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Breaking: NWHL may extend 2017 season to June

The Pride and their support staff after winning the Isobel Cup. NWHL Buffalo Beauts vs Boston Pride, Isobel Cup Finals, March 11-12, 2016, Newark, New Jersey. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

The NWHL announced Friday that season ticket packages for the Buffalo Beauts had gone on sale to the general public, revealing that the Beauts would be playing a minimum of 22 games. Last season teams played only nine games at home, for a total of 18 regular-season games.

Although the dates of games online are yet to be announced, according to the page linked above, several sources close to the league indicated to Today’s Slapshot that the NWHL may extend its second season until June of 2017, with a possible break taken in March.

Doing so would offer more opportunities for televised broadcasts on local networks for the NWHL, a small league looking to grow its footprint and audience. Once the NHL playoffs hit at the beginning of April, right when the NWHL would start up again, channels such as NESN lose their broadcast rights to the NBC network and will be looking for space to fill.

If the NWHL can take some of that local airtime it would help the league bring in more revenue via ads, broadcast deals, sponsors and even individual investors, a necessary step in growing its brand and the women’s game as a whole. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the NWHL had deals with NESN and ESPN3 during its inaugural season and is a proven commodity.

Hilary Knight heads on to the bench before the game. NWHL Buffalo Beauts vs Boston Pride, Isobel Cup Finals, March 11-12, 2016, Newark, New Jersey. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

Hilary Knight heads on to the bench before the game. NWHL Buffalo Beauts vs Boston Pride, Isobel Cup Finals, March 11-12, 2016, Newark, New Jersey. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kaitlin S. Cimini

This may also be the NWHL’s way around its postseason broadcast troubles in March, when the NWHL found itself competing with March Madness for time slots. The league ended up streaming all seven of its postseason matchups, despite initial reports that ESPN3 would air the games.

However, it puts many of the U.S. national team players in a bind, who will have to report to camp in June. After IIHF Women’s World Championships in April, players are typically expected to rest and recover, taking time away from hockey until they head to June camp for testing. If players are on the ice, competing for the Isobel Cup until the start of camp they will be tired and significantly behind where they are supposed to be, as June camp typically marks the start of offseason training for national team players.

Today’s Slapshot reached out to USA Hockey to confirm whether or not the NWHL had discussed a schedule change with them.

“We provided the NWHL with our schedule for 2016-17 and have not heard from the league about their plans for the schedule for the upcoming season,” said Reagan Carey, Director of Women’s Hockey at USA Hockey .

The NWHL has run into scheduling conflicts with the U.S. women’s national team before –– specifically the dates for the Outdoor Women’s Classic, which took place during a December national team camp –– and did not come out the winner. Should the NWHL proceed forward with plans to stretch its season out players may have to make a choice between whether to participate fully in the postseason for their NWHL teams or put Olympic dreams ahead of an Isobel Cup win.

For now, at least, women’s hockey players still value Olympic gold more than they do a Clarkson Cup or an Isobel Cup win; the Olympics are the biggest stage these players have to compete on in contrast to many North American NHL players, who see bigger financial and personal rewards from a Stanley Cup win than an Olympic one.

The NWHL did not respond to request for comment by Today’s Slapshot. We will update when appropriate.

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