USA-Canada ‘Rivalry Rematch’ highlights historic underinvestment, and future potential, of women’s hockey

After winning gold at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Canada will face off against the U.S. in a rivalry rematch hosted by the PWHPA and Pittsburgh Penguins
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Saturday afternoon’s ‘Rivalry Rematch’ game between the U.S. and Canadian women’s hockey teams will air on NHL network in the United States, SN1/SN Now and TVA Sports in Canada, and AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh for local TV viewers.


Originally published: March 4, 2022

In a historic first, the U.S. and Canadian women’s hockey teams will play a post-Olympics “rematch” on Saturday, March 12 at 4 p.m. ET.

The rivalry game, which is being organized by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and hosted by the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, will be played at PPG Paints Arena.

Last month, Canada defeated the U.S., 3-2, at the 2022 Winter Olympics to win a fifth overall gold medal in women’s hockey. In Pittsburgh, both teams will be led by guest coaches. The PWHPA says it is still determining whether players with remaining NCAA eligibility will be able to participate (full rosters are below).

But the question of why the PWHPA and Pittsburgh Penguins are organizing and funding the event – and not USA Hockey or Hockey Canada – has an answer that spans decades, and multiple sports. And it also contains a hint of what is to come in women’s professional hockey, including a potential team in Seattle.

The U.S. and Canada might be bitter hockey rivals, but off the ice? ‘Our goal is the same’

While the U.S. and Canada have traditionally played a series of rivalry games in the lead-up to each Olympics, the game on March 12 will mark the first time the two teams face off in the post-Olympics spotlight.

“There’s always been a lot of talk about doing something like this, a sort of post-Olympics tour and making sure that this visibility doesn’t just end after the Olympic gold medal game,” said PWHPA Operations consultant Jayna Hefford, who won four gold medals while playing for Team Canada. “But it’s never been done before and nobody’s been willing to take it on.”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: In sled hockey, coed in name only, women are building their own Paralympic pipeline

“I think it’s a huge miss that we aren’t doing some sort of tour post-Olympics,” U.S. forward and PWHPA board member Hilary Knight said last week, prior to the announcement of the one-off game on March 12. “It’s only going to deepen the value of that team, to any organization, and to any sponsor or brand that wants to be involved.”

The U.S.-Canada women’s hockey gold medal game in Beijing averaged 3.54 million viewers on NBC, making it the second most-watched hockey game in the U.S. since 2019 – behind only the title-clinching game of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. In Canada, the game drew over 1.3 million viewers on CBC.

“We’re taking advantage of this great spotlight that is on the women’s game,” Hefford said. “There’s a demand for this and there’s a demand to see the best players in the world on a consistent basis.”

In some ways, it is fitting that the four-year Olympic cycle will conclude with a game organized by the PWHPA. The organization was founded in 2019 after more than 200 players – including every post-grad member of the 2022 U.S. and Canadian Olympic teams – announced that they would not play in any North American league, essentially boycotting the NWHL (which has since rebranded as the PHF).

“The players that play on Team Canada and Team USA have been united under one banner, and that’s the PWHPA,” said Canadian forward and PWHPA board member Brianne Jenner. “While we’re bitter rivals on the ice… our goal is the same and we’re working together off the ice to try to build a better future for women’s professional hockey.”

ALSO FROM ON HER TURF: Women starred at 2022 Winter Olympics, but men photographed most of the action

But the PWHPA stepping up to the plate also exposes the historic lack of investment and marketing in women’s hockey.

A USA-Canada women’s hockey ‘rivalry rematch’ is not a new idea

The concept of a post-Olympics tour has been raised in negotiations with USA Hockey without success according to John Langel, an attorney who has represented players on the U.S. women’s hockey team since 2016, including during their 2017 pre-Worlds boycott.

Langel, who retired from law firm Ballard Spahr in 2016, previously worked with U.S. women’s soccer players, and even helped that team launch its first ever victory tour over two decades ago.

In the lead-up to the 1999 Women’s Soccer World Cup – which was hosted in eight cities across the U.S. – American players asked U.S. Soccer how the federation planned to capitalize on the event. They were shocked to learn that the federation’s only real plan was to send them to South Africa and Egypt after the tournament.

We need to grow the game here. Why are we going to Africa?Julie Foudy recalled in The National Team, written by Caitlin Murray.

Concerned that U.S. Soccer wasn’t interested in growing and promoting the women’s game in the United States, American players – aided by Langel – decided to organize their own 12-city indoor victory tour. They didn’t do their planning in secret, but U.S. Soccer essentially ignored the player-organized tour until – a day after the U.S. won the 1999 Women’s World Cup – a full-page advertisement for the victory tour appeared in the Los Angeles Times. U.S. Soccer officials were shocked – and furious. They threatened an injunction to stop the tour, and then offered $2 million to buy the event out and send the players to Africa, as planned.

But the players persisted, and the tour ultimately helped create a new revenue stream. Two decades later, the victory tour remains integral to USWNT player contracts – though the number of games has diminished – the result of an increase in overall programming opportunities (both with the national team and club teams).

When the U.S. women’s soccer team won the 2019 World Cup – and then embarked on a five-game victory tour – Knight took notice.

“That sort of sparked us saying, ‘Wait, why haven’t we done that?'” she said.

It was not the first time someone asked that question.

‘We had some hiccups’

In 1998, the U.S. won the first ever gold medal in women’s hockey. “There was a lot of fanfare and excitement around the gold medal, and we had nothing planned,” recalled Angela Ruggiero.

While Ruggiero, then 18, returned to high school after the Olympics, she recalls watching teammates Cammi Granato and Sarah Tueting appear on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”

“I think we realized that there was a market for us after the Olympics, and we should be doing something,” Ruggiero said.

But nothing more substantial materialized in 2002. Or 2006.

Ahead of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Ruggiero and agent Sheryl Shade decided to take it on themselves. Shade brought on Mike Burg, who had planned similar post-Olympics tours in figure skating and gymnastics, both sanctioned by their respective national governing bodies (NGBs).

“We put our brains together and put the whole plan in place,” Ruggiero said. “We had rinks secured… we had the trips and the dates. The teams were all ready to go and we had some hiccups with our NGBs.

“I remember negotiating, trying to get things sorted out at the Olympics.”

When the U.S. lost in the gold medal game, the remaining hurdles essentially became insurmountable.

Four years later, after Canada defeated the U.S., 3-2, in stunning fashion at the Sochi Olympics, Tim Leiweke, then president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, says he and chairman Larry Tanenbaum tried to organize a post-Olympics rematch with a “winner-take-all” prize pot.

“We had conversations with the Canadian Federation and the U.S. Hockey Federation and tried to pull it off,” Leiweke recalled.

But that game fell through, too. “There was a lot of politics and a lot of details from the two federations,” Leiweke said.

In an email, USA Hockey’s Senior Director of Communications Dave Fischer said the NGB has sanctioned the upcoming USA-CAN rematch, but did not comment on the previous tour attempts.

Hockey Canada did not return a request for comment.

While a post-Olympics rematch has been years in the making, Hefford is especially proud of what the March 12 game represents for the future of women’s hockey.

“Of course, there’s a Canada-U.S. rivalry going on, but I think this event is so much bigger than that,” she said. “It’s also showing the solidarity and how united these women are.”

Beyond the upcoming showcase games (including an event this weekend hosted by the Washington Capitals), the PWHPA is still marching towards its initial goal, though Hefford declined on Monday to provide a specific timeline.

“When the PWHPA was formed, its mission was to create a sustainable and viable professional league for the women to play in,” she said. “We haven’t swayed from that mission.”

Does the future of women’s pro hockey include a team in Seattle?

While Leiweke might not have been able to stage a U.S.-Canada rematch in 2014, he has remained a fan of women’s hockey and hopes to play a role in the sport’s future.

The company he co-founded in 2015, Oak View Group, owns 51% of the newly renovated Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, which is home to the WNBA’s Seattle Storm and NHL’s Seattle Kraken.

And Leiweke envisions a day when a women’s pro hockey team will also call the venue home. He said he’s been working with his brother Tod, CEO of the Kraken, on the endeavor.

“We really applaud what these women are doing,” Tim said. “We’re going to try to help them any way we can.”

Tim said his perspective on the future of women’s hockey has been inspired, in part, by the WNBA’s Storm, a team that has spent the last three seasons playing without a true home court while Climate Pledge Arena underwent renovations.

“They went out, they stayed as a profitable organization, they won championships.”

Then add in the fact that the Storm is bringing back Tim’s personal hero in Sue Bird for the 2022 season.

“We are really inspired by them. They’ve taught me an awful lot about how to do it right.”

Looking ahead to the future, Leiweke said launching a women’s pro hockey team in Seattle – as part of a larger PWHPA-led league – isn’t about making a donation.

“One: they’ve earned it. Two: right time. Three: right idea. And if it’s done properly, it’s going to be successful,” Leiweke said, citing his experience with Major League Soccer while with AEG.

“You’ve gotta be patient. It’s gonna take some time. There’s going to be good days, but there’s going to be bad days.

“But if you find the right nucleus of partners… and you have a partnership and a bond between those initial founding partners, and the players, you’re going to kill it. You will have success. Because at the end of the day, what really matters is, ‘Will people come and watch this?’ Of course they will. This is one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.”

USA and Canada women’s hockey rosters for the ‘Rivalry Rematch’ hosted by the PWHPA and Pittsburgh Penguins

Note: The PWHPA is still awaiting confirmation on whether players with NCAA eligibility will be able to compete. That includes Sarah Fillier for Team Canada, and Caroline Harvey, Abbey Murphy, Cayla Barnes, and Grace Zumwinkle for the United States. The only other player missing is Brianna Decker, who was injured in Team USA’s first game of the Olympic tournament.

Canada Roster

United States Roster

Coaches:
  • Cassie Campbell-Pascall
  • Jayna Hefford
  • Laura McIntosh

Forwards: 

  • Rebecca Johnson
  • Laura Stacey
  • Jill Saulnier
  • Melodie Daoust
  • Brianne Jenner
  • Sarah Nurse
  • Natalie Spooner
  • Emily Clark
  • Emma Maltais
  • Marie-Philip Poulin
  • Blayre Turnbull
  • Jamie Lee Rattray

Defense: 

  • Jocelyne Larocque
  • Renata Fast
  • Ella Shelton
  • Ashton Bell
  • Erin Ambrose
  • Micah Zandee-Hart
  • Claire Thompson

Goalies: 

  • Ann-Renee Desbiens
  • Emerance Maschmeyer
  • Kristen Campbell
Coaches:
  • Cammi Granato
  • Emily Matheson
  • Matt Leitner

Forwards: 

  • Abby Roque
  • Kelly Pannek
  • Hayley Scamurra
  • Jesse Compher
  • Hannah Brandt
  • Hilary Knight
  • Dani Cameranesi
  • Alex Carpenter
  • Kendall Coyne Schofield
  • Amanda Kessel

Defense: 

  • Lee Stecklein
  • Megan Keller
  • Megan Bozek
  • Savannah Harmon
  • Jincy Dunne

Goalies: 

  • Nicole Hensley
  • Alex Cavallini
  • Maddie Rooney

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.