CWHL players hope NHL lockout draws fans
(pictured: Olympic gold medalist Meagham Mikkelson plays for CWHL’s Alberta team)
Over two years ago Meghan Agosta and Meaghan Mikkelson skated off the Olympic rink in Vancouver sporting gold medals as members of the Canadian national women’s team.
Now they’ll be returning to their respective club teams in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, whose season opens Saturday. With their 2010 male counterparts locked out of their arenas as a result of the NHL’s labour dispute, Agosta and Mikkelson are among only the Olympians suiting up to play hockey this fall.
Agosta, the CWHL’s defending Angela James Bowl winner as scoring champion, is preparing for another season with the Montreal Stars. She hopes her league – which has been plagued by sparse attendance – can capitalize on the absence of NHL hockey.
“I hope that this lockout helps promote the CWHL and women’s hockey a lot more, “ said Agosta. “There are a lot of girls in the CWHL who have played in the Olympics, who played on their national teams, and who have played competitively in Division I. It’s great hockey, it’s not like it’s “ok” hockey. I know that Montreal does a great job with getting a lot of fans out to try to promote the game, and I hope that the other teams can as well.”
The Stars, who have won three of the past 4 Clarkson Cups as league champions, share a geographic advantage with Toronto, Brampton and Boston over the lone CWHL western team, Alberta. Mikkelson, who patrols the blueline for Team Alberta, sits on the league’s Board of Directors, and is optimistic about growing the game outside of the Eastern Time Zone. “I think that we’re making progress, and that’s the most important thing right now,” said Mikkelson. “We have a lot of great support out there. It’s all about making progress, and I think that’s what the league is doing. With one team out west, that’s just what it is right now. We’re looking to build five strong teams in the league and then we’ll expand from there.”
Mikkelson remains hopeful that the NHL lockout will draw fans who would otherwise be seated at the Scotiabank Saddledome for Flames games. “I think that making sure that people are aware that our league is around – that’s one of our challenges is that people aren’t aware of it,” she said. “Coming out and just seeing what women’s hockey is all about; I think that if people give us more of a chance and come out to our games and support us, they’ll see what great hockey it is.”
The women’s game was given a huge boost when EA sports included Olympians Hayley WIckenheiser and Angela Ruggeiro in their NHL 13 video game. Agosta says that the inclusion of the two women – a Canadian teammate, and an American rival – lends to the legitimacy of the sport. “I think it can be an amazing thing for young girls playing sports,” said Agosta. “The little girls that are interested in hockey and do have dreams and aspirations that we did when we were younger – they want to kind of be like us. So to be able to play and be one of us, I think it can be a pretty cool thing.”
Agosta, Mikkelson and their teammates won’t ever achieve the stardom of fellow gold medalists like Sidney Crosby and Roberto Luongo. But as long as the NHL arenas remain vacant, they’ll be the only Olympians skating with sticks and pucks. If there was ever a time for the women’s league to be opportunistic in expanding its fan base, it’s now.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Off The Post, and is a regular columnist at TMLfans.ca
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