Women's Hockey Boom

New NWHL interim commissioner Tyler Tumminia, who helped bring the Futures League’s Pittsfield Suns to Wahconah Park, is looking forward to watching her league’s All-Stars celebrate goals like the one scored by Audra Richards in the 2019 All-Star Game in Nashville, Tenn.

Tyler Tumminia has done a lot in the world of sports, including help establish the Pittsfield Suns as one of the top franchises in the Futures League. That experience still may not have prepared her for her next step.

Tumminia, who has been a part-owner of the Suns and an executive in The Goldklang Group, has been named the interim commissioner of the National Women’s Hockey League, the major professional league for women in the United States and Canada.

“There’s a lot of growing and building we have to do” Tumminia said. “We have a lot of building as far as relationships outside of the league. I have to take a hard look at what’s going on inside of the league from a business standpoint to see how we can grow and make that business model a little more sustainable as we grow into the future.”

Tumminia replaces Dani Rylan Kearney as commissioner. Rylan Kearney has been with the league as its commissioner since the NWHL’s founding in 2015.

“For everyone who cares deeply about the NWHL and women’s hockey — especially our incredible athletes and impassioned fans — this is a landmark day signaling the start of a new era of growth,” John Boynton, a member of the NWHL Board of Governors, said in a release. “It begins with governance and a new structure and will result in major steps forward for the League on the ice, in our arenas, and as a business.”

The new NWHL commissioner became a senior vice president with the Goldklang Group in 2011, and was a key voice in the establishment of the Suns in 2012.

Tumminia joined the NWHL expansion Toronto Six as its chairperson, before being named the league’s interim commissioner.

“It was an honor and pleasure working with Tyler to build the Six from the ground up over the last few months,” Toronto President and head coach Digit Murphy said in a release. “Her collaborative and fun approach to leadership is infectious. I am excited about the direction she will take the league as we work together to create a sustainable business model for women’s professional hockey.”

The National Women’s Hockey League was founded in 2015 with four teams: Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut and the Metropolitan New York City area. Since then, a team has been added in Minnesota and this fall, the Toronto expansion team was announced.

And how did baseball lifer Tumminia, who is married to former Boston Red Sox and current Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Ben Cherington, switch to hockey?

“I was in Boston and went to a Boston Pride game last year,” Tumminia said in an interview with The Eagle. “I had a couple of conversations with [Boston chair Miles Annone] at the game and as we were talking about other things in sports, I cultivated a relationship with him. Three or four months later, he was thinking about going in and buying a club in Toronto. He called me up and said ‘Hey, why don’t you be my chair?’ That was a quick yes, because I wanted to do something a little bit different and broaden the landscape of my portfolio from baseball into hockey.

“I got involved in the [Toronto] ownership group, and just went from there.”

There is much on Tumminia’s plate, but job No. 1 is to plan for a possible 2020-21 season.

“My main priority, out of the gate, is to try and define what season six looks like,” she said. “That’s what I’m centralizing my time with. We have players. We have the rosters filled. We have players practicing on the ice. We don’t have a schedule.

“In short order, if all things happen the way I need them to fall, I hopefully will have some clarity on what season six will look like.”

Once there were two women’s pro leagues. One was based in the United States and one was based in Canada. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League started with six Canadian teams and expanded into New England with the Boston Blades. The Blades were the only U.S.-based team in the league, which disbanded in 2019.

The quality of play on the ice has been pretty good and as more colleges field women’s hockey teams, the better that will become. Tumminia is every bit as concerned about off the ice as on the ice.

“External stakeholders in hockey, I have to spend some time to almost hit the restart button, grow and bridge some of the relationships we have with Hockey Canada, with USA Hockey, the NHL,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff to do here.”

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253. On Twitter: @HowardHerman.

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.