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Amanda Kessel is Ready to Win as the PWHPA Heads to St. Louis

2021 PWHPA Dream Gap Tour
Amanda Kessel of Team Women’s Sports Foundation controls the puck against Team Adidas during the Dream Gap Tour at United Center on March 06, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Amanda Kessel likes to win, which does not shock those who have followed her storied career thus far. But while her status as an elite athlete is a no-brainer for anyone who watches her play, the opportunity to compete hasn’t been guaranteed. 

Speaking with me with just a couple of days to go before the PWHPA takes to the ice in St. Louis for the third installment of the 2021 Secrete Dream Gap Tour, the star forward for Team Women’s Sports Foundation (New Hampshire) makes it abundantly clear that while she’s looking forward to hopefully out-scoring Team adidas (Minnesota) in their final two meetings, she’s playing for much more than bragging rights. 

For every goal she nets and shift she dominates, Kessel is skating for the future of the sport as her teammates (and rivals) work to harness the full potential of women’s hockey. 

PLAYING FOR THE PWHPA

I catch Kessel while she’s still in New York training daily with her skills coach in preparation for this weekend’s tournament, which like the previous two tour stops, is conducted in partnership with an NHL team. The St. Louis Blues will become the fourth NHL team to partner with the PWHPA when the players touchdown in the Show Me state, joining the New York Ranger, the Toronto Maple Leaves, and the Chicago Blackhawks, who sponsored previous showcases. 

While some will argue that the PWHPA should avoid any economic reliance on the NHL, Kessel echoes her teammate Hilary Knight’s stance on embracing the partnerships, telling JWS, “it’s a good sign for us and for women’s hockey that there are these NHL clubs that are buying into helping us grow. It’s definitely a start.”

As for the tour’s success so far, Kessel notes, “I think it proves that there’s a product there, that there’s a want, and that there is a need for [the PWHPA].” And for Kessel, that’s where the NHL comes into play. “It’s really trying to keep this momentum building. That’s what’s key about having multiple NHL teams involved. What we’ve heard is that more [teams] want to have weekends, we just don’t have enough weekends.”

Kessel may be out of luck when it comes to expanding the Gregorian calendar, but as one of the association’s leaders, she’s ready to make big changes to the PWHPA. 

“I personally believe that we need to turn into a league,” she says. “I think it can be a little bit confusing to people that we are just an association, and obviously that’s where we have to start, but I think that it’s the right time to move forward and announce that we are going to be a league and go from there.”

Though there’s no concrete playbook on how to transition from an association to league, in Kessel’s opinion what’s crucial is establishing now what the future should ideally look like, and setting up a solid foundation so that the PWHPA can evolve into a sustainable women’s professional league that can continue to grow. And even though the PWHPA has only existed for roughly two years, Kessel points out that their determination to build a long-lasting institution has so far yielded big-name sponsorships, broadcast opportunities, prize money, and the chance to play in legendary arenas. 

TEAM USA VS. THE WORLD

As soon as the final buzzer sounds in St. Louis, the PWHPA players will temporarily disperse as some head to national team training camps to get ready for the IIHF Women’s World Championship tournament slated to start on May 6 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

Team USA is slated to take on Switzerland, Finland, Russia, and Canada in the preliminary round. 

Tactically, the Americans have a solid core, but as Kessel explains, there’s a notable difference in the physicality of domestic games versus international play. 

“[PWHPA] games are still physical, but it’s nowhere near the same as playing Canada. And I don’t know if that’s because we don’t want to hurt any of our Team USA teammates or what it is, but definitely, there’s a difference in physicality.”

Team USA hasn’t had a chance to compete against rival Canada for more than a year. Needless to say, they’re eager to hit the ice. 

“Luckily we do know each other so well, and hopefully after a few practices and games we pick up right where we left off. I know we’ve done a lot of work in the off season, continuing on Zoom calls and video sessions and mental skills. So although we’ve been away, we’ve all been trying to continue to get better.”

COMBATTING CONCUSSION STIGMA

No matter who Kessel faces off against at any point during the season, maintaining safety in the game is quite literally top of her mind. 

At the age of 23, Kessel suffered a concussion during a scrimmage before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Though she went on to help Team USA win silver, she was subsequently sidelined for nearly two-years with debilitating symptoms.  

Kessel battled her way back, marking her return to hockey with an NCAA championship at the University of Minnesota in 2016 before becoming the highest paid player in the NWHL when she signed with the New York Riveters later that year. She then skated her way into the history books when she made the national team again for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, where Team USA beat Canada to win gold. 

Though Kessel’s concussion saga ended in victory, she’s well aware of the struggle many athletes face when it comes to talking about this “unseen injury,” as she calls it.  

“I think that concussions scare people.”

“Going through it, knowing that it is a real thing and that it is very hard mentally… people that haven’t been through it can’t quite know what you’re feeling.” 

As with most things mired in taboo, shining a light is almost always a winning strategy to elevate the conversation. For Kessel, continuing to talk about concussions is crucial to dissolving the fear that makes brain injuries a hush-hush topic. 

“I do think that the more people talk about it, the more comfortable everyone else gets.”

SHIFTING THE GAME

If she makes the 2022 Olympic squad — which to many is a foregone conclusion — Kessel will be playing for her third chance at a medal and second for gold. And while the hardware is nice, the wins aren’t just for her. 

Though women’s hockey has yet to firmly establish the same infrastructure in the U.S. that other sports have, one could make the case though that the 2018 Olympic team is playing a similar role for hockey that the 99’ers played for women’s soccer in America. Whether history proves that true or not, Amanda Kessel is a name that young players will know for years to come.

Thinking about herself as a leader in her sport, Kessel says, “I think it’s a unique and special opportunity and something that I take pride in.” It’s not lost on her the impact role models have on the proliferation of the sport, noting “being able to change or improve a few people’s lives is a big deal… you don’t picture yourself in that role really growing up, and sometimes don’t even see your impact until years later.” 

“I think now that’s really what I’ve been starting to see… having these young girls look up to me, it’s really a privilege.”

Kessel knows too that in order to inspire the next generation, women’s hockey needs media attention. Reflecting on the statistic that women’s sports receive a mere 4% of sports coverage, she expresses the same frustration shared by many athletes. 

“That’s kind of mind blowing just to think about. How do you grow? Nobody sees you and you’re not being recognized.”

In sports, as in life, perseverance is paramount, and Kessel, a fierce competitor, isn’t shying away from the challenges presented to her and her teammates. 

“What we’re doing now, continuing to push for these opportunities and playing in these showcases and being seen on TV and having people cover our stories. I think that’s really key.”

Fans nationwide will get to see the PWHPA players take to the ice on Sunday, April 11 at 6 pm ET at Centene Community Ice Center and Monday, April 12 at 7 pm ET at Enterprise Center. 

Sunday’s game will broadcast on CBC for Canadian fans and will be streamed for fans in the U.S., while Monday’s game will broadcast on NBC Sports in the U.S. and SportsNet in Canada. 

Team Women’s Sports Foundation will also welcome Kacey Bellamy to the group (joining from Team Calgary), as they look to make ground on Team adidas, who leads the tour 8-2 in points. 

Caitlin Clark dunks on Michael Che in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports.

It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation. Clark finished her segment by shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing Che a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her last playful dig of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns, in uncharted territory, start NWSL season winless

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the NWSL season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage over the weekend to remain winless through their first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before.

Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, attention turns to head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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