NEWS
04/14/2012 04:15 EDT | Updated 06/13/2012 05:12 EDT

NHL Women's Hockey: National Hockey League Incorporates Female Players, But Don't Expect A League

Flickr: Just a Prairie Boy

BURLINGTON, Unites States - The NHL has plans for women's hockey.

The league has started incorporating female hockey players into their events, such as this year's NHL all-star game in Ottawa. Canadian and U.S. team players participated in promotional events there.

Doing the same in Columbus in 2013, bringing them to a Winter Classic or Heritage Classic and broadcasting women's hockey games on the NHL Network are items under consideration, according to the league's senior vice-president of integrated marketing.

But don't expect the NHL to run its own women's league any time soon.

"I can tell you we have no specific plans right now to launch a women's league," Susan Cohig says.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website, the NHL owns the rights to the trademark "WNHL." When informed of that, Cohig said the league likely took that step to protect any and all extensions of the trademark "NHL".

"We didn't go out and register that with a concrete 'we're going to launch a league in 'X' number of years,'" she says.

But the NHL views cultivating a relationship with women's hockey as simply good business.

"We have women fans who are a huge part of our audience," Cohig says. "We have women that play that are fans of our game.

"It's looking for ways to use the platform that we have, the resources and infrastructure that we have, to positively influence the growth of the women's game. We're taking a walk-before-we-run position on that."

The NHL hired former WNBA executive Val Ackerman as a women's hockey consultant in January, 2011. She's currently observing the women's world championship in Burlington.

"We're reaching out, establishing relationships with the key stakeholders and continuing to understand where women's hockey is," Ackerman says. "I would say it is a work in progress trying to figure out where the NHL best plugs in at this point."

Ackerman was the first president of the WNBA, a women's professional basketball league that has operated for 15 years.

"This is me speaking personally. I think women's hockey is still in a state of infancy," Ackerman says. "There seems to be real potential to grow.

"It's going to be a sport that's going to grow more slowly and may never reach the levels you see in women's basketball and women's soccer. That said, it does seem to have potential particularly in certain parts of the country and the northern hemisphere and maybe the world."

Ackerman participated in a panel on women's hockey at last month's Clarkson Cup, which is the championship tournament of the six-team Canadian Women's Hockey League.

The NHL includes editorial content about female hockey on its website. The league hosted a reception at the NCAA women's Frozen Four in Duluth, Minn., last month.

The NHL was interested in broadcasting some of those games on its network, but "it was too late in the planning cycle to be able to do that," Cohig says. "We'd love to be able to do that going forward."

Former Canadian team forward Jennifer Botterill, current players Caroline Ouellette and Meaghan Mikkelson, as well as American goaltender Jessie Vetter were involved in promotional events at the all-star game in Ottawa.

"I'd love to see a U.S.-Canada game within the NHL all-star weekend," Ouellette says.

"Personally, I'd love to see them help out with the CWHL because I played NCAA and played CIS a little bit and I think college hockey is our NHL right now. It's when we graduate, we need the support.

"If they could do simple things, letting us use facilities or mentor our coaches. I think there's so many ways they can help us promote the CWHL and let people know there's five Olympians who play in Montreal and 12 in Toronto."

Cohig observed that hockey fans, both male and female, wanted to meet Botterill and Vetter after a question-and-answer session in Ottawa.

"When people are engaged in hockey and loving and feeling a connection to it, it benefits us," she says. "It means more people will be interested in our business."