In what has been a tumultuous period for professional women’s hockey in North America, some of the game’s greatest players have chosen other avenues to continue their professional careers. Jacquie Pierri, formerly of the Calgary Inferno, found a new home in Sweden, playing pro hockey with some of her Inferno teammates.
Born in Montclair, New Jersey, Pierri played four seasons at Brown University and joined the Canadian Women’s Hockey League’s Calgary Inferno in 2013-14 and was a member of the 2015-16 Clarkson Cup Champion team. Pierri played five seasons in Calgary and over 100 professional games with the Inferno.
After retiring at the end of the 2017-18 season, Pierri decided to continue her career in Sweden with SDE of the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (Svenska damhockeyligan). The League consists of 10 teams, mostly concentrated in central Sweden, and contains several teams that share affiliations with larger men’s programs such as: HV71, Djurgårdens, Linköping, and MODO, among others.
Pierri graciously answered some questions about her transition to professional hockey in Sweden.
Take us through your decision to head to Sweden to continue your pro career, how did you decide to join the SDHL?
I’m completing a dual degree master’s program in sustainable energy engineering. The program brought me to Barcelona last year and Stockholm this year. I was really missing being part of team last year so I decided to contact some teams to play again. Ultimately I reached out to SDE after my Inferno-teammate, Kelty Apperson, signed.
How has adjusting to life in Sweden been so far, while balancing your connections to your professional life in North America?
I’m really enjoying my time in Stockholm so far. We practice very early in the mornings so it has been very manageable to coordinate classwork. Several of my teammates actually work for a startup on campus so we are able to meetup regularly for coffee breaks (Fika).
In terms of on-ice tactics, has the Swedish game, or at least the strategies employed by your team, been difficult to adjust to? Has there been any aspect of the game that has felt familiar to teams you’ve played on in the past?
No, I haven’t found the on-ice strategies to be very different. The physicality of the game is a little bit different and I had to adjust a bit at the beginning to the very wide ice but it didn’t take long.
It’s been really fun playing with teammates from so many different countries and with such different styles of play.
Your team, SDE, is chock full of North American players, including one other American, five Canadians (including Inferno teammates Kelly Murray, Kelty Apperson, and Lindsey Post) and has players from across Europe, what has it been building a team with women from such diverse backgrounds? Have you felt comfortable in a leadership role with your new team?
The team here is a really great group. We bonded very quickly and have become very close. I can’t wait to cheer them on, in the spring, when they compete for all of their national teams in the World’s. I think it’s been an advantage for us to be from such a diverse array of countries, since we all are in similar situations being away from our home countries and have that shared context.
We have a great leadership group with both some Inferno girls and some returning SDE players. They all balance each other very well and have been very supportive for the group.
How closely have your European teammates been following the Women’s professional hockey situation in North America? Are there lessons that can be learned from European hockey?
The PWHPA boycott hasn’t been discussed very often here, but the Swedish national team had their own boycott at the beginning of the year. Women around the world are starting to be in a strong enough position to demand proper respect and resourcing when competing at the elite levels. Particularly on the national teams, countries have no excuse for not equally supporting their men’s and women’s programs and it’s been great to see how the accomplishments in North American hockey have trickled over and inspired other teams to fight for better conditions.
The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) boycott that Pierri referenced involves a boycott of professional hockey in North America organized by professional women’s hockey players from the now-defunct CWHL and the still-operational National Women’s Hockey League.
The collapse of the CWHL, alongside the growing concern regarding professional women’s hockey players earning living wages, created the PWHPA, whose stated mission is to “promote, advance, and support a single, viable professional women’s ice hockey league in North America that showcases the greatest product of women’s professional ice hockey in the world.”
The result of the boycott has been the creation of the “Dream Gap Tour” a travelling exhibition of elite women’s hockey that held events in Toronto, Hudson, NH, Chicago, and has another event planned for January in Toronto as well.
For more information regarding the PWPHA, the North American boycott, and the creation of the Dream Gap tour you can read this piece from Julie Stevens, Michele K. Donnelly, and Simon Black.
In terms of the SDHL, it’s really interesting to compare the league structure with the CWHL. The league here isn’t centrally owned, so each club is subject to their individual resourcing. In some ways, it’s better because you see women having the opportunity to be truly treated as professionals at some clubs – with adequate medical, training, and coaching resources. At the same time, at a club like SDE we are competing as true underdogs with significantly less resources than nearly all other clubs (but please don’t misunderstand this as a lack of gratitude for what we have).
Pierri elaborated on the inequality present among some SDHL clubs and some of the challenges facing Swedish professional women’s hockey.
The wealthy teams are propped up by their men’s programs, so from that perspective there is no incentive for the clubs to increase awareness or market the games and we still aren’t seeing regular crowds at any games. All games are streamed online through a sports subscription called c-more, but similar to broadcasts in North America, there is no panel with analysis or even advertisements to give it the legitimacy of a professional game. It’s typically a single camera angle with very few replays etc.
There are highlight packages posted on the SDHL website after every game. While this is more than we had in the CWHL, it’s still not sufficient to draw in any fans or build a revenue stream.
In the CWHL, the revenue sharing model distributed most resources evenly but perhaps also spread them too thin for anyone to have an actually professional experience. I think there are definitely some aspects of the model over here that could be applied to whatever becomes of the PWHPA movement but I don’t think it’s a perfect solution as it stands.
Thank you, Jacquie, for taking the time to share your experiences with us. We’ll all be cheering you on this year.