Dream Gap Tour makes first stop in NYC

First-ever professional women’s hockey game at Madison Sq. Garden proves historic


Will Zimmerman, Online Managing Editor

On Sunday, Feb. 28, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) made history, playing the first-ever professional women’s hockey game at the world’s most famous arena: Madison Square Garden. The absence of fans at the contest — the first stop on the 2021 Dream Gap Tour — couldn’t take away from the significance of Sunday night. The moment was much larger than that.

Prior to puck drop, Billie Jean King spoke to the players.

“Take a moment to look up at the most iconic ceiling in all [of] sports and entertainment,” she told the women. “You’re about to burst through it.”

Hosted by the PWHPA, the Dream Gap Tour is traveling to different cities across North America in an effort to expand the visibility of women’s hockey. Undoubtedly, Sunday’s game accomplished this goal — not only was it the first to be played at Madison Square Garden, but it was also nationally televised by NBC.

While Kendall Coyne Schofield and team Minnesota were beaten by team New Hampshire by a score of four to three, the outcome of the game was little more than an after-thought.

“This game was bigger than what was on the scoreboard,” Schofield told The Athletic. “It was an incredible opportunity.”

Schofield is no stranger to big stages and bright lights. Playing for Team USA, she has won six gold medals at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s Championships, as well as a gold medal at the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang. In 2019, Schofield became the first-ever woman to compete in the NHL’s All-Stars Skills Competition. On International Women’s Day in 2020, Schofield served as a game analyst for NBC-Sport’s broadcast of the NHL game between the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks. It was the first time a professional hockey game was called and produced by an entirely female crew.

Now Schofield is competing within the PWHPA, a player-driven organization that was developed by female hockey players who felt disenfranchised by the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).

In 2019, Schofield was one among over 200 professional female hockey players who took to Twitter to announce that she was essentially boycotting the NWHL. 

“We cannot make a sustainable living playing in the current state of the professional game,” the post read. “Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level.”

To address these issues and more — including a lack of access to professional-level resources like trainers and facilities — the women established the PWHPA and are now playing on the Dream Gap Tour.

The PWHPA frames itself as a labor movement rather than a league or union. The women intend for the organization to serve as a sort of bridge to a more sustainable and formalized league down the road.

According to a PWHPA press release, “the association will serve as a vehicle dedicated to promoting and supporting the creation of a single, viable women’s professional [hockey] league in North America.”

The group envisions a league comparable to the NHL. This league, the women hope, will “provide infrastructure and financial resources to players; protect and support their rights and talents; provide health insurance; and work with companies, business leaders and sports professionals worldwide who already have voiced support for women’s hockey,” per the same release.

By accruing money from sponsors and securing a national broadcast platform in NBC, Sunday’s game was a leap in the right direction for the PWHPA in terms of gaining broader exposure and promoting the case for fair compensation for female hockey players.

Following the game, Schofield’s teammate, Hillary Knight, reflected on what the contest at Madison Square Garden meant for the advancement of the PWHPA’s goals and the promotion of gender equality in sports at large.

“Obviously, it was a game of hockey,” Knight told The Athletic. “But it meant [so much] more than [that].”

As she listened to Billie Jean King’s pregame speech, Knight told reporters she had to “try to fight back the tears [because] every word she’s saying is 100 percent true.”

The monumental role King has played in advocating for gender equality for over half a decade was not lost on Knight. A trailblazer in women’s sports in her own right, the former World No. 1 tennis player went on to establish the Women’s Tennis Association and the Women’s Sports Foundation.

As the players stood at center ice prior to the game, King’s words reverberated off the Garden roof.

“We’re going to fight for every girl and every woman who will be standing on their skates, playing on the ice right where you are — not for years, for generations to come,” King said. “So, get ready. Keep fighting for the equality and equity that every woman deserves in every single sport.”