Amanda Kessel: More NHL teams must step up for women’s, girls hockey initiatives

Amanda Kessel, a two-time women's hockey Olympian, holds up her gold medal from the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang at Madison Square Garden.
Amanda Kessel, a two-time women’s hockey Olympian, holds up her gold medal from the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang at Madison Square Garden. Photo Credit: CAIR New York

It’s a watershed moment for women’s hockey in North America, and 2018 U.S. Olympic gold medalist Amanda Kessel is, not surprisingly, front and center.

That’s just fine with her.

Kessel was in Manhattan last week to help launch the Rangers’ Junior Girls Hockey (RJGH) initiative, which is designed to grow female participation in the sport through the creation of new programs across the tristate area. RJGH will oversee the formation of a youth league with teams based at 13 area rinks as a platform for girls between 11 and 14 years old to play against their peers, according to team officials.

A two-time Olympian who helped the U.S. earn gold last year in Pyeongchang, Kessel would have relished such a program when she was growing up.

“I would have definitely been involved in a program like this when I was younger, if there had been any at the time,” said Kessel, who is serving as an official ambassador for the Rangers’ initiative. “My parents tried to get me in all the camps and teams that were around back then, and they were great, but a program like this is really going to be important for girls who want to play.”

The forward, who starred collegiately at Minnesota, is also part of a group of 200 players who are effectively boycotting the only women’s professional league on the continent, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), as part of a fight for a stronger league that pays its athletes a reasonable wage. By refusing to play for the NWHL during the 2019-20 season, Kessel and her peers in the game hope to create something that girls in RJGH can aspire to: a “stable and sustainable” women’s professional league.

The players were moved to act when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded at the conclusion of the 2018-19 campaign, despite the fact its players, like those in the NWHL, received salaries that are a fraction of those seen in the men’s game.

“The league folding in Canada was pretty eye-opening,” said Kessel, who reportedly made just over $10,000 playing for the NWHL’s Metropolitan Riveters in Newark, New Jersey last season.

Kessel and her fellow players hope to play in a number of women’s hockey “showcases” around North America, starting in the fall. Ultimately, though, she wants the NHL to create a women’s league similar to the WNBA — or at least establish more programs like RJGH.

“I would love that,” Kessel said. “I think it’s going to happen. I just don’t know when. Hopefully, other NHL teams will see what the Rangers are doing, and it will start from there.”

Visit the RJGH website for more information.