The Genesis of the Professional Women's Hockey League: Origins and High Expectations Among Elite Players for the Emerging League


The Genesis of the Professional Women’s Hockey League: Origins and High Expectations Among Elite Players for the Emerging League

A New Era for Women’s Hockey: The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) Kicks Off in 2024

After years of anticipation, a new chapter in women’s professional hockey is set to begin in January as the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) takes center stage. The league, aiming to establish a lasting presence in professional women’s hockey, has made significant strides in recent months, with a fresh start and high hopes for the sport’s future.

In the run-up to the inaugural season, the PWHL embarked on a 10-day free agent signing period, during which the six founding franchises – Boston, Montreal, Minnesota, Ottawa, New York, and Toronto – secured the services of three players each. This exciting prelude led up to the much-anticipated inaugural draft in Toronto, with a total of 90 players set to be selected.

Minnesota, holding the coveted first pick, made history as they drafted the league’s first-ever player. Each team will eventually have to assemble a roster of 28 players for November training camps, ultimately narrowing it down to 23 before the puck drops in 2024. With 268 players vying for a spot, the competition promises to be fierce, with the chosen few getting the opportunity of a lifetime.

Olympic Stars Lead the Way

Among the first 18 players to sign with the PWHL are Olympic gold medalists Sarah Nurse and Kendall Coyne Schofield. These two remarkable athletes not only boast impressive accolades but also played pivotal roles in shaping the PWHL’s collective bargaining agreement.

Sarah Nurse, fresh off her first Olympics with Hockey Canada, found herself at the forefront of change when the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded. Along with her compatriots, she chose not to participate in the National Women’s Hockey League and instead founded the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA). Their goal was clear: to await the emergence of a viable, sustainable league.

Fast forward to 2023, and Sarah Nurse’s optimism is palpable as she believes that the PWHL is the realization of their dreams. Kendall Coyne Schofield echoes her sentiments, emphasizing the significance of this moment for women’s hockey. Both players signed three-year contracts, with salaries that could potentially reach or exceed $80,000 per year, as stipulated in the collective bargaining agreement.

A Rich History and a Bright Future

The PWHL’s inception is part of a broader narrative in women’s hockey. Over the years, various iterations of women’s professional hockey leagues have come and gone, including the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), which the PWHL’s owners acquired earlier this year.

Since the CWHL’s closure in 2019, Olympic athletes like Nurse and Coyne Schofield have advocated for a single, truly professional women’s league. The PWHL’s roots can be traced back to the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which opted not to join the NWHL, patiently awaiting the establishment of a league that met their standards of professionalism.

Despite the rebranding efforts and leadership changes in the NWHL, the league faced challenges, including drastic salary cuts in its second season, leading to a mass exodus of U.S. national team players. These same players had previously left the now-defunct CWHL in 2015 to join the first women’s hockey league to pay its athletes.

Ultimately, the PHF owners sold certain assets to the Mark Walter Group, which funds the PWHL, paving the way for a single professional league in North America. The PWHL boasts 138 roster spots, 115 fewer than the combined total of the PHF and PWHPA for the 2023-24 season.

The Draft and What Lies Ahead

The PWHL draft is unique, as it did not include a combine before the selection process. Instead, general managers must rely on internal talent assessments and word-of-mouth recommendations to evaluate potential players. While the draft-eligible players have been identified, the league has not yet disclosed its player rankings or the list of players attending the draft.

This unorthodox draft features a player pool where 85% have professional experience, but assessing talent beyond Olympic and college statistics remains a challenge. A nine-person committee, with strong connections to women’s hockey, evaluated and ranked the players ahead of the draft. However, many questions remain unanswered about the selection process.

Despite the uncertainties, everyone involved in the PWHL shares a common excitement for the future of women’s hockey. Players, past and present, along with league officials, are looking forward to witnessing the growth of the sport, making it accessible to young boys and girls who can now aspire to play professional women’s hockey on television.

While the road ahead may still be filled with challenges and adjustments, the establishment of the PWHL marks a significant step forward in the evolution of women’s hockey, ensuring a brighter and more promising future for the sport.


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