Excitement, passion, potential.
Not just buzzwords that the Pirates use for marketing, it was the overall mood of three of the National Women’s Hockey League’s biggest stars.
“Huge potential,” Kelley Steadman said in regards to Pittsburgh being an NWHL market. “We’ve talked about it the last two weeks or month leading up to this. Being able to have the all-star game here has created even that much more hype. There’s such a market for hockey in Pittsburgh.”
Steadman, who’s roots to Pittsburgh hockey include time at Mercyhurst as a player in the NCAA and now as the Director of Hockey Operations for Robert Morris Women’s Hockey, is a team captain for this weekend’s events.
“It draws a little more attention to women’s hockey in the area,” she added before the microphones decided to stop working.
While Steadman’s ties to Pittsburgh are direct, the sister of a Stanley Cup Champion understood why the NWHL chose Pittsburgh to host their All-Star Weekend.
“They chose a really great spot for this,” Amanda Kessel, brother of noted Stanley Cup Champion Phil Kessel said. “It’s a great city for little girls playing hockey. It’s a hotbed.” Kessel is the other team captain.The Sunday game is sold out. The skills competition on Saturday was close to. It clearly didn’t go unnoticed.
“I’m not surprised,” said Buffalo Beauts goaltender and Robert Morris alum Brianne McLaughlin. “There’s been so much hype. I coached a U10 team a couple years ago, they’re all here, they’re all outside. Those are the exact kids that were so pumped [to have a women’s professional league].”
The hype was felt as soon as blades touched ice.
The skills competition began with a rousing ovation for each and every player, seemingly each introduction being louder than the last.
“The fans were awesome today,” said Gigi Marvin, Boston Pride defenseman and winner of the Breakaway Challenge fan vote. “Every single person who was introduced got a standing ovation basically.”
The first event was taken by Team Kessel, which was a combination of fastest skater and fastest goalie. The pace was set by Rebecca Russo, with 12.75 seconds.
“Being picked a few weeks ago, I was honored and blessed,” she said. “I think coming here today and putting on the yellow uniforms was surreal. I just couldn’t believe I was here.”
Stealing the show was the shooting accuracy event.
It appeared that Team Kessel had it in the bag after Boston Pride forward and US Olympian Hilary Knight went 4-for-6 in a matter of 14.1 seconds.
Suddenly, team captain Kelley Steadman would match and beat it by .1 seconds.
In a WWE-style turn of events, we were under the impression that Team Kessel sealed up the victory of the day in hardest shot, but it was announced results had been changed last second.
Blake Bolden of the Boston Pride (are you catching on? The Pride, defending champions, are stacked. Currently hold a 12-0-0 stranglehold on first place in the NWHL.) would take over the all-time record of 88.5 from Megan Bozek and getting the win for Team Steadman.
“She [Bozek] always cracks the joke, ‘you’re gonna win this year!’” Bolden added. “It felt awesome.”
To finish up the day, Team Kessel would go 2-for-12 in the shootout relay and Team Steadman only went 1-for-12, giving Team Kessel the 3-2 edge, which will be the starting score for tomorrow’s game.
Much like the NHL All-Star Skills Competition, this event really brought the best the NWHL has to offer. It was a who’s-who of Olympians and seeing the skill on display was a sight to behold.
The turnout was absolutely phenomenal. After seeing people continue to file into the building even as the event began was encouraging.
With tomorrow’s event being sold out already, I have no reason to believe that Pittsburgh can’t support and hold an NWHL team.
Tomorrow, Team Kessel and Team Steadman face-off at 3:00 PM.
Expect the same excitement.