Shooting for the stars: Orange ice hockey player prepares to go pro
Shooting for the stars: Orange ice hockey leader prepares to go pro
ST. LOUIS – Lindsay Eastwood wasn’t supposed to be in this position.
She wasn’t supposed to be captaining an Orange squad hoping to return to the NCAA tournament, let alone skating in her redshirt senior season.
Before the start of what should have been her freshman season, Eastwood was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder that threatened to end her playing career. After a year away from hockey, the condition resolved itself and she was cleared to play.
Now, the television, radio and film graduate student is ready to tackle her next challenge.
“I want to keep playing after I graduate, and that’s going to be professional for me,” said Eastwood.
Her aspirations are realistic. Last season, she led Orange defenders in goals and was named to her conference’s All-Tournament team. This season, she passed the 50-point mark in her collegiate career and paces Orange defenders in scoring.
But her options for playing close to home are complicated.
“Last spring, the women’s professional scene in North America was totally thrown into upheaval, to be quite frank,” said Emily Kaplan, ESPN national NHL writer who spoke to The NewsHouse at NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis.
First, the six-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which featured a team based in Eastwood’s hometown of Ottawa, shut its doors on May 1, 2019.
“That was pretty shocking to me,” Eastwood said. “That was the league I grew up watching and dreaming of playing in one day.”
That left the five-team National Women’s Hockey League as the only professional women’s league standing in North America. Nearly a day after the CWHL folded, 200 leading players announced a boycott of professional women’s hockey in North America and formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.
“The problem with the NWHL is you can’t make a livable wage,” said Kaplan, who spoke with PWHPA members in the days following their announcement.
In 2017-18, NWHL players earned between $5,000 and $7,000 throughout the entire season. (A NWHL spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.) CWHL star players earned as little as $2,000 per season before that league folded.
“We will not play in any professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves,” the PWHPA wrote in its inaugural announcement.
Twenty of those PWHPA members took the ice in a first-of-its-kind, three-on-three exhibition at the NHL All-Star Skills competition in St. Louis on Friday night. A team of 10 Canadian All-Stars beat a team of 10 American All-Stars 2-1 in a two-period showcase that aired on NBC Sports Network in America and Sportsnet in Canada.
While the exhibition did not give rise to a sustainable professional league overnight, it’s arguably the biggest recognition of women’s hockey by the world’s leading hockey league to date.
“Tonight was a step in the right direction,” Team USA Olympic gold medalist Hilary Knight said Friday, smiling despite her team’s loss to the Canadians.
After coming off the ice against Penn State Friday night at Tennity Ice Pavillion, SU’s Eastwood tuned in to the highlights from the exhibition.
“You can tell the NHL is trying to help women’s hockey in some way and this was a great way to get women’s hockey exposure,” Eastwood said.
If nothing changes in the North American women’s pro scene by the time Eastwood is ready to go pro this summer, she’d consider playing overseas in Europe first.
“Personally, I would probably support the boycott and not play in the NWHL,” Eastwood said.
“I don’t fault anyone for playing in the NWHL,” Eastwood said. “They’re trying to play hockey. They’re trying to continue their careers.”
Team USA veteran Alex Carpenter has played in both the CWHL and NWHL and now plays for a China-based team that competes in a Russian league.
“Overall, it’s been a great life experience,” Carpenter said. “One day, we’ll have that [North American pro] league that we’re dreaming of.”
With SU’s nine regular-season games and conference tournament play remaining, Eastwood still has collegiate competition to focus on and time to weigh her options.
“I hope we [the PWHPA] can get all the top recruits for the upcoming year,” Knight said. “I’m confident we’re going to get where we need to be, and we’re too stubborn to fail.”
In a press conference before Friday’s exhibition, Team USA’s Kendall Coyne Schofield emphasized the resource differences that female college players might take for granted but struggle to find professionally, like the help of equipment management and dedicated athletic training staff.
“I would say enjoy the last few moments [of college],” Schofield said. “It’s the best four years that you have as a hockey player.”