A former left wing on the Northeastern University women’s hockey team, Dani Rylan moved to New York City to work for the National Hockey League in 2012—only to find her job lost to that season’s lockout. So she opened a coffee shop in East Harlem instead, and applied that same entrepreneurial spirit when looking for investors to back her idea for a professional women’s hockey league. She kept her pitch simple: Top-caliber female hockey players are the best women in the world at what they do, and they have nowhere in the U.S. to play after college. Within a few months, Rylan had locked in enough funding to form the four-team NWHL, which kicked off its inaugural season last October. The Olympic-caliber players, who come from around the world to compete on teams such as the New York Riveters and the Boston Pride, are paid an average of $15,000 per season. Though the venues are small (average attendance was about 1,000 people a game), demand for merchandise has exceeded expectations—a sign that fans are embracing the concept, and Rylan is working to add more corporate sponsorships and broadcast partners for coming seasons.