While members of the U.S. and Canadian women's national hockey teams are sitting out and advocating for a new league, the National Women's Hockey League is still in existence.
The Minnesota Whitecaps will begin their second NWHL season with a weekend series against the Metropolitan Riveters. The defending Isobel Cup champions will return to Tria Rink for an expanded 24-game league season that runs through March 1.
When: Saturday, 2 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.
Where: Tria Rink, St. Paul
Tickets: $40 center ice, $30 end zone, $20 standing room; available online at www.nwhl.zone/tickets.
Webcast: The series, and all NWHL games this season, will be streamed at Twitch.tv/NWHL and Twitch.tv/NWHL2.
About the Whitecaps: The roster has a slightly different look this season without Hannah Brandt, Lee Stecklein and Kendall Coyne Schofield, who are among more than 200 players sitting out the NWHL season. That group — led by members of the U.S. and Canadian national teams — has formed a players' union and is advocating for a new NHL-backed women's league.
All were important to the Whitecaps' success last season, when the team went 12-4 in the regular season and won the league title. But four NWHL all-stars return, supplemented by some talented newcomers.
Winger Jonna Curtis, the Whitecaps' leading scorer and the NWHL's newcomer of the year, is expected to team up with rookie center Nicole Schammel on the top line. Schammel ranked second in the WCHA with 47 points last season as a Gophers senior. Other top returnees are defenseman Amanda Boulier, who recorded 13 points last season, and goaltender Amanda Leveille, who was among the NWHL leaders with a goals-against average of 2.09 and save percentage of .923.
About the Riveters: The Riveters have never beaten the Whitecaps, losing to them in all four-regular-season games and a first-round playoff matchup last season. The Whitecaps outscored them 23-7 in the five games, including 4-0 and 3-1 victories at Tria Rink in the Whitecaps' first two games as a member of the NWHL. The Riveters opened the season at home last week with a 4-2 loss to Boston. NWHL veteran Madison Packer, who played in college at Wisconsin, is the Riveters' captain and their all-time leader in goals (29) and points (51).
What's new with the NWHL: The league has expanded the schedule to 24 games this season, up from 16 last year. The salary cap has risen from $100,000 to $150,000 per team, and players are earning more from increased leaguewide sponsorships. The NWHL is splitting revenue from those sponsorships and league media deals 50-50 with players. The league also received a broadcast-rights fee for the first time, signing a three-year deal with Twitch.tv to livestream all games.
Hoist that banner: Before Saturday's opener at Tria Rink, the Whitecaps will raise their 2018-19 championship banner. The ceremony is set to start at 1:50 p.m.