Top Photo: NWHL, Troy Parla
The First Female Professional in the World's Best Hockey League
By Julian Steiner and Birgit Riezinger
When the Hockey Hall of Fame wanted to honor her by displaying her hockey stick, Janine Weber faced a dilemma: Weber owned only two hockey sticks. She used one to score the winning goal in the final of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), while the other one was broken. And she could not afford to buy an new one even at a modest price tag of about 350 USD.
But times have changed: Weber is now Austria’s first female hockey professional. She has played in the WNHL, the counterpart of the men’s NHL since October 11, 2015. The New York Riveters have signed Weber as Free Agent. Only few in Austria are aware of this, but many more are in the States: she is pretty good. The NWHL had previously existed between 1999 and 2007 and was reinstated in 2015: Four teams compete for the title and Weber is right in the middle of the best women’s league in the world, while the U.S. and Canada lead the hockey world with their national teams as well.
New Home in New York
Weber enjoyed her first year in the U.S. living in Brooklyn with a friend. For the first time in her life, she can live off the sport. NWHL players make 10-25,000 USD per season, which lasts for six months. Weber initially came to the U.S. in 2013 and played college hockey in Providence, RI. After that, she was transferred to the best league at the time, the CWHL. She played forward for the Boston Blades for one season and saved the best for last: the CWHL final on March 7, 2015 in Markham, Ontario.
The Boston Blades were facing the Montreal Stars, both aspiring to win the coveted Clarkson Cup. The score stood tied at 2:2 after regular time when Janine Weber scored for the Blades in the third minute of overtime! Goal, win, Clarkson Cup – life would not get any better!
“No one knew me before this goal” says Weber. Ever since, this has radically changed so she saw her chance to play in the NWHL: All CWHL players had been contacted and participated in try-out tournaments. Weber knew to impress, but signed a “safety contract” for Linköping in Sweden. Then came the call from the New York Riveters and Weber did not need to move to Sweden anymore. And neither did she need to continue working full-time at a school for children with developmental disorders in Boston as her CWHL contract was only reimbursing her costs related to the sport.
Although bidding farewell to her students was hard, Weber had moved up a rank to become a professional athlete.
Only Hockey Playing Girl in Town
The Tyrolean made her first steps on the ice as a six-year old. She went to an ice skating school in her native Innsbruck and thought about short track speed skating. But only to race in circles seemed too boring, so she decided to play hockey. With boys and against boys. “Up until 12 or 13, I was the only hockey-playing girl in Innsbruck.”
Sometimes she heard “bad comments,” parents of opponents shouted at her, and she was checked more and harsher than the boys. But, she says, her teammates always had her back.
90 Games for Austria
Weber’s talent was obvious: She played with the boys until she was 17, then moved to Vienna to play for Austria’s best women’s club, the Vienna Sabres. She played her debut for the Austrian national team when she was 17 and has played 90 games so far, scoring 43 goals.
Austria currently ranks eleventh in the world. “We have improved continuously over the past years.” However, very few people in Austria seem to know about these achievements, but it is not the only thing that annoys Weber: “Women’s sports have a much better standing in the U.S.,” she says. “Colleges must spend an equal amount for women’s sports as they do for the men. Female athletes are paid according to their performance rather than their looks.”
Weber’s performance speaks for itself. Her hockey stick rests in the Hall of Fame today and she does not miss it one bit. After talking about her inner conflict in an interview, a company called Weber and has been supplying her with new sticks ever since.
The piece above by Birgit Riezinger was originally published in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard. It has been translated, updated and edited by Austrian Information. Furthermore, Austrian Information has reached Janine Weber via e-mail for the following interview:
It was recently announced that you have extended your contract with the New York Riveters for yet another season. Congratulations! What will be your goals for this year’s season in the NWHL?
Thank you! I think our team is going to look at lot different from last year as we have many new players joining this fall.We will have to build chemistry and hopefully we can make it to the Isobel Cup Finals this season.
Could you also briefly explain why you initially chose the New York Riveters? What do you particularly like about your team?
We had a lot of hard working players and a fun and outgoing team. I was also very interested to see what it would be like to live in New York City. The league was (re) founded in 2015 and I knew right away that I wanted to be part of the first professional women’s league that pays its players. I signed my contract in June of 2015 and was the first player to join the league.
You are the first and only Austrian to play in America’s top women’s hockey league. What does that feel like?
It feels good to be able to represent Austria and show people that we play ice hockey in Austria as well and have a lot of talented players.
You started your career in the U.S. with the Providence College Friars in Rhode Island. What made you take the leap over the big pond in the first place and how has your life changed ever since?
I had always dreamed of playing college hockey in the U.S. When I got a scholarship offer from Providence College and the chance to get my Master’s degree while playing hockey at a really high level I was very excited.
You have been living in the United States for three years now – what do you enjoy most about this country? Are there any places in the United States that you have not been to yet but would love to see?
I really enjoy the lifestyle and hospitality here. Most people I have met here are very outgoing and it was pretty easy for me to make new friends. I also love the food and the endless choices you have here even though it was pretty overwhelming at first. I haven’t made it to the West Coast yet and I would also love to visit Colorado.
How often do you get to visit Austria nowadays?
I usually go back two or three times a year depending onmy hockey schedule. I always try to make sure to see my friends and family and eat my favorite Austrian meals.
What are your favorite hockey teams in Austria (both women and men)?
I played for the Vienna Sabres for four years and a lot of my national teammates play there. We always had a lot of fun and always won the Austrian championship during my tenure. On the men’s side, I grew up rooting for my hometown team, HC Innsbruck and I used to play for their youth teams.
You are also part of Austria’s national team. How are you able to balance your responsibilities there with your career in the U.S.?
I try to attend the most important training camps, especially before World Championships. The coaches, the staff and I would usually find a good balance. And we have been really successful these past years: We are number 11 of the world rankings at the moment and will be playing in the Final Olympic Qualification tournament in February of next year; hopefully, we can qualify for the Winter Olympics for the first time in history.
Let us also briefly talk about the situation of women’s hockey in the United States and in Austria – what are the main differences that you see?
There are way more players in the U.S. and it’s more competitive. There are also differences between the style of hockey played in the U.S. and in Europe. I think hockey in the U.S. is more physical while players in Europe try to play a more fancy style.
And one last question: Besides being talented, do you have any tips for young aspiring hockey players in Austria who would like to follow your example and play in the United States?
I think trying to make connections and networks with players and coaches in the U.S. is very helpful. Since the game is a little more physical here, it also helps to be in good athletic shape.
Thank you for the interview and good luck in New York