Corinne Buie of the Buffalo Beauts handles cups at both of her jobs, on the ice as a 2017 Isobel Cup champion and at the coffee shop where she also works during the season. Photograph: @BuffaloBeauts

The Ice Scrapers: How pro hockey players hustle to make ends meet

Professional athletes are widely known for their huge salaries and lavish lifestyles. But that’s not the case for players in the National Women’s Hockey League, which begins its third season this weekend. These women are gearing up for the season-long grind of competing while also holding down day jobs to make ends meet.

“It’s not ideal, but the reality right now is we get to play hockey at the highest level,” says Corinne Buie of the 2017 NWHL champion Buffalo Beauts. “This is where we’re at right now, having to work two jobs. We hope that someday girls can focus 100 percent just on hockey and get paid to do that.”

Buie, who is in her third year in the NWHL, works about 20 hours a week as a barista at the Daily Planet Coffee Company in North Buffalo. She says she is in a good situation with her job, making enough to pay her bills while also having the time to work out and play.

Last November the NWHL — which has teams in Buffalo, Boston, Connecticut and New York/New Jersey — announced that starting in December 2016, the league would be cutting player salaries by 50 percent in an effort to keep the league financially solvent going forward.

It was a crushing blow to the players, most of whom were barely getting by even with side jobs.

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As the NWHL, which does not make players’ salaries public, continues to search for additional sponsors, players are still in the same financial boat of working day jobs to keep the dream of women’s pro hockey alive. Now, and in the future.

“I’m not playing for the money; I know a bunch of girls aren’t playing for the money,” says Jacquie Greco, a Buffalo native who plays for the Beauts and works 40-50 hours a week as a hospitality marketing manager for Pegula Sports & Entertainment in Buffalo. “I think where we eventually want to be is where the women’s soccer league is. They have salaried players. And they have way more teams and they have more money for salaries. That’s ultimately where we’re trying to get to.”

Trailblazers and pioneers

Buie says the women who are currently trying to grow the league are trailblazers; the work they put in now will make it better for everyone else down the road.

Tatiana Rafter, a member of the Metropolitan Riveters, agrees.

“I honestly think that there isn’t a single person that works for the NWHL that doesn’t have a secondary job,” Rafter says. “I think I’ve come to find this to be a special aspect of being a pioneer. We are creating a living, breathing culture that just wouldn’t be possible without every single person involved.”

Greco thinks that working day jobs keeps players grounded and prepares them for life after the game is over.

“We can’t play hockey forever, so we need to be doing something at this time to gain experience in the work force,” Greco says. “It wouldn’t be nice being 34 and having never worked (a day job) at all. So I think what our coaches are doing and what are teams are doing is getting the girls out there and working so they have the experience they need for when they are no longer playing hockey.”

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For Rafter, a third-year veteran of the league, punching the clock at a day job comes with the territory.

“I think that in the current state of women’s pro sports, working a day job is a commonality,” Rafter says. “There are few athletes who are able to sustain a living from sport-specific passions.”

Rafter is planning on working with youth players as a hockey skills coach to help bring in money.

The balancing act

As a league, the NWHL is doing its part to make the workload as player-friendly as possible. The women play just one game a week, all on weekends, and they only have two mandatory practices a week.

“Because girls still have to have full time jobs they can’t be traveling every night,” Buie says. “Some girls don’t live in Buffalo, they come in across the border from Canada. Right now, this is where we have to be at, with only a couple (practices) a week. We hope that down the road in the future we can be focusing all of our energy on hockey and practicing five times a week to be a more cohesive unit.”

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While players ideally want the ability to focus entirely on hockey, Buie says there are some moments where day jobs help players spread the word about the NWHL and connect with people in the communities where they play.

“After the end of last season when we won (the Isobel Cup championship), I had my Beauts hat on and I was talking to customers,” Buie recalls with a smile. “They said, ‘Did you hear that they won?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m actually on the team!’

For Buie, it’s just one of the many hats she wears in order to make her dreams a reality.

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