When many of the top women's hockey players in North America broke away from the National Women's Hockey League in 2019 in an effort to bring about a more financially stable league, they knew their quest would require patience. Then a year later, the coronavirus pandemic hit, forcing more down time in 2020.
This weekend, however, fans will have a rare chance in a non-Olympic year to see women's hockey at its highest level when the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association begins its 2021 Dream Gap Tour with a pair of games in the New York area.
Teams from the association's Minnesota region and New Hampshire region will face off in Franklin Center, N.J., at 7 p.m. Saturday. The marquee event comes at 6 p.m. Sunday when Minnesota and New Hampshire meet in Madison Square Garden in a game televised by the NHL Network. It's part of the PWHPA's partnership with the New York Rangers.
"We are so excited first off to get back on the ice after such a crazy year,'' said Hannah Brandt, a 2018 Olympic gold medalist for Team USA and a former Gophers standout. "And to be at such an iconic building like MGS makes it even more exciting.''
Among those joining Brandt on Minnesota's roster are fellow gold medalists Dani Cameranesi, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hilary Knight, Kelly Pannek, Maddie Rooney and Lee Stecklein. For New Hampshire, Gigi Marvin, Amanda Kessel and Briana Decker are among the standouts.
The association also has a Dream Gap Tour stop set for Chicago, part of a partnership with the Blackhawks. Again, the Minnesota and New Hampshire teams will meet, at 2 p.m. March 6 at United Center in a game that will be televised by NBC Sports Network, and at 10:30 a.m. March 7 at Third Fifth Arena.
The PWHPA on Friday announced its #StickInTheGround campaign, which calls for support of women's hockey. In a video, such NHL stars as Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews back the association's cause.
Brandt, of Vadnais Heights, welcomes the national television opportunity from the Dream Gap Tour and what it can do for the future of women's hockey.
"I think it shows how far women's hockey has come to be playing on this stage,'' she said, "and I am hopeful there will be little girls all over the country who will be watching and dreaming about playing professional women's hockey one day.''