Tuesday, 31 March 2015

An Influential Force

The young lady in the image to the left should start becoming a little more important to you as this summer starts to unfold. That's Dani Rylan, and she should be named as one of the more influential people in hockey in this upcoming year if everything goes to plan. You see, she's the driving force behind this new, upstart women's league known as the National Women's Hockey League or NWHL. Miss Rylan's body of work in hockey isn't storied or steeped in history just yet, but it will be once the inaugural 2015-16 season for the NWHL starts. As she and her partners work to make this new league a driving force in women's hockey, she'll be carving out a path that very few women have had a chance to do in hockey as she'll also wear the GM's hat for the New York Riveters in their first season!

Her Twitter account tagline reads "dreamer. doer." and she certainly is doing both with this new NWHL venture. She was born in Tampa Bay, Florida - a state not know for its rich hockey history - and made her way to the NCAA's Northeastern Huskies women's program as a player thanks to her dad who worked for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning's inaugural season was in 1992, and this gave Rylan, who was five years-old at the time, the inroads to skating and hockey in Florida! It helps that her brothers also played, so there was a definite family tie-in that resulted in her developing into a solid player and playing for the Huskies.

She also played for the Division II Metropolitan State University in Denver as the only woman in the ACHA before arriving at Northeastern, proving that she's capable of holding her own against the boys. She recorded three goals and five assists in those two years in Denver, and she caught the eye of Northeastern's program and she joined the Huskies. She recorded three goals and seven assists in both years, but helped Northeastern capture the Beanpot Trophy in 2011-12!

After graduating with a degree in Sports Leadership from Northeastern and a Broadcast Journalism degree from Metro State, it appeared that Rylan was set to become a household name after landing a contract with the NHL Network, but the lockout put those dreams on hold. Instead, Rylan followed another dream and opened a coffee shop up in New York City called Rise and Grind located in East Harlem. If and when I ever get to New York City, you know I'm looking this place up for a coffee or two. It sounds like a happening place!

"I had moved to New York City to work for the NHL Network," she told New England Hockey Journal's Kat Hasenauer Cornetta. "My brother lives in New York City too, working as a coffee distributor. He had a storefront he wasn't using, so we worked out a business deal. I got the storefront and a coffee distributor and opened up a shop."

It wasn't all fun and games, though. Rylan showed that dreamer and doer life motto once more. "My friend designed the shop, but I had to do all of the renovation work. I ended up laying tile and all of that," Rylan said. "I compared (the renovations) to preseason. I was pulling twenty hour days to get the shop ready. It was just like working incredibly hard in the preseason with the hope that it pays off during the season. I feel the same way about this."

Clearly, her hard work has turned Rise and Grind into a successful spot for coffee. What's cooler is that she's also giving back to the community through her business venture. "I donate five cents of each cup of coffee I sell to Ice Hockey in Harlem," explained Rylan. "I physically put the five cents in a stainless steel style mug we all got that says 2012 Beanpot champions on it. I keep it next to the register. It's not a lot of money, but I hope it makes a difference."

Every little bit counts, and that's a pretty awesome thing she's doing. With the CWHL gaining ground, she began work on trying to have the CWHL award a franchise to the New York City area. In an interview with CUNY, Rylan said, "New York's a great city for it because of the career opportunities. All of the girls have to have jobs on the side as well as play because players aren't paid right now. But that's part of the model that the CWHL is hoping to change, sooner rather than later. But right now there are 40 women on the Boston team’s roster for the upcoming season, so there are a lot of women that want to live in the U.S. and still compete at that high level."

That's a lot of women on that Boston roster, and the CWHL has yet to enter any US-based market outside of Boston despite the vast number of players in and around the New York area. That may have been one of the main factors in Miss Rylan's push to create the NWHL. She and Angela Ruggiero are the founders of the new women's league, and it sounds like their model is ahead of where the CWHL is currently as the NWHL will pay players! Granted, we're not talking millions of dollars, but $270,000 per team as a salary cap is better than the play-for-free-because-you-love-it model in the CWHL. Dollars and cents are enticing for players who work jobs during the day just to play hockey at night.

If there are 20 players on a roster, that's about $13,500 per player if everyone is paid evenly. That's not retirement money by any means, but an added $13,500 to any of the bottom lines for these women is pretty darn good. Players will be paid just like employees: taxes will be withdrawn from pay cheques, and the remaining amount will be the player's take-home amount. Because players are employees, the four American-based teams can apply for and obtain work visas for international players such as Florence Schelling, Janine Weber, or Natalie Spooner. Suddenly, the CWHL could see an exodus on players leaving for some green... er grass.

If you followed the CWHL this season, you know that the Hockey Hall of Fame wanted Janine Weber's stick after the Austrian-born Weber scored the overtime winner in the Clarkson Cup. She, however, had reservations in giving up her stick as it was only one of two she had. Thankfully, STX Hockey came through and donated a pile of sticks to Janine so she could send a stick to the Hall of Fame. It was a bit of an embarrassment for the CWHL, and the NWHL has already learned from that situation.

All of the players in the NWHL will receive equipment provided for them! "This a professional league. The women will have their equipment provided to them. The equipment, tape, sticks, the necessities to play will be given to them," Rylan told Puck Daddy's Jen Neale. That's pretty awesome that the players no longer have to worry if they remembered to pick up sock tape on the way to the rink or to replace that broken skate lace before the next game. As Miss Rylan stated, that is how professionals are treated.

While I'm not suggesting this will be an NHL-vs-WHA war like we saw in the 1970s, it might be an opportunity, if the NWHL can gain some traction, for these two leagues to operate as one in the future. Miss Rylan believes the two leagues can co-exist, but this isn't an NHL/KHL thing. While I appreciate her politically-correct point-of-view on the two leagues, you have to ask yourself one question: do I want to play for free while paying out of pocket for my own gear, or do I want to get paid to play and have some free gear thrown my way?

It sounds as though Miss Rylan has the business model down, has sponsors onboard, and has some interest from players already. The league is about 20 percent of the way to their financial goal right now, but they have an entire summer before the league kicks off in October. They're still looking for additional sponsors as well, so things are progressing but aren't entirely finalized. The four teams will play 18 games from October to March - 9 at home, 9 on the road - with each home game being a themed game: military, breast cancer support, and others, for example. Time commitments will be two practices per week and a game on the weekends.

I post this today because there is an NWHL Launch Party in New York City on April 13 that sounds like it will have some important people attending. Details surrounding the event are hard to come by, but I'd assume that Miss Rylan and Miss Ruggiero have some great people lined up. The inaugural NWHL Entry Draft will take place some time in June, it appears, as there is a registration deadline for players on June 1, 2015. Junior and senior women's collegiate players are eligible to register and be drafted, but they must complete their degrees and cannot be paid until they graduate in order for those players to keep their amateur NCAA status. Players who have already completed their collegiate careers and graduated are declared as free agents, and can be signed between March 15 and August 25 of this year.

In other words, this new NWHL idea has legs and is moving forward. Miss Rylan's dream is now in motion, and it's one of the biggest dreams to become reality in a long time in either of men's and women's hockey. Dani Rylan said she was a doer. This is one helluva did to pull off, and she should be recognized for this as one of hockey's most influential people despite her being just the tender age of 27.

Know her name. She's gonna be a big player in the game of hockey for a long time.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Anonymous said...

HOw did they get permission to use the AHL's CT whale logo on their facebook?

Teebz said...

They sought and received permission from Howard Baldwin Jr. to use the logo and name, according to multiple reports. :o)