While it’s completely understandable to keep the four cities close for travel concerns, and Boston and Buffalo being hockey-centric markets, is the NWHL missing something by not including Minneapolis, which already has the strong Gophers program as a base. Or Chicago with a rapidly expanding youth hockey scene and even more so for girls (though the Cubs might start stunting interest in a hurry. No, honestly that’s how it works around here). Obviously the logistics are a nightmare for a league struggling to get by to be in the Midwest, but shoot for the moon and all that?
Zoe: The Midwest is such a quandary and even the NHL has really struggled to get a quality pro team going in Minnesota (all due respect to Wild fans, but it’s been a long time since a Minnesota NHL team competed for the Stanley Cup). Wild games sell out nevertheless, but they are not a huge draw to television audiences. For women’s hockey, the Whitecaps are out there but they haven’t been part of a league in quite some time. Chicago, like you said, has so many other competing sports, but in Minnesota and Wisconsin the college teams have such huge followings. I think the main hurdle is travel; it’s much harder to get anywhere via bus out there (and bus is currently how the NWHL teams travel, busing distance being a major reason for why the locations were chosen for the original four teams).
In the CHWL you have Calgary which is a huge outlier in terms of distance, but Calgary is a very important hockey city and it’s where the national team trains, which makes it impossible to exclude them or pressure them to move closer, I think.
If you can stabilize the original four NWHL franchises I think Pennsylvania is a good place to look at for expansion (really, anywhere, there’s a ton of hockey in PA at all levels, but I’m from near Pittsburgh and I live in Philadelphia so either of those would be amazing—and there’s also Wilkes-Barre and Erie). Chicago is also not a bad idea. Team USA has practiced/had camp in Chicago recently. But like Hannah said I think it’s a ways away before that happens.
Hannah: Technically, there is a team in the Midwest already- the Minnesota Whitecaps, which isn’t affiliated with either the CWHL or NWHL, where the Minnesota-based players play against local area teams (last year, they played against a couple NW teams in exhibition games). They have a small fan base, and Minnesota is probably the last place that needs more focus on women and girls hockey right now- they’re hockey-crazy as it is. It makes a lot of sense to go there next, but the location isn’t ideal.
This may sound cynical, but the NWHL shot the moon when it said it was going to pay its players in its first year and now we have this, so…I don’t think they’re missing anything by not including Minneapolis. As someone who lives near Chicago, I would LOVE to have a team out here, and if we’re talking expansion, yes, I’d say a Midwest conference might be good if we could maybe have three or four teams to help make travel for Calgary a little easier. But I think there were points in the CWHL’s beginning where Calgary didn’t play every CW team because the distance made it so hard to get there. Weighing the pros and cons, I’d rather wait.