Pucks in Deep: One-on-One with Ailish Forar ’16, Part Two

by Sam Stockton | 5/6/19 2:00am

Pucks in Deep: One-on-One with Ailish Forar ’16, Part Two

This week’s Pucks In Deep features the second part of my exclusive interview with Ailish Forfar ’16. Forfar recently began working for Yahoo! Sports Canada after studying sports media at Ryerson University in Toronto. She is a veteran of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, having played the 2018-19 season alongside Laura Stacey ’16 for the Markham Thunder. Just last week, she was one of over 200 women’s professional hockey players to announce a one-season boycott of North American women’s hockey leagues, aiming to force the creation of a singular league with adequate resources to promote a sustainable future for the sport. After talking last week about moving on from Dartmouth and life in the CWHL and its closure, we discuss life on the media side, hockey culture and her goals in covering her lifelong sport.

How do you see the path forward for women’s hockey? Do you think the National Women’s Hockey League will become a joint United States-Canada league, and how would you react to that?

AF: My personal opinion, and I think it’s a lot of the other players’ opinions too, is that you need one league for everyone to play in. That’s a non-negotiable factor. That needs to be the method. Maybe the CWHL thought that if we make this bold gesture, the NWHL would make their bold gesture and also realize that the only way forward is for the NHL to give us proper sponsorship. What the NHL did was see that and say, “Hey NWHL, we’ll give you the $50,000 we were giving the CWHL, and everything’s good.” And that’s not good. $50,000 isn’t enough. It’s disappointing that that’s the kind of the response the NHL had. I don’t think that’s the right answer, and if that’s the only thing moving forward in September, that’s going to be disappointing. I won’t play in it because, first of all, there’s no team right now that’s close enough to me, and secondly, I just don’t think that’s the answer. One league is great, but you need the right league that’s going to actually further women’s hockey — a league that’s going to make the hard and tough decisions. Nobody’s jumped to the NWHL because they know that’s not the sustainable move. I know someone like Stacey is probably just distraught. I’m okay to retire, but I know she’s not. You can’t just move on and be like, “I’m going to move to Buffalo.” It doesn’t work like that. I hope that she has an option that’s sustainable.

It has been suggested that the NWHL will be moving teams into Toronto and Montreal. If you got that opportunity, would you be interested in that, or do you feel pretty committed to the media side at this point?

AF: It kind of depends. If the NWHL does expand to Toronto and they have communicated with those CWHL teams and made a little bit of a partnership and everyone feels good about it, I’m sure I’m not gonna make that team. There’d be one team for 20 Olympians, and obviously, I wouldn’t be on that roster. In a perfect world, if I had an opportunity, I would continue playing, but at the same time, I’ve got to think realistically. I was a bottom player in the CWHL this year with six teams, so if there’s only one or two teams, all those girls from all over will take those teams over, but I would be 100 percent excited to see that. I would love to watch a team with all those Olympians on the ice; that’s the best hockey you could see. The NWHL said they would expand to Montreal and Toronto, but they didn’t communicate with those general managers and coaching staffs that run those teams. Those organizations have fan bases and coaches and ice times. I think you need to wonder why they wouldn’t have those conversations. There are a couple gray areas, but I’m sure there are things I don’t know about.

To move into the media side of things, I’m interested in what it is you want to bring as a member of the hockey media. I feel like there’s been this sense that hardcore hockey fans are unwilling to bring in new people and as a result they’ve diminished the sport’s popularity. Does that dynamic influence the way you want to discuss the game?

AF: I think you’re right on the ball with that. For me growing up, I didn’t see a lot of female presence on television covering the sports that I liked. That’s one of the things that made me feel like there’s an opening there. I played NCAA, U Sports and represented my country at times. I had those opportunities to play on a big stage with the best players. So I think I bring the perspective of what it’s like to play and what it’s like to be a fan. I’ve had the opportunity to coach a bit with Ryerson, which, for me, brings a valuable different discourse to the conversation in terms of what I want to do. I just want to be part of that newer wave of media: being able to be personable and approachable and also real. I think some people are worried about the image of the broadcaster, and I think that image is going away. Fewer people are watching the traditional television markets than are watching social media or recaps online. That’s why Ryerson was such a great opportunity to learn — because they immerse you in that change that’s happening in media. My Dartmouth background, being an English major, gave me that concrete core, and now, I’ve got the new media sense from Ryerson.

You’ve been involved as an athlete and a member of the media simultaneously. Do you think that’s something we will start to see more of out of the NHL?

AF: I hope so. I’ve seen the league has done the “Cup Confidential” this playoffs, where they’ve given David Pastrnak or Brad Marchand the Instagram account for like five seconds and they say a couple things. Every time I’ve been like, “Aw, that’s so cool.” There’s Mitch Marner with his ice cream at the pregame meal. It’s stupid, but it’s cool to see they’re doing some of it. It’s an untapped market with hockey players. It’s a special type of person, an aura about you. It’s cool to see that side. BizNasty (Paul Bissonette) has always been my favorite in terms of how real he is. There are times when it’s a bit vulgar, but I love the way he makes fun of himself. More athletes should try to find a way to be themselves authentically. I think Kendall Coyne is a cool example. She’s starting to do some more stuff with NHL analysis. Good for her. She may not be BizNasty, but she’s being herself and very intelligent. When there are more of us getting the chance to do that, we can really let our personalities show. Every time I see it, I think that it’d be so cool to have that as an everyday thing.

I definitely agree with you there. Do you think that’s something that hockey culture, which is probably more conservative than all of the other major sports with the possible exception of baseball, will allow for or is ready for?

AF: You won’t really know until you do it. You always get mixed reviews, especially with those 50-year-old guys who want to tear everything apart — doesn’t matter if you’ve been covering hockey for a hundred years or for one week at Yahoo! Sports. No one’s ever going to agree with what you say. That for me was a learning lesson working in this industry. You’re never going to get a 100 percent success rate, but you start working on that portfolio. I think those traditional viewers are on their way out, and the millennials or Generation Z people might connect more with that personal approach of new media. That will drive more viewership. The 50-year-old guy who has been watching hockey and thinks he knows everything is always going to get in the way, but you have to say that’s one demographic, and there might be 10 other demographics that this might land with. I think you have to take that challenge, and the sport will benefit from being a little more away from the way it’s always been.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.