Pittsburgh Hockey Digest


Skills Showdown gives NWHL All-Stars, fans chance to connect

Kelley Steadman and Brianne McLaughlin pose for a photograph. -- BRIAN MITCHELL

Click for more coverage of the 2017 NWHL All-Star Game.

CRANBERRY TWP, Pa. — The eager faces of young girls had their eyes glued to the ice of the UPMC Lemieux Complex on Saturday afternoon. These young girls, who had just finished their own game on the ice a few hours earlier, were now waiting to watch their heroes come on the ice.

The National Women’s Hockey League All-Star Game will take place on Sunday, but Saturday was all about showing off moves for the young crowd and their excited parents in the league’s Skills Showdown. The team captained by Amanda Kessel defeated the team captained by Kelley Steadman, 3-2 in the competition, but the final score was secondary.

Pittsburgh resident Brianne McLaughlin, goaltender for the Buffalo Beauts, said that the girls called her and her fellow professionals their “heroes.” For McLaughlin, 29, she’s honored to be considered someone’s hero and wanted to live up to that honor.

The players didn’t disappoint. Young girls had their noses pressed to the glass, watching their favorite players glide on the ice. The Skills Showdown is broken up into categories. The players competed in fastest skater, fastest goalie, shooting accuracy, a breakaway challenge and hardest shot. At the end, all players competed in a shootout challenge.

There are plenty of local connections for the All-Star Game besides McLaughlin. Kessel, a New York Riveters forward, is the sister of Pittsburgh Penguins right winger Phil Kessel. The hashtag #BestKessel has been going around the NWHL All-Star game, with Amanda, the captain of her team, being asked who is the better of the two.

She laughed and said, “I don’t know if I can give myself that title quiet yet.” Kessel mentioned that she has showed her teammates around the city, going out to dinner Friday night.

The Penguins helped make the NWHL All-Star Game a success before it even started. Sunday’s game is already sold out, partially thanks to the  Penguins are using social media to promote the event. Steadman, a forward for the Beauts and also an assistant coach for Robert Morris, praised the Penguins’ organization for helping the NWHL market the event.

“We really couldn’t have asked for anything better,” she said. “Pretty much anything we’ve needed from them, they’ve done more than enough to help us out with ice time, media arrangements and just getting the word out on their social media. This obviously wouldn’t have been able to happen without them. To have so much overall support from them has been great.”

Social media is a big factor for the future of the NWHL, McLaughlin, Steadman and Kessel agreed. The NWHL only has four teams (Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and the New York Riveters — all East Coast teams) and is in the market for more, with the growing popularity of the sport. However, all three players agreed that more needs to be done.

“Obviously, you’ve seen a dip in some of our attendance this year,” Steadman admitted. “I think this goes to show that there is some support in different markets. [The All-Star Game] shows that there are people interested in women’s hockey and shows us how we can benefit from playing in other markets.

“It’s a growing process, though. This is only our second year with the league. We’re still working out some different kinks, whether it’s social media and getting out more notice or in the regular media. However, we’ve gotten a lot of support from the NHL program, and how that has gotten the word out.”


McLaughlin operates an off-ice training facility for goalies in Neville Island and also played colligate hockey with Robert Morris from 2006-09. McLaughlin, who has announced her retirement from professional hockey after this season, believes that Pittsburgh is a good spot for a NWHL expansion team.

“It would be hard to pass up,” McLaughlin said, when asked about if she would be involved with a possible Pittsburgh expansion team. “It’s been a topic of conversation ever since this was announced here, if this was the market for the next team. Although I’m done after this year, it’d be hard to say no to be a part of it.”

But the off-the ice fate of the NWHL, its success and possible expansion can wait for now. This weekend is all about putting smiles on young girls’ faces, showing them that they can play professional hockey too and putting on a stellar show for hockey fans in Pittsburgh.

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