Roseville (MN) native and U.S. Women's National Team defender Lee Stecklein has become one of the most visible women's hockey players in the world.
The players that make up the Minnesota contingent of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association aren’t going to let a little global pandemic get in the way of their plans for the upcoming season — no matter what that season may hold.
“This is not unfamiliar to us,” defender Lee Stecklein said after a PWHPA practice in early October. “We’re used to not having a lot of games in a year, and whenever we do get those games, trying to make them count.”
The two-time Olympic medalist who captured gold with the U.S. Women’s National Team at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games is one of the most recognizable figures in the sport. As one of those known faces, Stecklein said that her team’s ability to be seen and heard, regardless of how many times they can play, is paramount to the overall success of the women’s game.
“We’ve been really, really lucky (in terms of visibility) in America as the U.S. Women’s National Team,” Stecklein said. “We want to use whatever time and attention we have to make sure we’re uplifting women’s hockey in all ways.”
For now, uplifting in all ways means showing up for practices before dawn twice a week, as Stecklein and her teammates do. For about an hour, some of the top female hockey players in the world drill under the tutelage of Mira Jalosuo, a former University of Minnesota defender and Finnish national team stalwart.
“My role is to run quality practices for the girls and keep the girls in shape once the season begins,” Jalosuo said. “As of right now, we are running a lot of flow drills to get a lot of reps in. Once the season is getting closer, we will start talking more about systems and practices will slow down a little bit.”
U.S. Women's National Team forward Hilary Knight will skate for the Minnesota Region during the PWHPA's 2020-2021 season.
From September of 2019 to March of 2020, members of the PWHPA competed in six showcases to bring its talent to the public, making stops in Toronto (twice), New Hampshire, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Arizona.
The 2020-2021 slate, which has undergone a dozen changes due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, is designed to enhance the prominence of the competing players and the sport as a whole.
“To increase the visibility of the sport,” Minnesota region player and PWHPA board member Hilary Knight said, succinctly outlining the tour’s primary goal. “Increase the marketability of it, and present a great on-ice product, something the fans will either want to tune in or show up and watch.”
The WNBA, the most recognizable women’s professional league in any sport, is still far behind their male counterparts in virtually all areas, a stark reminder that women’s hockey sits even lower in the pecking order of professional sports.
“We’re many years behind other sports, so we’re just trying to learn from their positives and negatives,” Knight said, referencing the general lack of coverage of the WNBA, even during its uber-competitive postseason. “I mean, it’s 2020. We should have a pro league by now.”
Pro league or not, Minnesota Region forward Hannah Brandt, who pairs with Knight and fellow Minnesota native Dani Cameranesi on the team’s top line, said that she and her teammates would be prepared to perform this season.
“I’m really looking forward to whatever the season has in store for us,” Brandt said. “We’re enjoying getting on the ice and practicing together, and we’re gonna be ready for whatever games we have.”
PWHPA forward Hannah Brandt skates with Knight on the team's top forward line.