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Local female hockey players say Pittsburgh is perfect for new pro team

  • By Isabella Abbott/WESA

 Lauren Bram

"Mental Fitness Pittsburgh" hockey team at the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships in Minneapolis, Minn.

Correction: Adjustments to this story correct the name of one of the youth hockey players and her team, and the name of the team in the photo.

Three major sports teams play in the Steel City: the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Penguins, and the Steelers — all men’s teams. But news broke this summer that organizers plan to launch a new professional women’s hockey league — The North American league.

The top sites being considered for the new league are Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and London, Ontario, according to one of the people who spoke to the Associated Press.

Although organizers haven’t officially announced where or when they’ll be starting the women’s pro teams, local hockey players and coaches are excited.

Katie Butler is the captain of the Pittsburgh Puffins, a recreational ice hockey team composed of those from many different backgrounds, and thinks Pittsburgh would be a great location for a new women’s team.

“There’s a lot of good things that come out of all sports but I think hockey especially is very keen, motivated, very team centered and really creates a community around here that, I think, would be really beneficial to most women, especially those that want to be engaged in sports,” Butler said.

Not only would Pittsburgh be a good location because of its number of pro sports, Puffins player Christine Patno says, but because of the opportunities it will open up for younger women’s hockey players. Sisters Colleen and Theresa Warner, 14 and 12, play on local girl’s youth team Steel City Selects. They say that growing up, they were almost always the only girls on all-boys teams.

“It is cool to see that there are at least all girls teams, like girls aren’t kind of separated off just because they are girls,” Colleen Warner said.

Theresa said she wasn’t allowed to be in the same locker room as the boys on her team, which made her feel left out.

“The last year I played boys, they separate you into a tiny little closet space for you to get dressed,” Warner said. “It’s just not fun because you either have to dress with the other team after a game or you’re by yourself and lonely.”

Being on boys’ teams as young girls haven’t changed much since Patno and her wife, Lauren Bram, have been playing hockey — only more recently have they seen hockey become a little more inclusive.

“I think for both of us there wasn’t really that much out there for even girls’ hockey, so I think I saw the numbers picked up like hundreds of percent of growth for girls hockey, which is awesome,” Bram said. “But I think the city is obviously lacking that professional level that can get more girls to join and at a higher level, too.”

According to Visit Pittsburgh, the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers attract 3 million fans to the city for sporting events each year. From 2013 to 2017, the teams induced $6 billion in visitor spending for the region.

Patno says she thinks the women’s league would attract lots of fans, including herself.

“I really think the attendance could be very high here and I think that’s one of the biggest benefits of Pittsburgh,” Patno said. “I feel like there’s so many people that play and once they gain that momentum I really think the seats could get filled.”

The new North American league would reportedly include three teams in Canada and three in the United States. It could partner with the NHL much like the NBA partners with the WNBA. Although no decision has been made yet, players and fans are ready if they decide to choose the Steel City.

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