By Peter Schwartz
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Brooklyn has certainly made up for lost time.
After the Dodgers left town following the 1957 season, it wasn’t until 2001 that a professional team — the Brooklyn Cyclones — returned to the borough as the Mets’ Class A team in the New York-Penn League.
Fast forward to 2012, as Brooklyn returned to the big leagues when the New Jersey Nets moved to the brand new Barclays Center. Even before the Nets’ season began, the new arena on Atlantic Avenue picked up a tenant for the future when the Islanders announced that they were moving there for the 2015-16 season.
So as the Islanders get set for their inaugural campaign in Brooklyn, they won’t be the only hockey team in town.
The National Women’s Hockey League will begin its inaugural season this fall with four teams, including the New York Riveters. They will play their home games at the Aviator Sports & Events Center.
The other teams in the league are the Buffalo Beauts, the Connecticut Whale and the Boston Pride.
“This is so exciting; not only for me, but for women’s hockey,” said Dani Rylan, who serves as both the NWHL Commissioner and Riveters’ general manager. “This is a natural evolution for the game and it was one of those things where it was about time.”
The 2014 Women’s Olympic Gold Medal game, when Canada beat the United States 3-2 in overtime, was the most watched event in Sochi on NBC. That, coupled with the reaction from the U.S. Women’s Soccer team winning the World Cup, is an indication that women’s sports is gaining in popularity.
And now its hockey’s turn to try to capitalize.
“It is about time for women’s hockey to have evolved to this level as well,” said Rylan. “Part of it is because it’s 2015, and the awareness that can grow around the game and the number of girls that are going to the rink to play hockey is growing every year.”
U.S. Hockey registration among women continues to increase, especially every four years after the Olympics. And now the NWHL is hoping to do its share to grow the game.
The Riveters will open up their 18-game season on October 11 at Connecticut, and will play their home opener on October 18 against Boston. Each team will play one game each weekend, with most of the games on Sundays. All four teams will make the playoffs, with both rounds being best-of-three games.
Former NHL player Chad Wiseman, who saw some action with the Rangers as well as the Devils’ AHL team in Albany during his 14-year professional career, will be the Riveters’ head coach.
“Women’s hockey right now in North America is arguably the fastest-growing sport,” said Wiseman. “This league is not only great for women’s hockey, but hockey in general. This is an exciting time for anyone to get involved in a piece of history. I’m happy and honored to be a part of it.”
As the season draws near, the Riveters are still putting their roster together. Among the players that they’ve already signed is Japanese goalie Nana Fujimoto, who was named the Most Valuable Goaltender at the 2015 Women’s World Hockey Championship.
They have also inked former Boston College star Meghan Fardelmann, who notched 99 points in 137 games.
“Fardelmannis a two-way forward with a lot of strength and power,” said Rylan. “Fardelmann’s experience will make her a leader on the Riveters, on the ice and in the locker room.”
The Riveters have also signed former Quinnipiac defenseman Elena Orlando, as well as two former Union Dutchwomen: goalie Shenae Lundberg and defenseman Ashley Johnston.
So how will women’s professional hockey be received in our area?
“I think it’s going to be huge,” said Rylan. “Brooklyn is becoming a hockey hotbed with the Islanders moving to town and us planting some roots down at Aviator Sports.”
It’s an uphill climb for any new league that starts out. When it comes to women’s sports, the WNBA has been able to carve out a niche since its inception in 1997. Although the WUSA wasn’t able to capitalize on the United States’ victory in the 1999 Women’s World Cup and folded after three seasons, it’s clear that the interest is there after the events of last month in Canada.
With the success that both Canada and the United States have enjoyed in women’s international hockey competition, it seems as if the time is right to see if a pro league can work in North America.
Here in New York, we have a crowded sports market with a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar. Now the sports fan in Brooklyn has multiple choices, including two on ice. Given the increase in women playing hockey over the years, the Riveters figure to be an intriguing and family-affordable product to give a chance.
For more information on the Riveters and the National Women’s Hockey League, go to www.nwhl.co.