ST. LOUIS—The women were on centre stage at the NHL all-star skills competition for a second straight year.
And they hope that exposure will eventually lead to brighter days in the not-too-distant future.
Canada beat the United States 2-1 in a spirited three-on-three game between female players Friday night. Rebecca Johnston and Melodie Daoust scored for the Canadians, while Hilary Knight replied for the Americans in the 20-minute showcase.
While the game didn’t have the intensity of a true international, there were big saves, breakaways and some physical play inside the Enterprise Center, where fans chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” off the opening faceoff.
Kendall Coyne Schofield turned heads at the 2019 event in San Jose in the fastest skater competition, while Brianna Decker impressed with her deft puck skills in the passing event. Female players were also on hand at the 2018 all-star game in Tampa, Fla.
The Canadian roster for the women’s game included Daoust, Johnston, Poulin, Meghan Agosta, Blayre Turnbull, Sarah Nurse, Natalie Spooner, Renata Fast, Laura Fortino and Ann-Renée Desbiens.
The U.S. countered with Coyne Schofield, Decker, Knight, Amanda Kessel, Alex Carpenter, Annie Pankowski, Jocelyn Lamoureux-Davidson, Kacey Bellamy, Lee Stecklein and Alex Rigsby.
Friday marked the biggest stage the NHL has ever provided the women’s game, and the second-biggest overall aside from the Olympics. The players are banking on it eventually leading to a sustainable league in partnership with the NHL.
“I’m thrilled that we have an opportunity for the women’s game to be demonstrated,” said commissioner Gary Bettman. “They’re excited to be here, we’re excited to have them. The fact we can shine a brighter light on the women’s game is a positive for them, for the game and for young girls watching and aspiring to do the same thing.”
But it’s also unclear if the NHL is willing to go any further in its support.
“We are all hopeful,” Johnston said. “Us being here, I think that’s a step in the right direction. The NHL is supporting women’s hockey. They’re helping us get the exposure that we need.
“The partnership is there. It’s not something you can just build over night. For us it’s just being patient, trying to grow the game.”
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Bettman also said puck and player tracking technology will be ready to go in each of the 16 arenas hosting NHL playoff games this spring, and in all 31 buildings by the start of next season. The tracking is also being used at the all-star game for the second straight year.
“It’ll be, as a fan and a viewer, what you want it to be,” Bettman said. “You’ll be able to watch the game as you’ve always watched it traditionally if that’s what you want. There’ll be broadcast enhancements … and there’ll be more data than ever before.”