The NWHL is in its infancy and as such, some of its staff feel that at many points they are flying blind. They have much to accomplish on a short budget and even shorter timeframe, and so far, the seat-of-your-pants approach has worked for them.
But it can’t always be the modus operandi.
Midway through November, when the Connecticut Whale was 4-0, NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan (also general manager of the New York Riveters) called what has been termed a secret dressing-room meeting with the players of the Whale, sources say.
The GM at the time, Harry Rosenholtz, was on vacation. The head coach, Jake Mastel, was not allowed into the room.
It had come to her attention that some of the players were unhappy with the way their coach was running practices and games, Rylan said in that meeting. She was aware their head coach was the least-qualified of all the coaches in the league and for that she was sorry. If the team wasn’t doing so well, she would fire him immediately, Rylan told players, but since the Whale was 4-0, she would wait until the end of the season to let him go.
Mastel was next door and heard every word.
Rosenholtz has since resigned the GM position, which occurred when, per a source, Rylan refused to apologize for her actions. George Speirs, COO of the NWHL, has taken over for him for the remainder of the season.
Mastel resigned on Jan. 28, sending in his notice right before practice began and catching his entire team by surprise. The highest-ranked team in the league was now in turmoil.
Mastel is considered by many to the lowest-profile coach in the league. Unlike his counterparts — Chad Wiseman, former AHL and NHL player; Shelley Looney, Olympic gold medalist; Ric Seiling, former Buffalo Sabres player; Bobby Jay, assistant coach to the 2014 U.S. Women’s Olympic team — Mastel’s coaching background lies in youth teams.
Players have called the break a healthy one, both for the team and Mastel, who did not focus on systems and special teams enough to satisfy the players, many of whom are coaches themselves.
Despite Mastel’s coaching, Connecticut was, and still is, the top team in the NWHL.
Technically, Rylan is well within her rights to fire any of the coaches in the league. After all, she hired them and the league – which she founded and of which she is the commissioner – still owns all four franchises, unlike the NHL, where franchises are separately owned and the commissioner has to answer to a Board of Governors, which the NWHL does not have either. However, moral conundrums remain.
Rylan is GM of the Riveters, in addition to her duties as commissioner. Meeting with the players of a different team and discussing personnel issues is at best bad optics. Some questioned why Rylan would leapfrog the GM to make personnel decisions in the first place. They questioned the purpose of having a GM if they did not manage the team and coaching staff. There are checks and balances in place to deal with hirings and firings. General managers still answer to the commissioner, while the commissioner herself is responsible to not only her players, but her staff.
While some have questioned how much power Rylan has in light of recent events, she is the founder and commissioner of a league in its infancy; a large amount of power was bound to be hers this year regardless. She’s used her influence to land Dunkin’ Donuts as a multi-year sponsor within the league’s first season and to land the Boston Pride on NESN and ESPN, all while paying each of the NWHL’s 86 players.
However, sources who spoke with Today’s Slapshot have questioned if that power is always being put to good use.
The league has declined to comment on what it deems rumors.