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New York Times - Sports

Women Get a Spotlight, but No Prize Money, in New N.H.L. All-Star Event

Women Get a Spotlight, but No Prize Money, in New N.H.L. All-Star Event
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Seth Berkman

The N.H.L. will introduce two new events at its All-Star skills competition on Friday in St. Louis. One involves its players attempting trick shots from an elevated platform in the stands. The other is a three-on-three exhibition featuring top women’s players, which, the league hopes, will be received as less of a novelty.

At a time when hockey participation among male Canadians is in decline, the N.H.L. hopes to capitalize on the rapid growth the game is experiencing among girls and women. According to U.S.A. Hockey data, participation in girls’ and women’s hockey in the United States has grown by 34 percent in the past decade, swelling in 2018-19 to more than 83,000 players. In Canada, that number was almost 87,000 in 2017-18, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Last year, Kendall Coyne Schofield, who won an Olympic gold medal in 2018 with the United States women’s national team, was a last-minute replacement for an N.H.L. player in the fastest skater competition: She finished seventh out of eight entrants. Her 14.346-second lap time was less than a second behind the winner, Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid.

Nancy Lough, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who studies gender equity in sports, said the inclusion of women showed awareness. But, she added, having no prize money in addition to making them play an accelerated game was “clearly most in line with a corporate social responsibility goal of making fans feel good about the N.H.L. as opposed to actually advancing women’s hockey.”

For years, the N.H.L. said it would not create a women’s league as long as other women’s leagues existed. Daly reiterated that there was no intention to create a women’s league under the N.H.L. umbrella with the N.W.H.L. still in operation.

With Friday’s showcase being played over an irregular time frame and sandwiched between competitions like hardest shot and target practice, the format has drawn criticism for being nothing more than a novelty act.

“There’s effort, but at the same time it’s so limited,” said Courtney Szto, a professor at the school of kinesiology and health studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “They have such a great opportunity to generate a connective relationship even if they don’t want to fund a league, something that’s expected and normal, but it’s always these one-offs, random isolated events.”

Szto, who writes for the website Hockey in Society, referenced a women’s exhibition game held four years ago at the N.H.L.’s annual Winter Classic that had no live television coverage and was played with a running clock. The N.H.L. has not sponsored a similar event since.

“My take on the N.H.L. involvement is, these women deserve everything the N.H.L. has available to them resource-wise,” Szto said. “I don’t think the N.H.L. deserves one lick of their attention, though.”

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