"It's not uncommon for teams to be in the league for only a year or two ... it's part of the growing process," Fennell said.
The league began play this week with teams in Toronto, Brampton, Ajax, Oakville, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Each NWHL team plays a 36-game schedule, and a champion will be crowned by Easter.
A adult ticket is $8, less than the going rate for a movie, while kids get in for $6.
The price, of course, is just one of the departure points between Fennell's league and Bettman's.
MEET AND GREET
Here's another -- after every NWHL game, the players mingle with their fans in the concourse.
There are no stone-faced security guards hired to keep the paying customers at bay.
Two of the most prominent Canadians, Cassie Campbell and Hayley Wickenheiser, live in Western Canada, but the majority of the players on Canada's Olympic team, including veterans Jayna Hefford, Vicki Sunohara and Kim St. Pierre, will play in the NWHL.
So will members of the U.S. program and a handful of Finnish and Swiss players.
The league has giant enough aspirations. While players are not paid, their accommodations are covered. The owner of the Ottawa Raiders franchise, for example, bought two big houses in which players were invited to live. That allows the meagre carding money earned by national level athletes to be put toward frills like food and clothing.
The league plans to phase in salaries in time for the 2006-2007 season and officials see opportunity for an 18-team league within a decade.
The women's game, a point of much pride during the Olympics, needed a NWHL.
The disparity among teams as much as the quality of play hampered development of the sport. Olympics and national team selection and training sessions fill only a small percentage of an elite player's season.
The biggest gap was felt by players who had exploited abundant opportunities at U.S. colleges and Canadian universities, but had nowhere to sharpen their games between Olympics and elite tournaments.
SHE'S NO. 1
"It's great to go to the Olympics," said St. Pierre, the No. 1 goalie for the national program and a member of the Quebec Avalanche. "But I'm 25 years old and I want to get better every day."
St. Pierre, whose teams last year included the men's squad at McGill University, said she has been delighted at the level of professionalism she has found in her first year in the NWHL.
"I really didn't know what to expect, but I found the league very professional. We could use a little extra sponsorship to get our meals paid for but people put so much time and effort into helping us."
"The organizations have got better business-wise," said Steve Bennett, coach of the Brampton Thunder.
"In the early days of the league, when you got to the game, you had to find the arena manager to get the key to the room. Now it has become a lot more professionally run."
The play, Bennett said, has evolved as well.
"Years ago, the women's game could have been compared to midget hockey. But coaching has evolved, training methods have evolved. I'm cutting players who would have been my second or third-line players just a few years ago."
A look at the prominent players on each NWHL team:
- Jayna Hefford, F: NWHL's leading scorer last season.
- Vicki Sunohara, F: Canadian national team veteran.
- Kathleen Kauth, F: U.S. national team member.
- Jennifer Botterill, F: Canadian Olympic scoring hero.
- Sami-Jo Small, G: Veteran Canadian Olympian.
- Cheryl Pounder, D: Canadian national team member.
- Therese Brisson, D: National team member.
- Becky Kellar, D: Another national team member.
- Kristin King, F: U.S. National team member.
DURHAM TELUS LIGHTNING
- Joanne Eustace, F: Under-22 Canadian-team last season.
- Amanda Cronin, G: USA national team invitee.
- Meagan Aarts, F: Leading scorer for U of Maine last season.
- Annie Desrosiers, F: Ex-Canadian national team member.
- Charline Labonte, G: National team goaltender.
- Gina Kingsbury, F: Canadian national team member.
- Erica Olson, F: Led with 23 goals in 38 games last season.
- Rickie-Lee Doyle, F: St. Lawrence university player.
- Alison Domenico, F: Second in team scoring last year.
QUEBEC (CITY) AVALANCHE
- Kim St. Pierre, G: Canadian Olympic first stringer.
- Genevieve Nadeau, F: Avs leading scorer last season.
- Stephanie Lambert, F: Quebec player at the nationals.