It’s crunch time for Ponytail Puck

They’re talking. Or so they say.

And they’re telling us that the olive branch has been extended, giving rise to the notion that détente has arrived in women’s hockey.

If true, this would qualify as glad tidings, at least for those among us who want the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and the National Women’s Hockey League to find middle ground and make Ponytail Puck work.

For the past two years—which is to say since the PWHPA came into existence—the distaff side of the rink has been a fractious bit of business, even if Jayna Hefford begs to differ.

Jayna Hefford

“Despite what often gets reported in the media it’s never been ‘we won’t talk to you,’” the PWHPA operations consultant tells Donna Spencer of Canadian Press.

Well, Hefford’s nose is growing and her pants are a bonfire.

It has been contentious. I mean, when someone from one side (hello, Hilary Knight) describes the other side (NWHL) as a “glorified beer league,” it leaves little room for interpretation. It isn’t meant to be a compliment.

Most, if not all, of the sniping has originated from PWHPA membership, or its allies in the media, because they view the NWHL as a nuisance and a hindrance in their quest to curry the favor and big bucks of National Hockey League billionaire owners.

They had hoped the NWHL would have vanished by now, like a prop in a David Copperfield illusion, but the six-club circuit that dropped the puck in 2015 refuses to play along. It has more investors, more sponsors, more teams on the way, more media partners, and more coin for the players (the salary cap has been bumped to $300,000 per team next season). It has expressed no inclination toward disappearing.

And what has the PWHPA to show for its two years of existence?

Well, it also has backers, most notably the people at Secret Deodorant who tossed $1 million into the kitty for this year’s Dream Gap Tour, and they’ve also found a best friend in Sportsnet, which has fully bought into PWHPA propaganda and shamelessly panders to the boycotters, refusing to ask the tough questions.

Members of the PWHPA also hit the ice on occasion (a total of six Dream Gap games to date this year), but there is no league, just slapped-together groupings called Team Women’s Sports Foundation, Team adidas, Team Sonnet, Team Scotiabank and Team Bauer (move to the head of the class if you can name the home base of those outfits), and the results of their glorified scrimmages are of such little consequence that the PWHPA doesn’t post them on its website. Even Billie Jean King has stopped showing up for photo-ops.

Part of the PWHPA mission statement tells us the group exists “to promote, advance, and support a single, viable professional women’s ice hockey league in North America that showcases the greatest product of women’s professional ice hockey in the world.”

Toward that end, they are failing miserably with their boycott of the NWHL. They’re no nearer a viable, one-sustainable-league operation than they were at the get-go, May 20, 2019.

Tyler Tumminia

Which is why news that Hefford and NWHL commissioner Tyler Tumminia have been in natter is a positive development.

“I think we continue to talk to keep that door open,” Hefford tells CP’s Spencer. “As long as I’ve been a part of the PWHPA, we’ve communicated what we believe needs to be a part of the next version of a professional women’s hockey.”

Make no mistake, this is crunch time for Ponytail Puck. Once the world tournament has been played later this year, the Olympic Games will be the next point of focus. Then what? More of the same old, same old? Two groups sparring instead of linking arms and skating in lockstep toward a common goal?

I certainly don’t see the paying public or the NHL buying into that on any significant level.

Like every other business, the NHL has gone through the COVID-19 pandemic with greatly reduced revenue, and I doubt the billionaire owners’ initial instinct once on the other side will be to create a foster home for female hockey-playing orphans.

I’d say the PWHPA and NWHL have about a year to put the Ponytail Puck house in order. If they fail, they’ll have themselves to blame.

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