podcast, Rylan told Ryan Kennedy and Matt Larkin that the league’s focus was on having a successful post-season.
“[Expansion is] on our radar and we know that hockey was born in Canada,” Rylan told The Hockey News podcast in mid-February. “There’s a ton of girls and women playing outside of the Northeast. It’s on our radar, but our focus right now is just on rolling into our inaugural playoffs.”
Rylan was asked about the live stream’s tease, and coyly said she didn’t see the stream, therefore had no idea about the “Stay Tuned…” message, according to Today’s Slapshot’s Kate Cimini. When asked about the potential for expansion, Rylan offered only that graduating women would need somewhere to play, Cimini reported.
“180 women graduated NCAA DI colleges this year and it only makes sense that there’s a place for them to play when they’re done and get paid for being the best at what they do,” Rylan said, per Cimini.
If this means two extra teams for the 2016-17 NWHL campaign, the expectation shouldn’t be the amalgamation with the CWHL, but rather one major city hosting two women’s professional clubs. Already Boston is home to the NWHL’s Pride and CWHL’s Blades, and Toronto and Montreal would likely be able to similarly manage two teams in the city.
It is possible, however, this could be nothing more than hinting at NWHL games being played on the road. Both Toronto and Montreal have established women’s hockey fanbases through the CWHL, and the NWHL contests would likely be well attended should the league play games north of the border.