MANSFIELD – Paige Harrington has been in a firestorm.
Not only has she provided emotional support for a transgender Buffalo Beauts teammate, she then threw her body around for physical support on defense in helping the Beauts win the National Women’s Hockey League championship.
Over the past week, Harrington has helped support and champion the cause of the U.S. women’s national hockey team.
“I had a solid season, I got a lot more ice time, but there were some ups and downs,” said Harrington, the former Mansfield High Hornet and UMass-Amherst women’s hockey player following her second season of playing professional hockey in Buffalo.
Harrington and her Beauts teammates all suffered the consequences of the shaky financial footing that the NWHL was on, having to take a pay cut during the season.
Following that, Harrington’s teammate and roommate, Harrison Browne, became the first transgender women’s athlete to play professional hockey.
After finishing third during the regular season, the Beauts had to travel to Lowell to beat the once-beaten Boston Pride for the NWHL championship, earning the Isobel Cup – the Stanley Cup of women’s pro hockey.
Harrington’s triumph was tempered afterwards by the turmoil between USA Hockey and the women’s national team which threatened the World Championships.
She packed her bags in Buffalo and prepared to head home to Mansfield to think over her future ice options.
“The girls on the team, the girls that I’ve met, being out in the community with all of the hockey-related events that we do made it all worth it,” said Harrington of her pro hockey career. “But after taking the pay cut, it was really not enough to sustain a living. I was working two other jobs.”
Harrington might go back to Buffalo for a third season or she just might skate off onto a new adventure.
Harrington and her Beauts teammates were firmly in support of the women’s national team in its dispute with USA Hockey for better wages. The women’s national team threatened to boycott the International Hockey Federation’s World Championships, which began last Friday in Michigan.
The issue was finally resovled, but only after 16 U.S. senators and representatives from the players unions of the NHL, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball all indicated their support in behalf of the women’s national team.
Ranked No. 1 in the world, the U.S. team threatened to boycott the World Championships because USA Hockey was unable to “provide equitable support and encouragement for participation,” in comparison with their male peers.
Harrington was a member of Team USA in 2013 and later played in the World University Games in 2015, but never received attention from USA Hockey to serve as a ‘replacement player’ and would not have participated in the world championships this past weekend.
“Nobody would have gone to that,” Harrington said. “All of the teammates were fighting for those causes. We felt for them (the U.S. national team).”
USA Hockey previously gave the women $1,000 a month in the six months leading up to championships, but that compensation was boosted to $2,000 per month with players eligible for performance bonuses in a mid-week negotiation session. In addition, the women’s national team requested USA Hockey to increase its $3.5 million for development. The national team developmental program for men has a $9 million budget
USA Hockey attempted to recruit a replacement team of women’s players for the World Championships, but Harrington, like many others in the NWHL and those from NCAA or even high school programs, rebuffed their appeals.
“It was surprising and exciting to see the support that the National Team received from so many different sports,” said Harrington.
All the while, Harrington served as a go-between of sorts with Browne, who became more than a teammate. “Others may not realize how much of a toll it takes on him because he holds himself the right way. Brownie is my first trans friend and life is hard enough.”
Browne, a former junior circuit player from Canada, was recruited by the University of Maine to play Division I hockey on scholarship, and graduated in 2014. It was at Maine where Browne first identified himself privately to coaches as transgender, identifying as a man.
The Beauts were coached by former Edmonton Oiler and three-time Stanley Cup winning defenseman Craig Muni, while the GM was 738-game NHL veteran and former Buffalo Sabre star Ric Seiling.
The on-the-ice issues took care of themselves.
The Beauts never won two consecutive games until winning the final three games of the regular season and moving into the No. 3 seed for the playoffs, avoiding the Boston Pride for a first round opponent. The Beauts beat the New York Riveters in the semifinals and two nights later, were in Lowell for the NWHL championship game.
The Beauts went 0-5-1 against Boston during the regular season, losing the tie game in a shootout.
“So we didn’t beat them six times, there were some not-so-good battles and we were complete underdogs,” said Harrington.
Buffalo goalie Brianna McLaughlin (60 saves) proved to be all-worldly, with the Beauts shutting out Boston through two periods, taking a 3-0 lead before the Pride pumped in two goals over the final six minutes of the game.
“Maybe we caught them sleeping,” said the 23-year old Harrington. “We knew how incredible a team that Boston was and (the title game) was supposed to be on neutral ice. We played a physical game. They’re such a quick team, but we kept from from in front of the net and in the slot. A lot of their shots were from the outside.”
Harrington relished the support that the Beauts received from the hockey-centric fans of Buffalo, from crowds in the stands to mingling with fans and youngsters at any number of charity events and hockey clinics.
“There’s such a good fan-base there, such a knowledgeable hockey town,” she said. “Even from last season, the competitive level of hockey picked up. It was a lot of fun, I loved playing hockey. Now I’ll have to make a decision about my future.”