Look. I know we’re not all sports fans here. I’ve been a diehard hockey fan my whole life, so I know better than anyone that sports are too often associated with toxic masculinity, and sports fandom tends to be a hostile place for anyone who isn’t a cishet white man. Hockey especially is overwhelmingly white and conservative. Plus, I get it: everyone likes sports. It’s annoying. We’re used to seeing sports everywhere and never understanding any of it. Heck, I don’t understand the first thing about football, baseball or basketball, so I’m right there with all you sports haters where those sports are concerned.
The National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) is different, though. As we approach the Isobel Cup Final and the end of the league’s sixth season, it’s well worth giving the league a shot… even if you’re not a huge sports fan.
Mainstream sports culture – and especially hockey culture – likes to act like the only appropriate way to talk about sports is to focus on what’s actually happening in the game. That’s dumb. Sports can be just as silly and ridiculous and funny as a soap opera, and the NWHL is no exception. Most of these athletes have jobs outside of hockey, which only adds to the fun. This season saw an expansion team make the semifinals in their first season in franchise history, and I dare anyone to watch their postgame dance parties to “Love Story” by Taylor Swift and not fall in love with this team.
Oh, and also? Everyone is dating each other. I’m not kidding. This is more of a women’s hockey thing in general than an NWHL-specific thing, but for some reason, players on rival teams keep marrying each other. The former captains of the American and Canadian national teams have two kids together. It’s the best storyline in all of sports.
Remember what I said about hockey culture being really toxic and awful? I’m not saying that’s only a men’s hockey thing, but it’s definitely more of a men’s hockey thing than a women’s hockey thing. The NWHL has attracted a much younger and much more diverse audience than the NHL has, and it’s such a welcome change. It’s also a really small and close-knit community that’s happy to explain things to newcomers.
It’s an up-and-coming league
There’s something really special about watching history get made in real time. The march toward progress in women’s hockey has been agonizingly slow for a very long time. We’re still not at a point where women can make a living playing hockey full time. But things are changing, perhaps not as quickly as we’d like, but more quickly than they were before. We’re watching this league try out new and innovative strategies to market themselves and grow the game of women’s hockey. We’re also watching players achieve milestones and set league records, establishing a history that future fans and players will hopefully be able to look back on for years to come.
They stream their games for free on Twitch
Alright, so technically we don’t know for sure that this will be the case next year, since they haven’t yet announced their plans for broadcasts after this season, but this league has always prioritized making sure people can watch their games. That means that, until major TV networks pick up NWHL games, we should be able to watch them for free.
The Isobel Cup Final airs tonight, March 27th, at 7pm EDT. If you’re in the United States, you can watch it on NBC Sports. If you’re outside the US, you can watch it on Twitch.
Image source: Michelle Jay