Erica Ayala hasn’t been a longtime hockey fan, but her enthusiasm for the sport is helping to grow it. The New York-based freelance sportswriter, columnist and podcast host recently wrote about her “journey” as a hockey fan for espnW.
Ayala, in a recent MSR phone interview, said she began following hockey seriously in 2015. “Being an avid baseball fan, I think about my journey in coming from a fan where hockey was the baseball off-season sport for me.”
Ayala played softball at Elon University, where she earned a B.A. in political science and a minor in African American studies. A 2006 Arthur Ashe Sports Scholar winner, Ayala has a master’s in public administration earned from New York University in 2016. When she isn’t a youth justice advocate, the Westchester (NY) Children’s Association project manager also writes a weekly hockey column for The IX Newsletter and is a National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) analyst.
“It’s a labor of love,” Ayala said. “What I am excited for is to bring these stories to life.”
The young woman uniquely stands out as a person of color at a predominately White sport, whether played by women or men. “I’m Afro-Latina,” Ayala continued. She said she hasn’t faced overt backlash as a result, but she knows it does exist, especially when it comes to hockey players of color.
“I hear players talk about it. I can’t say that I ever experienced anything negative because of the color of my skin.”
A fan once mistook her as an NWHL player because she wore a team replica jersey. “[The fan] thought I was Blake Bolden. I thought it was funny and didn’t take offense,” she said.
“The general population doesn’t see women of color” especially as hockey broadcasters, Ayala, who covered women’s hockey in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, pointed out. She also has seen women’s hockey grow from one league (the Canadian Women’s Hockey League) to now two with the NWHL. “I think we are starting to see people raise questions to what the future of women’s hockey can look like.”
Could a CWHL-NWHL merger be in our future anytime soon? “I think that’s the million dollar question,” Ayala said. “I do think there will eventually be one North American women’s hockey league. I think the word ‘merger’ might be the wrong word, but I do think there will be a unified women’s hockey league eventually.”
Ayala believes that the NHL might be more involved in women’s pro hockey, similar to the NBA, which owns the WNBA. “I think eventually it will happen.”
Ayala loves her role in helping to grow women’s hockey. “I’m energized by seeing athletes compete in women’s sports and that I get to talk to [women athletes] and to share their stories.”
Augsburg (22-5) fell short last weekend in securing the school’s first MIAC women’s basketball title — St. Thomas won the league’s automatic qualifying spot in the NCAAs next month. But the Auggies’ history-making season can’t be ignored, MIAC Commissioner Dan McKane told the MSR after Saturday’s contest.
McKane said of the squad, primarily composed of women of color, “I think it is standing out in a positive way, and I know a lot of our other schools are taking notice. We have to [start] changing how we recruit and figure out different methods. There are young women and young men in the Twin Cities and across the country that are diverse… We want them here.”