Making History: Cornellians in the NWHL

After graduating from Cornell, Jenny Scrivens (Niesluchowski) ’10 had hung up her goalie pads. She had begun a successful career in public relations and was working as Director of Communications at the Ronald McDonald House in Edmonton, Alta., where her husband, Ben Scrivens ’10, was playing goal for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.

This past spring, shortly after Jenny Scrivens had decided to leave the Ronald McDonald House to pursue different opportunities, Dani Rylan, who played women’s hockey at Northeastern, announced the launch of the National Women’s Hockey League, the first professional women’s league in the United States to pay its players.

“It came across my Twitter feed all the way over in Edmonton and I was hooked right away,” said Scrivens. With Scrivens looking for a new venture, the announcement of a budding hockey league that would need a strong public relations presence seemed almost serendipitous.

“Hockey was still a passion of mine, and I hadn’t really been able to weave it into my career at all,” said Scrivens, who picked up and moved to New York City to head the NWHL’s public relations department and play goal for the New York Riveters. “I was looking for that next step in my career; I was willing to make a move. And to be able to do PR for the league and to play — I couldn’t have asked for a better fit.”

Jenny Scrivens (Niesluchowski) '10 plays goal for the New York Riveters and also serves as Director of Public Relations for the NWHL. (Photo: Troy Parla)

Scrivens, who still sits in Cornell’s all-time top 10 for saves, saves per game and save percentage, is joined on the Riveters by Erin Barley-Maloney ’13 and Amber Moore ’11. The NWHL has three other teams: the Boston Pride, for which Alyssa Gagliardi ’14 and Lauren Slebodnick ’14 suit up; the Buffalo Beauts; and the Connecticut Whale, which selected current Cornell senior Cassandra Poudrier for the 2016-17 season in the league’s first entry draft this past summer.

Photos: Ned Dykes (Cornell Hockey Association)

Barley-Maloney’s path to the NWHL was also one that hinged on good timing. When looking for graduate schools, Barley-Maloney spoke to some former teammates and asked about their experiences playing hockey post-grad. Gagliardi, who had spent the previous season with the Boston Blades of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and was making the move to the NWHL, encouraged Barley-Maloney to consider the new league. Barley-Maloney reached out to Rylan, the league’s commissioner, and asked for a tryout.

“[Rylan] eventually ended up getting back to me and said, ‘We have a spot for you on the New York team,’” said Barley-Maloney, “which worked out perfectly because I ended up getting into Parsons [School of Design], so I was going to be in New York.”

Gagliardi, who ranks first in Cornell history for games played with 138 and sixth all-time in plus-minus at plus-95, seems to have been a common thread in the other Cornellians’ decisions to join the league. Slebodnick, a good friend of Gagliardi’s and a four-year teammate of hers at Cornell who has now joined her in Boston, noted that Gagliardi’s time with the U.S. national team provided an important perspective on the league.

“She’s been involved with USA Hockey, so she gets all the good information,” Slebodnick said with a laugh. U.S. Olympians Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Gigi Marvin and Kacey Bellamy all made the move from the CWHL’s Boston Blades to the NWHL’s Boston Pride. Slebodnick said, “I talked to [Gagliardi] a lot and I got to see the national players’ perspective. And what made a lot of them decide to come to this league, seemed to be, yes, it’s another pro league, we do get paid, but it’s more of if we’re not going to change anything now, nothing’s ever going to change.”

(Clockwise from top left) Lauren Slebodnick '14, Alyssa Gagliardi '14 and Jenny Scrivens '10 joined the NWHL for the opportunity to help women's hockey progress. (Photos: Ned Dykes)

Women on the NWHL’s 18-player rosters are paid a minimum of $10,000 for the season and a maximum of $25,000 with each team carrying a salary cap of $270,000. Though the paychecks dwarf in comparison to what their male counterparts make, the women of the NWHL are the first to be financially rewarded for the time and effort they dedicate to hockey in a professional setting.

“Although the wage gap still exists in professional sports, the NWHL is creating an opportunity for women to make a living in a field dominated by men,” said Moore. “I am thrilled that young girls get to see women getting paid for their strength and power on the ice.”

Jenny Scrivens '10 celebrates her first NWHL paycheck on Twitter.

The CWHL, where eight Cornell grads currently play, was founded in 2007 and provides a competitive environment for post-grad players. But the league does not pay its players a salary and has only one team in the United States, the Boston Blades.

“The Canadian league offers a great place for players to play and obviously a lot of the Canadian players are benefiting from that,” said Gagliardi. “But I think the NWHL really took initiative and stepped up to show that the women’s game can make money, and they can pay players that are playing at a high level. There’s a ton of talent and skill throughout all the teams and I think at some point, it was ‘this is our opportunity’ to take it and take that chance and hope it works out.”

Gagliardi, whose 68 career assists are good for 15th on the Cornell all-time charts, recorded a helper on the Pride’s first-ever goal in a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Beauts in the season opener on Oct. 11. Slebodnick, the Big Red’s all-time winningest goaltender who ranks in the top five in program history in every goalie category, holds a 1.83 goals-against average and .964 save percentage through 65:40 played for the Pride.

Photos: Ned Dykes (Cornell Hockey Association)

The NWHL’s Cornellians are succeeding both on and off the ice, which they all agree is due in part to the time they spent on East Hill.

“If Cornell teaches you anything, it’s work ethic,” said Moore. “Right now, I’m teaching full time at a charter school in Brooklyn, going to graduate school at Columbia and playing on the Riveters. If I did not have the time management and gritty work ethic that I developed at Cornell, I would not be able to juggle all of these pieces.”

Cornell fans cheer on the Boston Pride and the New York Riveters at the Pride's home opener at Harvard's Bright-Landry Hockey Center on Nov. 22. (Photo: Ned Dykes)

Gagliardi noted that the most important lesson she learned from her time at Cornell was to fill her life with goal-driven people. “You’re surrounded in the classroom or in athletics [at Cornell] by like-minded people who are super highly motivated,” she said. “I think I took with me that it’s best to surround yourself with those kinds of people that share your goals and visions and where you want to go.”

And the NWHL is certainly not short on people following their dreams.

“It’s just been amazing,” said Barely-Maloney. “Someone had this incredible vision and it’s an amazing step for women’s hockey that the vision has been fulfilled so far, and hopefully we can keep the ball rolling and only build on that.”

The league’s inaugural game between the Connecticut Whale and the New York Riveters sold out. Young girls are buying jerseys with women’s players’ names on the back. The NWHL has generated more conversation about women’s hockey than has ever existed been before. And five Cornellians are right in the thick of it.

(Clockwise from top left) Amber Moore '11, Jenny Scrivens '10, Alyssa Gagliardi '14 and Lauren Slebodnick '14 after the Boston Pride's home opener against the New York Riveters on Nov. 22. Erin Barley-Maloney '13 was unable to make the trip due to injury. (Photo: Ned Dykes)

“I hope that the 6- and 7-year-old girls that come to our games are able to look at this league and say, ‘This is what I want to do when I grow up,’ and that they continue to pursue their dreams and that they know that these opportunities are available for them,” said Scrivens. “Or even if it’s not a sports-related goal, that they’re encouraged to pursue a profession that’s not typically for women. I think that’s the goal for me.”

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