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Alumna launches hockey league to provide new opportunities for female players

Almost 100 years after the National Hockey League was founded, North America’s first-ever all-women’s paid professional hockey league will take the ice this October, thanks to the efforts of a Northeastern University women’s hockey alumna.

Recognizing that women’s hockey is stronger than ever, Dani Rylan, MS’12, founded the National Women’s Hockey League, a regional league with teams in New York City; Boston; Buffalo, New York; and Stamford, Connecticut.

Rylan, the league’s commissioner and the general manager of the New York Riveters, said it’s time for women’s hockey to have a league like this. “The sport has never been stronger than it is now,” she said. “Everyone we’ve talked to has told us, ‘It’s about time.’”

Her original plan was to start a New York City-based team last year for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. But that league does not pay its players, and Rylan said that it was time to do more for the athletes.

From there the idea grew into a multi-team league with markets that were within driving distance of each other. Rylan found that there was no better place for the NWHL than the Northeast, where more than 30 percent of USA Hockey’s women and girls’ registration is located.

The NWHL’s opening night isn’t for a few months, but the league in May held its inaugural draft in New York City. Among the players selected was Northeastern women’s hockey forward Kendall Coyne, who was chosen third overall by the Boston Pride.

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Kendall Coyne was selected third overall in the NWHL inaugural draft. Photo from Northeastern Athletics

“It was such an honor to be drafted, and to be drafted by a team in Boston,” Coyne said. “Even though I am from Illinois, Boston is a place that is very special to me and has really taken me in as one of its own these last five years at Northeastern.”

Rylan noted that every step of the process has had a steep learning curve, but she added her sports leadership studies helped to prepare her. During her two years at Northeastern, she learned the value of taking risks and following your passions.

“I think Northeastern reassured me that it is OK to put yourself out there and not only hope for the best but to work hard,” Rylan said.

One of the risks she took was reaching out to Northeastern women’s hockey coach Dave Flint to discuss the possibility of her finishing her athletic eligibility with the Huskies while studying for her master’s degree. That risk led to two successful years with the program including being elected a captain and winning the Beanpot Tournament.

“One of the core values of Northeastern Athletics is leadership, so the fact that one of our alumnae took the lead in founding this league is not surprising,” Flint said. “Dani was always a highly-motivated student-athlete, and I’m excited to see the direction in which she will take this new endeavor.”

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