Penguins players would embrace pro women’s team


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Bryan Rust. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

CRANBERRY, Pa. -- As the Penguins leave the Lemieux Complex in Cranberry for a few days to head on the road, the top women's hockey players in the world will be moving in for the joint women's training camp between the U.S. and Canadian women's national teams.

The camp will be held from Nov. 4 – Nov. 10 and will feature two exhibition games, to be held Friday, Nov. 8, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m. The full preview can be seen here.

Dominik Kahun told me that the Penguins players got a message from the team telling the players of the women's exhibition schedule, and that some would like to attend the second exhibition game on Nov. 10, when the Penguins have an off day.

Some players have already seen the the U.S. and Canadian women's teams rivalry in person.

"I watched a game in Vancouver," Jack Johnson recalled. "The men's team went to a women's game when they were in the gold medal game there. We all went to the game to cheer them on in 2010. ... I think they're far and away the two best teams. It kind of naturally has evolved that way, since they play each other in the championship game almost every single tournament. It's almost like you're just waiting for the championship game so those two can play."

The rivalry between the two countries in the women's game is, well, unrivaled. The United States and Canada have met in the gold medal game in five of the six Winter Olympics since women's hockey was added, 18 of 19 Women's World Championships (all of them except 2019), and 21 of the 23 Four Nations Cup tournaments.

The United States has dominated in the World Championships, winning gold in nine of the past 11 tournaments. Eight of those victories were over Canada, with the exception being the 2019 win over Finland. The United States won gold over Canada in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, the first time women's hockey was included in the Olympics. Canada won gold in the next four Winter Olympics, until the United States ended the streak and won gold in Pyeongchang in 2018.

"They've won a bunch of World Championships, it was weird that they'd win that but have a tough time in the Olympics," said Johnson. "It's awesome that they won (gold), I'm always cheering for Team USA in no matter what sport, men's or women's."

"Canada and the U.S., it's always exciting, especially in hockey, men's or women's," Alex Galchenyuk said of the rivalry. "The fans are always into it and it's always high energy. ... I'm sure if they would have beat anybody, any other team, to win a gold medal it would have been great. But beating Canada makes it even more special."

The United States beating Canada to win gold gave some of the American players on the Penguins a bit of bragging rights at the time, too.

"It's always awesome, especially in a sport with a lot of Canadians," said Bryan Rust, who remembered watching the gold medal game. "Us have a little bragging rights over them is nice, and it's nice to see the U.S. win in anything."

I asked Rust if there were any players on the women's team he liked watching, and he had a few.

"From the speed skating, you see Kendall Coyne and how fast she is," he said. "Hilary Knight's always been really good over the years, and Amanda Kessel is somebody that we've watched with Phil being on the team. And Alex Rigsby, the goalie, I played against her growing up, she was playing boy's hockey growing up in Chicago. She was always really good; it's cool to see that, too."

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman recently reported that "the NHL is working on a women’s league if the time ever becomes necessary," likely meaning if the NWHL folds.

“I think six teams, maybe two in Canada,” said Friedman of the NHL's potential plans. “But it sure sounds like there is a plan being worked on and put in place in case the NHL needs to step in.”

The NWHL has played three games in Cranberry -- one All-Star game and two regular season games -- making it the only neutral site the league has come to more than once. The Lemieux Complex, which is about the size of most other NWHL rinks, was sold out each time. Now with the joint training camp also being held at the Lemieux Complex as well, it's clear that the organizations see the Pittsburgh area as a good market for women's hockey.

I asked some of the players what they'd think of a potential women's hockey team in the area, likely playing in the Lemieux Complex.

"Oh for sure," said Kahun. "I think it's positive to have as many teams as possible everywhere, you know? We can get more hockey players in the women's game. It would be nice."

"I've heard about (women's pro leagues), and that's great," said Galchenyuk. "You see how the NBA and women's basketball league is pretty huge, so it could be the same scenario."

"The big hockey markets have them, yeah," said Johnson. "I know there's a lot more girls playing hockey now than there were when I was growing up, the market is just growing larger and larger for that every year. It's just a matter of time before more cities have them."

"I think it'd be really cool," said Rust. "This city embraces sports so well, they obviously love hockey. I think it would definitely be well-embraced here."

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