The Buffalo Beauts struggles continue. After a long break, they will be back in action next weekend on the road against the Metropolitan Riveters. In the meantime, many players continue to boycott the NWHL and are working to develop the game of women's hockey as part of the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association. Victory Press and women’s hockey reporter Melissa Burgess spoke with WBFO’s Nick Lippa about the current status of both organizations, recent media coverage of women's hockey and the impact its had on viewers, plus the upcoming NWHL All-Star Game and what the Beauts need to do to avoid a play-in game.
I'm Nick Lippa here with Melissa Burgess of Victory Press. Melissa, how you doing?
Melissa Burgess: Not bad. How are you Nick?
I'm staying out of trouble, but a little bit of trouble is what the Buffalo Beauts have been in. Recently a lot of struggles in their hockey games thus far.
MB: Yeah, so the Beauts have actually been off for quite a while, for almost a month at this point. The NWHL as a whole has been playing. But the Beauts just have this really long gap between games. But overall, they've lost eight straight, and that dates back to November 30. Obviously, not ideal, it's just games are slipping away. They can't hold the lead and then teams just kind of take over control of the game. But you know, with this month off, maybe that gives them a chance to kind of reset going into the final stretch of the season here.
Been a couple of big time breaks throughout the NWHL season and that's something that's really interesting, but it could help the Beauts right now you say.
MB: Yeah, I mean that's the thing. One game can make all the difference. There's six games left for the Beauts four of which are against the Metropolitan Riveters who are currently in third place in the league. The Beauts are in fourth. So those are huge points obviously. That could make a difference between Buffalo having to play a play in game for the Isabel Cup Playoffs or you know not. As of right now, the Boston pride have clinched first place in the league, so we already know they're going to finish first. They did finally lose a game, which was miraculous, but they did still manage to clinch first and the Minnesota Whitecaps have essentially clinch second. It would be very difficult for the Riveters to catch them. Not impossible of course. And now that I said that it'll probably happen. But right now yeah, it's not going great for the Beauts and they really have to pull it out in these last six games in order to have a chance at third place but if not, they're gonna have to play that play in game.
Against a Connecticut Whale team that is much better than it was two months ago. What has happened for the Connecticut Whale to improve?
MB: For sure. I mean, you look at it on paper and the Whale still don't look very good. They still they have like six points on the season, which doesn't seem like a lot but they definitely have improved. Overall they've added a few players and you can tell that they are feeling that energy and kind of gelling as a group more. So obviously Buffalo does not see them again during the regular season, but could potentially see them in that that play in game.
And that is something we should keep in mind. It doesn't matter where you finished in the regular season, you will have a chance to make a run at the Isobel cup this year.
MB: They did win the Isobel Cup once. They've been in it every year. They're the only team who's been at it every year. So obviously they want to extend that streak even though it is a very different team this year. But one thing I want to point out is news that just came out today, Tuesday just before we recorded this, the Beauts are going to be without Brooke Stacy for the rest of the season. She was named to the NWHL All-Star game which is this coming weekend. She will participate as a passer and accuracy shooting and then she'll be introduced at the all-star game, but her season is done. She announced that she is expecting her first child, which is obviously fantastic news and congratulations to her. But undoubtedly is a big blow to an already struggling Beauts team to have one of their top players done for the season now.
You are going to have to get creative and hopefully be able to pull out a couple games here at the end of the year. The other thing I want to add about the Beauts as we move forward is the lack of home games coming up as well. Correct?
MB: Correct. So as I said they have six games remaining, but only two of those are at home. It's the weekend of February 22 against the second place Minnesota Whitecaps. So it's a 2:30 p.m. game on Saturday and a 1 p.m. game on Sunday the 23rd, both at North Town Center. So make it out if you can, because who knows when you'll get another chance to see the Beauts, right?
Also, you couldn't ask for probably a more impactful game for the Beauts season at that moment.
MB: For sure, you know, at that point, they'll have faced the Riveters twice. So really, we could know what their future in terms of the playoffs looks like by the time that weekend rolls around. Also, it is a few weekends away and other teams play. Minnesota plays Connecticut and things like that. So we could know a lot by then, but those points could be critical.
So we'll look forward to that. Outside of that. A lot of things happening the NWHL, including we have an all-star game to look forward to.
MB: Yes, so this year's NWHL All-Star Game was in Boston at Warrior Ice Arena. That's the home of the Boston Pride who are the top team in the league. This is the fifth different city that's hosted the all-star game so it's nice to see Boston get that chance because they've really shown out and supported the Pride this season. So this year, Saturday night will be the skills competition, kind of similar to the NHL skills competition. You've got hardest shot. Fastest skater. You usually have fastest goalie, which is always entertaining, and accuracy shooting and the players always bring a fun spark to it. I remember when the first one was here in Buffalo and it was all about your goal celebrations and there were pies on the ice and it was just a fun event. And then on Sunday, early in the day they have a skate with the all-stars event that fans can actually purchase tickets to before the all-star game at 2:30 p.m. And all of those events saved for the skate with the players are being broadcast on Twitch for free.
When you look at what they're doing this year with the all-star event and you had some prior events that were included in the NHL’s All-Star weekend that featured some women (national players)-- How would you say the NWHL is handling showcasing their players at an event like this?
MB: I think they're doing the best that they can at this point. You know, obviously they're trying to capitalize on the sponsors that they have and capitalize on the show and showcasing of women's hockey. You mentioned at the NHL All-Star Game, the women's hockey three on three. That was all national team members from the US and Canada. So none of those players are in the NWHL this season. But undoubtedly, it was a big market, a big showcase of women's hockey and for the NWHL to capitalize on that would just be you know, the smart move. So to kind of feed off of that energy and that attention that women's hockey has been getting going into this all-star weekend. You know, I think having the game live on Twitch and free and everything is big, because I remember that first year, or maybe it was the second year where it wasn't on Twitch. I don't remember the platform it was on but you actually had to sign up for an account in order to watch and you had to provide credit card information and ultimately it ended up being free because it was like a free trial. But it's a lot easier. You know, you remove those barriers and just make it as easy for people to watch.
Increasing access. That’s always something of a concern when you talk about expanding the reach of your product. Especially for the NWHL that year. We've talked about Twitch all year, that's been something that we weren't sure how it was going to turn out. But since we're talking about it right now, this far, about three quarters of the way into the season, you feel like it's going okay, for the NWHL?
MB: As a whole I do. You know, I think Twitch as a platform to me was very foreign when the season began, because it's mostly are largely for gaming, and I'm not a gamer by any means. But I think it's worked really well for the way that they've used it. It's good to have that interaction, that chat that goes along with it. People can kind of broadcast the game to their own channels and add their own commentary. If they want you've got the NWHLPA in the chat who's interacting with players with viewers while the game is going on and I think it's worked really well. Obviously there's always room for improvement, but you know, it’s the first year of a multi-year partnership. So there's definitely room to grow.
One of the things we have talked about is the PWHPA having their representatives at the NHL All-Star Game three on threes. The NWHL is not going away most likely after this year. And neither is the PWHPA most likely. So you just got these two groups right now that are that are still there. And where is the PWHPA at the moment?
MB: So I think both groups are in this kind of a similar position to where they were a few months ago and we're going to see them continue to grow over the coming months, but there's not going to be this sudden merger or one league that's going to come forth whether that's created by the NHL or not, it's not happening right now. A couple weeks ago, I actually went to a PWHPA practice here in Buffalo. There's a very small group of players in Buffalo. Savannah Harmon. Hayley Scamurra. Olivia Zafuto are among them. And they stayed at Harbor Center a couple times a week. And things seem to be going really well for them, they don't have any showcases or any events like that planned here in Buffalo just because most of the players are not here. And logistically, it makes sense to have those showcases in places like Toronto where a majority of the players don't have to travel as far or the Buffalo players obviously can pretty easily travel to Buffalo. But I spoke to them all about why they're doing what they're doing? And are they still in a good place? And why is now the right time for this? And the overwhelming majority was there's never been a better time. The best time is now. Obviously for anything like that where you want to make this big push for change, the best time would have been five minutes ago but the second best time is now. And you know, they all really believe in what they're doing. And they want things to be better for themselves and for the future. They want things like equipment and medical supplies and medical facilities. They want ice time and want housing, things like that. And so, you know, I don't see a resolution right now and I think that they're very realistic about that. The players that I spoke to said it could be a year, it could be 10 years. They're willing to put in the work to get there. And that's what matters. Maybe they're not as visible in Buffalo right now at least. But they're definitely still there. They're putting in the work. And there's some upcoming events in Toronto, in Philadelphia and a bigger showcase was just announced in Arizona, which is really cool to hit that West Coast market. Because obviously a lot of it is centered on the east and Toronto-Montreal area. So definitely more to come from them.
MB: I think women's hockey is progressing. The PWHPA is helping. The NWHL is helping. And there is, I don't want to call it animosity because it's not animosity to me between the two sides, but there is a lot of media coverage that is biased one way or the other. And fans you know, talking about things one way or the other. Maybe they don't represent the organizations but people have this perception of them representing one side or the other and it influences you know, just everything. Two examples of that recently-- Tie Domi had a lot of things to say about the NWHL and he basically said that it's ruining women's hockey or it's standing in the way of women's hockey. Cassie Campbell went on CBC and said a whole bunch of things about the NWHL that were pretty much blatantly false. And a lot of people took those comments as representative of the PWHPA. In reality, neither of those people work for the PWHPA. And so it's hard to find that disconnect between perception and reality. In reality, there's not as much animosity as I think a lot of people are feeling and both sides are just trying to do what they feel is best for women's hockey overall.
It's got to be frustrating when you talk about this issue where people who are perceived on the highest level of hockey coverage, including former players, are essentially spreading misinformation into a situation that is very nuanced.
MB: It is because for people like me or for other people who know women's hockey and are invested in it and know the reality of what's going on-- we can watch those or read those quotes and say, well, that's not true. But someone who's not as informed, to watch Hockey Night in Canada and see this misinformation being spread, they're not going to know that that's not true. They're going to say, well, it's Hockey Night in Canada, like I trust them. Of course, whatever they're saying is true. And then it changes, everything that they perceive. It changes their group of people that surround them and how they think about women's hockey. You know, it doesn't help anyone to spread misinformation, it doesn't help either side. And even if you're not connected to either side, I think everyone just needs to be very careful about how they handle things, the questions that they ask and the tone of voice that you use when you speak about these things.
Doesn't it also come down to doing your homework at the end of the day as far as an issue is concerned? I mean, some of these things could quickly be fact checked. I don't say that to be overly harsh. I know none of these jobs are easy. And I don't like to scrutinize people who a lot of the times are doing their job very well. But this is an issue where there’s been a pattern, right? Am I out of place to say I'm seeing a pattern of media coverage misrepresent the situation at hand?
MB: No, I think you're absolutely right. And I think that’s obviously part of a larger conversation about journalism and media coverage overall. But some of these things are blatantly like fact checking, like you said, and some of them are just the tone like the Tie Domi tweets. I don't want to talk too much about it, because it's not very positive, but when people did reach out to him to ask even, you know, who was running or standing in the way of women's hockey, and people asked why he didn't really respond. He just insulted them. And that was his response and that doesn't lend any credibility to the discussion as a whole. So even like, when I was dealing with the PWHPA players in the questions that I asked, that makes a difference. The journalism that we as media members do makes a difference. If I'm asking them, why isn't the NWHL good enough for you? That's one question. If I'm asking them what are you striving for in the future league? You know, they're almost the same question, but a very different tone, and you get a very different answer and that will change how the overall audience sees women's hockey because one of it is--- this is why I don't like the NWHL. And it's very negative and antagonistic. And the other way is very well--- this is what we're trying to do. This is the path we're on. And this is all about the PWHPA. So I always strive to kind of be that neutral person and not add to the misinformation and I think that's just critical at this point and in where we are in women's hockey.
And with that, we talked about the Beauts and their upcoming schedule, but we also have the rivalry series that's upcoming. Let's talk about that.
MB: So the US and Canada national teams get together for a series of games. The first one was Monday night in Victoria, British Columbia. Canada won. But there was also this whole piece of the broadcast part of it that I just want to touch on briefly, all the games are being broadcast on NHL network in the United States. It's a TSN feed of the broadcast, but still it is viewable. Monday night's game started at 10:30 p.m. because it's in British Columbia, obviously. But the beginning of the game was actually not broadcast on NHL network, because there was men's college hockey that was in overtime that was still going on. So it didn't make it on time. But they were streaming it on the app or online or something like that. So hopefully that gets figured out. I've also written in the past about broadcasting and about how broadcasters speak about women's hockey and that's a whole different issue where everything is related back to men's hockey or how we can relate these women to men or mispronounced their names or things like that. And that's still an issue a year after I wrote that article initially, but it's great hockey. It's super entertaining. And one of the upcoming games is this Saturday in Anaheim and over 11,000 tickets have been sold so far. The Ducks have been really good at promoting it and tickets start at $10. So I mean, how can you not go if you're out there and you can pay $10?
And to juxtapose that, how much did (World) Juniors tickets cost when they were here in Buffalo?
MB: A lot more than that.
Accessibility is again, something that we talk about when it comes with the sport and that's a great example of accessibility. And that leads us I guess, to my last question, I want to ask regarding that. We're seeing more opportunity to showcase women's hockey now, whereas in the past, we have brought up that conversation, oh, you'll showcase an entire series of juniors hockey but not the highest level of women's play. Is it happening fast enough in your eyes this change in investment or is it something where we really should be adjusting quicker as a media base to our coverage for women's hockey comparative to not even just men's but college and juniors men's?
MB: I think it's a little bit of both honestly, just because of the current state of women's hockey. There is the NWHL who has games pretty much every weekend. And Twitch is great, but it's not a big audience like an ESPN or a national TV broadcast would be. PWHPA games are mostly streamed on YouTube. I would love to see those games get some more media attention. But I do think that things could move faster, but I think it's also like, we kind of talked about you want it to be good coverage, not just sloppy coverage. This is definitely the time to get women's hockey out there and women in hockey. Blake Bolden, who is a member of the PWHPA and a former Beauts player actually was just hired by the Los Angeles Kings as a scout, which is a phenomenal accomplishment. Obviously, she's going to be scouting for the Ontario reign of the AHL, kind of scouting in California. So that's great. I haven't seen a whole lot of media coverage about it to be honest. And that circles back to women's hockey and promoting it and you know, you really as a media coverage person of women's hockey, you're also helping to promote the sport, because you're getting those eyes on there. You're getting the readers, you're getting that information out there and you're helping to spread the word that, hey, women's hockey is a thing that exists. Here's how you can watch it. Here's how you can learn more. So you know, it's kind of that for writing media coverage but also an advocacy standpoint of getting it out there.
And the product is not too shabby itself. We’ve had a couple of absolutely tremendous games recently. Not to go too far into it, but the Boston Pride losing-- the ending of that game. I don't know how you're not entertained. In general, you don't have to know anything about any of the teams this year not to be entertained by the way that game ended.
MB: For sure. Boston was on a 19 game winning streak. Even if you don't know anything about the sport or anything about the team, part of you wants to see that 19 game winning streak extended because it's just ridiculous. But then part of you wants to see it end because it's ridiculous. And it would be awesome to see a team take them down. And then it ends in such great fashion. Minnesota beat them 4-3. And it's like, wow, the Pride are human again. Yeah, of course they won the next day, but it's that one loss and the last column that will forever be there. Ruined their perfect season.
You can follow Burgess on Twitter @_MelissaBurgess for NWHL updates.
Read Burgess' work here at Victory Press.