The City of Champions will have yet another team to root for come Nov. 22, when the puck drops at Boston Pride’s first home match at Harvard’s Bright-Landry Center. Fans can thank Northeastern grad Dani Rylan, who’s spent the past year and a half putting together the National Women’s Hockey League. It’s the first in North America to offer health insurance, equipment and salaries, a big deal for athletes who train around nine-to-fives as teachers, nurses, financial advisers and mechanical engineers.
The dream doesn’t stop there for Rylan, who also hopes NWHL players receive recognition beyond the long-awaited financial compensation, a goal Boston Pride forward and two-time Olympian Hilary Knight happens to share. “As Olympic athletes, here we are around this great stage. We’re representing our country, and then it’s sort of like ‘poof,’ ” Knight says. “We’ve been told we’re only good every four years, essentially.” So it’s easy to see how she didn’t quite believe Rylan’s concept at first. “You’re sitting back thinking, ‘Is this real?’ because you don’t have that self-belief of what value you bring to the table.”
But that’s all about to change—in fact, it’s already starting. A couple of years ago, Knight was picking up her equipment at an airport baggage claim when a passerby felt the need to tell her she wasn’t a professional athlete because she wasn’t paid. This year, the scenario repeated itself, only this airport patron stopped Knight to express excitement about the new league. “It’s going to put women’s ice hockey on a whole new level,” she says, adding it will not only develop the fan base, but also get younger girls into the sport. That’s another long-term goal for Rylan, who’s looking forward to a stacked draft decades from now. “Every once in a while a parent will come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for giving my daughter the same opportunity [as my son].’ ” That, Rylan says, “makes it all worth it.”