Ever since she founded the National Women's Hockey League in 2015, Dani Rylan has wanted to have a team in Minnesota. Tuesday, the NWHL commissioner got her wish.
Rylan announced the league has acquired the independent Minnesota Whitecaps, expanding to five teams and bringing the highest level of women's professional hockey to the state.
The Whitecaps join franchises in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut and New York as members of the first North American women's league to pay its players. The Whitecaps, founded in 2004, will begin play this season with a 16-game league schedule.
Many details have yet to be determined. The team does not have a home base; Rylan did say it might play at TRIA Rink, the Wild's new practice facility. The team roster will not form until free agency begins June 1, and the staff will be completed over the summer.
While the Whitecaps' core management team will remain — including co-founder Jack Brodt, who said he will be general manager and coach — it is uncertain how many current and former players will return. U.S. Olympians Hannah Brandt, Monique Lamoureux-Morando, Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Alex Rigsby and Kendall Coyne played for the Whitecaps in 2016-17.
Brandt said Tuesday she is "waiting on more info on the league," but she is excited to see the Whitecaps continue their growth.
"We're ready to expand," Rylan said Tuesday in St. Paul. "We wanted to take our time with it. If we could have started with a team in Minnesota, we definitely would have. All the data shows this is where a lot of the talent exists, and we wanted to have them represented."
The NWHL, which owns all of its franchises except for Buffalo, will pay players' salaries and travel costs. Rylan said salaries — which were cut substantially in 2016 — will remain at last season's level of $5,000 to $7,000. Players also receive a percentage from sales of jerseys and T-shirts with their names on them.
The league's salaries originally ranged from $10,000 to $26,000. Rylan declined Tuesday to give specifics about the NWHL's finances, saying only that it has "a handful of investors" and has expanded its revenue streams over the past three years. In January 2017, Lamoureux-Morando expressed skepticism about the league's financial health, telling the New York Times "it's probably not the smart move to join that league right now, considering their financial situation."
Rylan said the Whitecaps have no formal relationship with the Wild, but added the NHL team "has been great friends and advisers to us" and that she hopes to expand ties. The NWHL All-Star Game was held at TRIA Rink last season.
NWHL deputy commissioner Hayley Moore said she expects the Whitecaps to attract some of the league's best talent. Rylan added that several women who have played in the league in the past have asked to get "on the shortlist" for the team's roster.
The game's best women players now have two salaried leagues to choose from. The seven-team Canadian Women's Hockey League, founded in 2007, began paying players a stipend last season and has a salary cap of $100,000 per team.
The Whitecaps were formed by two Twin Cities hockey dads, Brodt and Dwayne Schmidgall. They wanted to give their daughters — Winny Brodt, the former Gopher and U.S. national team member, and Jenny (Schmidgall) Potter, a four-time U.S. Olympic medalist — a place to play after college.
For their first seven seasons, the Whitecaps were part of the Canada-based Western Women's Hockey League, which ceased operations in 2011. They have played an independent schedule since then. Recent seasons have included 12 to 15 games against Minnesota college and prep teams, with the Gophers, Minnesota Duluth and Shattuck-St. Mary's among their opponents.
Of the 38 players on last season's roster, 31 were Minnesotans and 27 played in the WCHA, including nine former Gophers. Many U.S. Olympians and national team members have been part of the team, and 2018 U.S. Olympic coach Robb Stauber is a former Whitecaps coach.