Former University of Minnesota great Amanda Kessel just inked the richest deal in the history of North American professional women's hockey.
Fresh off an NCAA national championship in March, Kessel, 24, finished her collegiate career with Wayne Gretzky numbers — 248 points in 136 games. The Sochi Olympics silver medalist was the most sought after undrafted free agent in the women's pro ranks.
But "big contract" when it comes to women's hockey is a relative term. Her one-year deal with the New York Riveters of the National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) pays $26,000.
"Getting to this point where women can professionally play the game that they love and make some money doing it is huge," says Brooke White, who doesn't get paid and must buy her own sticks as a member of the Minnesota Whitecaps, an independent pro team based in the Twin Cities. "It's taken women's hockey about ten years to get to where we're at now."
Female players talented enough to entertain ideas of lacing 'em up as pros have two leagues from which they can choose.
Established in 2015, the NWHL's four squads are clustered in the Northeast. The season begins in the fall and carries into the new year with 18 regular season games. Players practice twice a week during hours outside the regular work week.
The Riveters play in Brooklyn, competing against the Buffalo Beauts, the Connecticut Whale, and the Boston Pride.
The league debuted in 2015 — eight years after a startup north of the border. The Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL) launched in 2007. It's composed of five teams: two in Ontario, one in Quebec, one in Alberta, and the Blades in Boston.
Kessel's freshly inked deal consumes almost 10 percent of the Riveters' team salary.
The NWHL imposes a $270,000 salary cap on every team. Each player can also score an additional 15 percent cut from her jersey sales.
Toronto native Kim McCullough played as an unpaid pro for six years during the NWHL's first incarnation, from 1999 to 2007.
"Back then, we were just excited we didn't have to pay to play," says McCullough, a junior coach in Toronto. "Now the mentality has changed. These women are becoming more recognizable as sports figures and as world-class athletes in their communities, as they should be. They're the best and as the best they deserve to paid as such."