The Game That Almost Didn’t Happen became a happening Thursday afternoon for Boston Pride defenseman Blake Bolden.
Bolden scored the tying goal of the first Outdoor Women’s Classic presented by Scotiabank, an abbreviated running-time match between the professional National Women’s Hockey League Pride and the rival Canadian Women’s Hockey League Les Canadiennes that ended in a 1-1 draw.
Despite the game being a last-minute addition to the the 2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic festivities at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and despite USA Hockey not making several Pride skaters available for the game because they were engaged in the last day of training camp ahead of a world championship competition, those who played and watched the outdoor game enjoyed themselves.
Perhaps none more than Bolden, a former Boston College women’s hockey team captain and the first African-American to play in the NWHL and the CWHL.
Thursday’s game almost didn’t happen because of tension between the NWHL, a first-year league that pays its players, and the more established CWHL, which doesn’t offer its skaters salaries.Think pre-merger National Football League-American Football League or National Hockey League-World Hockey Association hate.
Throw in USA Hockey’s stance on not releasing national team players for the classic, and the odds of the women’s outdoor game coming off looked dim.
Talks between NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan and CWHL Commissioner Brenda Andress and intervention by the NHL helped make the game a reality.
“I think this was a great first step. I would say that the NHL was standing in the middle, holding our hands, as we walked to Gillette, so to speak,” Rylan told Yahoo Sports’ Puck Daddy blog. “But it was a good first step.”
Still, things weren’t ideal. The ice conditions for the afternoon game were problematic. Pride forward Denna Laing suffered an injury when she stepped on a stick and crashed into the boards.
The historic game wasn’t televised or streamed online. And instead of three 20-minute periods, the game was two 15-minute periods played in running time.
Three women of color played in Thursday’s game: Bolden, Pride forward Rachel Llanes and Les Canadiennes forward Julie Chu, who carried the U.S. flag during the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I think that this was an incredible first stepping stone for all of us,” Chu told reporters after the game. “Hopefully, next year we’re introduced into the game a bit earlier so there’s more promotion of the event. We always have to start with one step and hopefully take the next step and continue to move forward and grow.”