Boston Pride focusing on hockey, NWHL success after tumultuous offseason

Matt Kalman
October 11, 2019 - 4:26 pm

Professional women’s hockey’s summer of discontent ended last weekend when the National Women’s Hockey League opened its fifth season with two games, including the Boston Pride’s 4-2 win over the Metropolitan Riveters in New Jersey.

Now the next step for the Pride in turning the page on a tumultuous offseason comes Saturday when Boston will hold its home-opener against the Buffalo Beauts, the team that eliminated the Pride in the Isobel Cup semifinals last season.

Despite the decision by many high-profile players to forego joining the NWHL in the aftermath of the CWHL’s demise, the NWHL is marching on and looking forward to a crucial season that could help the league and women’s pro hockey take another large step toward permanence on the pro sports scene in North America.

“Yeah, this year I think is a really big opportunity and it’s a good test,” Pride defender Kaleigh Fratkin told this week. “I think having been in the league since Day One, you know I played in the games in Minnesota or Buffalo or New Jersey or Boston that had sold-out crowds, that had the atmosphere that really showed that women’s hockey is marketable. So I think for someone that has been a part of that and knows what the league is capable of and what women’s hockey is capable of, I think this year is really a big opportunity to put butts in seats.

“I think Boston is in a really, really good spot in having individual ownership now where we hired a full-time a full-time team president, and we hired a full-time director of marketing. All these people are coming to make this front office a space to really make a franchise, and I think that’s really going to push the envelope as to showing this is the direction women’s hockey should be going and there’s a product and it’s viable.”

The Pride, who went 11-5-0 last season, were sold out of league ownership to a group of local investors last month. Despite losing several players to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association’s barnstorming tour, the Pride still boasts depth and talent that should make them a contender again.

Fratkin, a Boston University product and one of the eight women, including teammate Jillian Dempsey to play in all five NWHL seasons, believes all it’s going to take is a little more time for chemistry to build for the Pride to play their best. Some of that showed in the season-opening win.

“Getting a W on the road when you sit on the bus for six hours to New Jersey, and having major bus legs for an entire first period, I think the chemistry is starting to come together,” said Fratkin, who’s in her third season with the Pride. “I think we moved the lines around a little bit after our first game. So kind of going into power plays and just the team forming, it’s hard when you’re not practicing every single day together as a group

“We definitely have the talent, you just want to get that chemistry and make sure the work ethic is there.”

Fratkin was the first player to re-sign with the NWHL and the Pride back in May when it wasn’t certain the league would be able to continue in light of the PWHPA boycott. What’s unfolded since, not just on the ice but in terms of business growth, has rewarded Fratkin’s loyalty. The league adopted a 50-50 revenue split with the players on all sponsorship agreements and a 15 percent cut on all revenue from apparel sold featuring players’ names. Several league-wide and team-specific sponsorships have been forged, including the Pride recently partnering with Legal Seafoods.

As Fratkin said, ‘you never know how the cards are going to be played,’ but so far the NWHL has been walking the walk in terms of building the brand and opening up revenue streams that can benefit the players.

Now, for the most part, she and her teammates and players from the other four teams can concentrate on the hockey.

“Yeah, this offseason, it’s been different than most, has been a lot of just chatter and I think a lot of politically speaking BS that’s just gone on. Just behind the scenes stuff that you don’t really normally have to worry about or focus on,” Fratkin said. “And I think now that it’s finally October and thing have settled and there are all these players that are playing in the league it’s just … kind of playing that first game was I guess more reassuring as to why I personally chose to sign in the league, and I think why a lot of players chose to sign in the league.”