Pioneers Are Hard To Come By: Janine Weber Signs With NWHL

Photo courtesy of YouTube
Pioneers Are Hard To Come By: Janine Weber Signs With NWHL
Kaitlin Cimini

The first player to sign with the National Women’s Hockey League is a forward, a clutch goal-scorer and an international athlete. She has a season under her belt as a professional player, played 17 games, tallied seven points and was plus-11 ending the regular season. She added another three goals to that total in the postseason, and scored the Cup-winning goal in overtime in March of 2015 for the Boston Blades.

Which is when Janine Weber found herself embroiled in the conversation about why women needed and deserved to be paid for their work.

After scoring the Cup-winning goal against Montreal Stars goaltender Charline Labonté, giving the Boston Blades their second Clarkson Cup in three years, she was asked to donate her stick to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

It was possibly the best moment of Weber’s professional hockey career, but she hesitated to donate the stick. Why?

Weber, who was working to support herself as a teacher at a school for children with autism and developmental disabilities, only had two sticks. The other was broken.

The CWHL only provides certain equipment to players. Sticks are not included among their guarantees.

Her teammates used social media to contact to equipment companies such as STX Hockey and Bauer to ask for someone, anyone, to cover a stick or two for Weber.


Equipment Is Replaceable: People Are Not

STX Hockey did generously provide Weber with the equipment that she needed, but it was clear that this was the proverbial Band-Aid over the bullet hole.

The lack of stick wasn’t the problem; the inability to replace it was.

And as the CWHL had reportedly gone so far this season as to ask its players to sign a three-year contract for no pay, that wasn’t likely to change soon.

At the same time, Weber was aware she had only one choice if she wanted to play hockey at a high level, and that was in the CWHL. There are leagues around the world that have allowed women players in recent years, such as the SPHL in the U.S. or the Mestis league in Finland, but Weber said those leagues were not of any interest to her. She wanted to play women’s hockey, and she wanted to continue to improve.

“I think the level here [in the U.S.] is just way higher than in Europe because there’s more competition and way more players, which just elevates the whole game,” Weber told media on Thursday. “There’s some really, really, good players from Europe, but I think there’s not enough depth…when players decide to get better they come to the US or Canada.”

There has been an effort worldwide to develop girls’ hockey at the grassroots level in recent years with the addition of women’s hockey to the Olympic games, but as Olympic podiums have shown, and Weber noticed, the difference in skill level was tangible. A large part of that is the college hockey system women have access to in the U.S., and which Weber participated in as a graduate student of education at Providence College.

A young girl and fan looks on at the free agents attending the NWHL training camp. Mandatory photo credit: Right Angle Studios

A young girl and fan looks on at the free agents attending the NWHL training camp. Mandatory photo credit: Right Angle Studios

“There’s definitely a big growth [in the development of girls’ hockey],” Weber said, “but I think the college system is really what the big difference is between European hockey and American hockey. You spend 4 years training and playing really good games, where as in Austria or anywhere in Europe, people go to school and play for a club hockey team that has nothing to do with their university. It’s hard to combine those two and the level here is that so [sic] higher, so I think that’s why there’s such a big gap.”

This college system is exactly what gave Weber a chance to play professionally and it is why the NWHL is coming into being. League founders want to give women a place to play at their highest level, beyond what the NCAA could offer. They believed that was beyond what the CWHL currently offered women.

And the NWHL offered Weber not only a chance to compete at a level she desired, but it would give her enough money to truly dedicate herself to it for part of the year. That was the hook, and that was what brought her over to the newest pro women’s hockey league.


Pioneer Status

Weber’s status as an international athlete (she is Austrian by birth and nationality) is one of the more interesting things about this signing. Her contract with the CWHL was up at the end of the 2014-2015 season and she was free and clear to sign with the NWHL. When she learned about the league she said she was immediately interested, knowing that someone out there would pay her for skills she spent years developing in Austria and the U.S.

However, visas can be an issue for international players. The NWHL has repeatedly stated that it is committed to having the best players in the world on its rosters, and so far is backing up that statement with a camp dedicated to international players that will run in late July as well as a lawyer who will work with each player individually to determine the best type of visa for each of them.

As Rylan told media Wednesday, “there is not one blanket visa that is given to all athletes.” Contracting with a lawyer to work to customize each player’s visa application will not only benefit the players, but the League as well. After seeing barriers to playing overseas drop, one after the other, skilled international players interested in advancing their play will clamor to join the NWHL.

Rylan expects signings to “come in bunches,” so Weber plays an important dual role as the first free agent to sign with the NWHL. Not only does this signal the likely start of a wave of former CWHL players signing with the League, but players from other countries as well.

Pioneers are hard to come by but it is even harder to be one. We ask a lot of our front line and the journey is anything but easy. Not many take it willingly and even fewer thrive on it.

Despite the uncertainty, Weber is a pioneer for these women, clearing the way for many more to join her. This won’t be simple for her, or any of the first wave to join the NWHL, but it will be worthwhile.

  • jenny

    Why is your CWHL “reporting” so pejorative and exaggerated?

    “bullet hole” really?

    I’m so tired of the cheap symbolism around Weber’s stick that you (and others) constantly use to set up your CWHL bad/NWHL good dichotomy. Any reason why the Austrian national team doesn’t help her out with her equipment? Why aren’t stick manufacturers lined up right now to provide elite female hockey players with gear? Who are the NWHL equipment providers (what? nothing announced yet)? Why not blame corporate hockey brands for their lack of generosity, and less the CWHL, whose priorities for creating a sustainable, viable pro league for women haven’t quite evolved to the sticks and skates level yet. With only so much money and revenue, things need to be triaged so that the games can still be played and the league can stabilize and grow.

    Why do you keep misreporting the Boston Blades contract dispute with the CWHL? It wasn’t a 3 year contract, it was 2. Please try to get it right. (You might want to double check your factoid about Weber’s contract being finished at the end of last season, players reportedly all signed the same collective league-wide contract last fall). Any contract duration less than 2 years has as much commitment in it as a one year beer league registration. I see nothing wrong with contracting players to teams for enough time (2 years! insane!) to develop franchise players and establish them as assets so that sponsors and audiences can buy into a team. Can’t have players flying off willy nilly every year to a different team or league. Why is a 2 year contract (without pay) such a weird idea for you? CWHL contracts existed before and without pay even before this dispute too. When salaries arrive in the CWHL, contracts will be renegotiated. Of course they would. No need to be hysterical about a 2 year term when so much else is looked after and provided. Blades players who wanted to break their contracts/be released and go to the NWHL had no trouble doing so. What’s the issue then? Ever try to talk to any single one of the majority of CWHL players (potentially some 100 of them) who signed their contracts on time and understand the realities and good qualities of the CWHL?

    Where did the Boston players think the money for their salaries in the CWHL would be coming from? All the sponsors and revenue their team was generating? That’s rhetorical, btw. The team was/is supported by CWHL league sponsors (Canadian money) with every team needing to provide some amount of revenue to stay in the league (thus the ticket sales quotas widely misrepresented by the Blades complaint cartoon. Again, insane! ridiculous! that a team would need to sell tickets to prove its viability as a team.) I guess the NWHL will have none of these issues to contend with since it’s obviously made of money, plus the support for women’s hockey (and women’s sport in general) is infinite, so no need to worry about splitting attention, sponsorship and impact.

    I get that the CWHL was moving too slow for many on the Boston team’s idea of a career paid league. Well, if it’s all about money why doesn’t the NWHL show their money? If they did it would have a profound effect on their ability to recruit and to establish themselves as the ‘premier league’. Why the hold up? Seems extremely weird to me.

    It would also be nice if someone would put the money being offered by the NWHL into a realistic context in one of these ‘articles’. It’s hardly a living wage for most (maybe top line players make 20k but what about the 10k earners?), especially for someone like Janine in the New York area. Rent can easily be 2K a month. How much is training, food, transportation? What about the rest of the year? Women still need jobs eventually, and employers don’t normally grant 5 month vacations from these. Ask musicians and artists about how their often seasonal work/touring affects employability later. So, the “salary” is not an answer to all complaints. Other than paying players, the NWHL has zero to show that they are so much more advanced in league building than the CWHL.

    Maybe also ask about how many foreign players are really allowed per team. There are normally restrictions on that.

    And since Hilary Knight has stepped out as the NWHL spokesmodel, why hasn’t she signed? Why wasn’t she the historic first signing? Nobody knows who Janine Weber is. Not to that extent. And where are the rest of the team USA stars in this story? Why haven’t they jumped on board like the Blades’ 3rd and 4th line players? Wouldn’t it be weird if they all end up playing in the CWHL next year? They haven’t broken their contracts. Yet.

    Also, no Canadian stars have appeared either. In fact the game’s biggest star, Poulin, made a choice to go north. Why isn’t that a think piece somewhere? Why would she give up “money” to go to play in the inferior CWHL? Meanwhile, CAN national team member, Jenelle Kohanchuk was horrified that her name was circulating on an NWHL camp roster. What the hell kind of mistake is that? Doesn’t seem like top line Canadian players are clamouring to get in.

    Furthermore, the NWHL will never be a real North American league because their trademark doesn’t allow it to operate in Canada. That trademark belongs to someone else in Canada (the original NWHL). So let the NWHL be a USA only league, and try to understand the CWHL better, especially when it is legitimately trying to provide a platform for all players on the continent.

Kaitlin Cimini

"Kate Cimini is an avid hockey fan and rabid defender. She is the editor at Bleedin' Blue on the St. Louis Blues and writes at The Hockey Writers on the Chicago Blackhawks and women's hockey. Follow her on Twitter @lightsthelamp for a terrible time."

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