BOSTON - As an Original Six franchise with a storied history and passionate fan base, the Boston Bruins have the ability to make a monumental impact on the growth of the sport. On Thursday, the organization made an announcement that will help to do just that.
The Bruins revealed that they have partnered with the Boston Pride of the National Women's Hockey League to support and grow the game of women's hockey in Massachusetts, as well as assist the Pride financially.
"We've always been committed to growing the sport," said Bruins president Cam Neely. "It makes all kinds of sense to get involved with the Pride and girls' hockey [and] women's hockey. We're excited about doing that and building this partnership and helping grow the game at the grass roots level for women and girls."
The Bruins become the fourth NHL franchise to partner with a NWHL team. For Neely, the relationship seemed like a natural fit, especially given the fact that both teams are now based out of Warrior Ice Arena.
"The fact that they are here to stay and logistically they are at Warrior like we are, which is a great thing, it just makes a lot of sense," said Neely. "We certainly see the rise in women and girl fans in our sport, so we'd like to see more of them playing the sport."
The National Women's Hockey League was founded in 2015, with the Pride winning the inaugural Isobel Cup - the league's championship trophy, named after Lord Stanley's daughter, who is known to be one of the first female hockey players in North America. The NWHL - the first women's professional hockey league to pays its players - features five teams: the Pride, the Buffalo Beauts, the Connecticut Whale, the Metropolitan Riveters, and the Minnesota Whitecaps.
"The Boston Pride are incredibly proud to join the rich history and competitive hockey family of the Boston Bruins," said NWHL Deputy Commissioner Hayley Moore. "The Bruins' commitment to advancing hockey across all levels aligns with what the NWHL stands for. We appreciate this partnership and their support in marketing and player development for the Pride, and we look forward to collaborating with the Bruins on a series of meaningful youth hockey initiatives."
Those youth hockey initiatives include the creation of the Bruins Academy Girls Learn to Play Program, which will offer girls, ages 4 through 10, the opportunity to learn the basics of hockey led by Boston Pride players.
The new program will follow the same format as the current Bruins Academy Learn to Play, which is offered by the Bruins each fall. A $100 registration fee includes a full set of brand-new CCM equipment to keep - valued at $500 retail - a professional equipment fitting, and four weeks of on ice instruction led by certified coaches.
The girl's program will be held at five rinks beginning in March 2019: Philips Academy Rink in Andover, Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, The Bog Ice Arena in Kingston, Murphy Memorial Skating Rink in South Boston, and Veterans Memorial Skating Rink in Waltham.
"I know that there are a lot more girls playing hockey, which is a great thing," said Neely. "I think if young girls see opportunities, not just at the collegiate level - there are players right now playing collegiate hockey that probably say, 'I can extend my hockey career to a degree.'
"For me, that's an exciting part of it as an athlete. If you look at both genders and all sports and say, 'I have an opportunity to play outside of high school or college, I can continue to play.'"
The entire Boston Pride roster attended the Bruins game against the Washington Capitals Thursday night to celebrate the partnership, as well as sign autographs and meet with fans throughout the night. According to Neely, it may not be the last time the Pride are at TD Garden - with the potential of the team playing a game in the building at some point in the future.
"It's been in discussions," said Neely. "The building is very busy, but [it could be] a doubleheader here where you can come in [for the Bruins] and then potentially watch them after the fact."
The relationship will continue on Saturday night at Warrior Ice Arena when Bruins forward Joakim Nordstrom drops the ceremonial first puck ahead of the Pride's game with the Minnesota Whitecaps (7:30 p.m.).
"We're certainly going to try and help promote their league and their sport," said Neely. "There are still a lot of things to work out, but this is a step - the first step - in getting involved with women's hockey. We're going to help [in] solidifying ice time for them and paying for ice time for them, which is a good thing for us to be doing."
The Bruins will host the third annual Girls Hockey Day on Friday, February 8, at TD Garden. The day will be highlighted by clinics involving Pride players and scrimmages for girls and women of all ages.