If you’re a fan of Western’s women’s hockey team, then the names Kendra Broad and Kelly Campbell are definitely ones you’ve heard before.
But they were also close to being names you wouldn’t see again on the Mustangs roster after they were offered contracts to play in the National Women’s Hockey League earlier this summer.
Broad and Campbell attended two recruiting camps for the NWHL, one in Canada and one in the United States. Broad attended a Buffalo camp before heading to her second in Windsor, while Campbell attended the Windsor camp first before being invited to the international camp in Boston.
With contracts on the table, any Mustangs hockey fan would have good reason to fear losing either of these players.
Broad emerged as one of the best players in Ontario University Athletics in her first season, after she topped the OUA in power play goals with eight, and ranked second in the league for total points – 30 – goals – 15 – and assists – 15. She came to Western after a move from Lindenwood University, an NCAA Division II school in St. Charles, Missouri.
Likewise, Campbell has been nothing short of exceptional for the Mustangs since joining the team in 2011 as a walk-on.
The St. Thomas, Ont., native led the OUA in wins and save percentage last season with 16 and .954, and was second in goals against average with 1.23. Over the three-game CIS Championships Campbell allowed only one goal on 94 shots – an achievement that made her the easy choice for tournament MVP – helping the Mustangs capture their first ever national title.
Last month Broad was offered a contract by the New York Riveters, while Campbell was approached by the Buffalo Beauts in early August.
Buffalo and New York are two of the four teams that will compete in the NWHL: a brand new professional paid women's league that kicks off this October.
Boston and Connecticut make up the other two.
Although Broad and Campbell chose to attend the recruiting camps for the new league, neither of them expected to be offered a contract.
“It was a huge honour to even be considered and invited to the Boston camp let alone being offered a contract," Campbell said. “There was a lot of great goalies there and just to have my name mixed in there was pretty special.”
“I was just going to the camp more or less to try and check out [the] competition and kind of see what the league [was] about," Broad said.
While the NWHL is in its developing stages, founder and commissioner Dani Rylan has gained support for the league from the NHL.
“We wish the NWHL well as it presents the women’s game to a larger audience, provides outstanding female athletes an additional opportunity to compete at the professional level and inspires girls and women to strive for hockey excellence,” the NHL said in a statement issued by commissioner Gary Bettman.
With the league is in its first year, the regular season schedule has been set up to allow players to also have a full-time job outside of hockey.
“They only have two practices a week and then they play one game on the weekend on a Sunday," Broad said, "so it's really meant to compliment somebody who has a full-time work schedule as well."
Even so, the NWHL is offering an opportunity that cannot be matched by other leagues in North America and even overseas – and that’s a paid contract.
“It’s kind of something that you always aspire to – to one day get paid to play the sport but you don’t actually think that that’s going to be possible,” Broad said. “To actually see that becoming a reality in North America is pretty special."
Despite the opportunity to get paid a $15,000 salary and play in a professional women's league, both women decided to hold off in light of finishing their education.
“I’m going into my last year of a master's program in coaching so it just made sense to stay and finish my degree,” Broad said. “Hopefully the opportunity still exists after.”
Along with wanting to finish her education, Campbell also noted that Western has another promising team this year.
"I know we have the coaching staff to help us out this year again,” said Campbell. “I considered [the NWHL] but I knew that it wasn’t the right time for me to go down there and play and I was looking forward to going back to Western.”
But the decision was not easy.
Luckily for both Mustangs, coach Dave Barrett was there to consult with.
“Kendra and I have a very open and candid relationship," Barrett said. "I helped her flush out the pros and cons of the opportunity and what she might be giving up versus what you know on either side of that decision there’s always trade offs.”
Barrett believes it was in Broad's best interest to finish her education before taking the next step in her professional hockey career.
“I think it’s the right decision," he said. “I think for the type of money that is being offered in this league at this time, it’s [not] a very prudent decision to go and play in that league until you’re done with your education.”
Likewise, Barrett is not surprised that Campbell was offered a contract to play in the NWHL and also supports her decision to remain at Western.
"While Kelly possesses exceptional athletic ability, it is her work ethic, commitment to conditioning, drive to continually improve, and team first attitude that makes her success no surprise," Barrett said.
"[But] with 25-plus games at Western with daily practices and access to a professional [goalie coach] — Dave Rook — [Western] is a better developmental setting for the coming year."
Barrett’s concerns also lie in the fact that the NWHL is in the very early stages of its development.
“The league is in a start-up mode,” Barrett said. “I think it’s still got a long way to go.”
"When they get people in the seats and they get good sponsorships, some good media coverage and get some kind of traction, there’ll be more money for the players and it’ll be a much more feasible set up for them to do this for a living. But at this point in time it’s really just a start up."
"But it has to start somewhere so kudos to them for starting,” he added.
While Broad and Campbell will remain at Western to complete their studies and finish their last year of eligibility, they will definitely be looking for another opportunity to play in the NWHL next year.
Broad had hopes of continuing after Western in either the Canadian Women’s Hockey League or leagues in Europe where the players are not paid but their hockey expenses are covered. Now, with the emergence of the NWHL, Broad’s plans have changed.
"I am really interested to see where [the NWHL] goes next year, said Broad. “It’s definitely something I want to pursue when I’m done with my degree.”
Similarly, Campbell will be looking for another opportunity to play in the NWHL next season and has also considered playing in the CWHL as a next step in her career.
In the mean time, Broad and Campbell will be focusing on the upcoming OUA season as Western aims to defend their provincial and national titles.