The National Women’s Hockey League took their show on the road and brought their 2017 All-Star Festivities to Pittsburgh and the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex the past weekend.
The NWHL brought their product to Western Pennsylvania, to showcase women’s hockey in the area. The fans who usually get to see a player named Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins forward, Phil Kessel, were given the opportunity to watch a different Kessel, New York Riveters forward, Amanda Kessel during the 2017 NWHL All Star Weekend.
Amanda, who served as one of the captains of the all-star teams, is Phil’s sister. The other team captain was Buffalo Beauts forward, Kelley Steadman. Steadman is also the Director of Hockey Operations at Robert Morris University, in the Pittsburgh suburb of Moon, Pennsylvania.
28 players from the league’s four teams showcased their hockey talents during the skills competition on Saturday afternoon and then during the game on Sunday. Kessel and Steadman were named captains for the teams due to their connections to the Pittsburgh area.
Based on the turnout from the girls’ clinic on Saturday morning and the game on Sunday afternoon, which were both sold out, the league was able to find out the response other markets, in this case Western Pennsylvania, would have on the game. Currently, the NWHL is represented in the New York/New Jersey, Boston, Connecticut and Buffalo area.
Kathy Pippy, Director of Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Hockey, notice the value of having the NWHL bring their event to Pittsburgh.
She told the Penguins website on Saturday, “A lot of young girls are here. There is a clinic this morning [Saturday] for the young girls. They are really excited to meet the NWHL All-Stars. It is going to be a really great atmosphere and great to showcase women’s hockey here in Pittsburgh.”
Steadman was even excited by the turnout over the weekend and was thankful that the Penguins organization was so helpful. She said, “Having the support of the Penguins has been huge. They have helped to draw crowds and got people excited.”
With Phil on the road in Arizona with his Penguins teammates, Amanda had the chance to show off her skills to his fan base. Kessel even completed the hat trick on Sunday to help Team Kessel win the 2017 NWHL All Star Game.
She said, “It is exciting. It is really encouraging to have a sold-out crowd here. It shows the markets that are there to dive into.”
On Saturday after the players participated in a clinic with about 50 girls from the Pittsburgh area, the Skills Competition took place with players from each squad showing off their skills. The first event was fastest skater as well as the fastest goaltender.
Riveters forward, Rebecca Russo, helped Team Kessel win the Fastest Skater finishing her heat with a time of 12.75 seconds. The Fastest Goaltender went to Buffalo Beauts netminder, Brianne McLaughlin.
Steadman defended her accuracy title, by going four-for-four in 14 seconds topping Boston Pride forward, Hilary Knight who hit four targets on six shots in 14.1 seconds, and taking the point for Team Steadman.
With a shot of 87 miles per hour, Blake Bolden of the Pride, won the hardest shot for Team Steadman. Bolden just missed snatching Megan Bozek, of the Beauts, record of 88 MPH, from last season.
On winning hardest shot this season, Bolden said, “It was awesome. Her [Bozek] and I are great friends. She always cracks a joke, ‘Oh you are going to win this year,’ and I am like ‘Okay, whatever.’ It felt good. It felt awesome.”
The Breakaway Challenge gave the players the chance to show the fans different tricks they had to offer. The fans then were given the opportunity to vote for the player that impressed them most through a Twitter vote. The results of the fan vote were revealed following the Shootout Challenge. Pride, defenseman, Gigi Marvin, was the winner of the fan vote helping seal the victory for Team Kessel.
By winning Skills Competition on Saturday, by a score of 3-2, Team Kessel held a one goal lead headed into the all-star game. In a tight battle on Sunday, Team Kessel was able to hold on for a 11-10 victory.
A hat trick by Kessel, including the game winning goal, helped her take home the Most Valuable Player honors.
In regards to the hat trick, Kessel joked, “I think my teammates wanted it more for me, which was pretty cool. I had two chances at an empty net, so hopefully I could go one-for-two on that.”
She also told Penguins.com that her brother may have even caught a little bit of the game. Kessel said, “I had a couple of teammates point him out. I did not see him, but I think he was laughing I missed the empty net.”
Team Kessel also received goals from Russo, Bozek, Knight and a pair from Beauts forward Harrison Browne. Team Steadman received their scoring from Steadman, Pride forwards Brianna Decker and Alex Carpenter, Kelly Babstock and Haley Skarupa of the Connecticut Whale, Emily Pfalzer from the Beauts as well as a pair from the Riveters Madison Packer.
Both teams were very grateful for the support they received over the weekend.
Steadman said, “I heard a couple of Kessel chants and I think my dad started the Steady one. The atmosphere was great. The fans have been so awesome the last few days. Today there was a packed house and it was loud and energetic out there. I think I have said it all along, and Kessel has said it too, but Pittsburgh is a great sports city. Regardless of what the sport is, hockey, football, whatever, people are really passionate here.”
She continued, “I think any sort of support we can get from them has been great. I think moving forward we see how much they support women’s hockey and from the Penguins organization on down, it has been awesome.”
Kessel added, “I honestly heard more Steadys chants. I thought it was pretty cool. When I am in a game I tend to not hear the crowd, but I did hear the Steadys. The Penguins did a great job helping Pittsburgh in general with promoting. We had a successful skills competition and I hope the fans enjoyed themselves too.”
In regards to the success from the weekend, both players have noticed some better promotion in regards to the game.
Steadman told Penguins.com, “I think there is more of a market for women’s hockey. We have seen in the last couple of years the youth leagues that start it. Most of it comes from support of NHL teams.”
Kessel added, “I think the one of the biggest things that has changed is media and social media. You see people now and some of the top names having 50 or 60 thousand followers. That really grows our sport and it has been very helpful.”
As her name is becoming one of the bigger names in the NWHL, she continues to use it in the efforts to help promote the game.
Kessel continued, “It is awesome. I take a lot of pride in that. I try to do everything I can to keep the game going so when they [the young girls] are older, they have a chance to do this too.”