Exciting developments for PWHPA won’t include a new league in January

American star Hilary Knight is on the same roster as Canadian rival Brianne Jenner for the very first time, and on another team, Canadian Sarah Nurse – EA Sports cover star – could find herself skating on a line with Americans Amanda Kessel and Kendall Coyne Schofield.

The four PWHPA teams have been announced and they will face off starting next month when the association’s fourth season officially kicks off. Two showcase events have been announced so far – in Montreal in October and in Truro, Nova Scotia in November – and upcoming announcements are in the hopper for the remainder of the season.

But, contrary to the hopes of the PWHPA, these announcements do not include a professional league set to start in January 2023, as previously reported, although that is certainly what the association was working towards.

“That was our lofty goal,” PWHPA operations consultant and Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford told Sportsnet. “It has always been for us, as soon as possible. That hasn’t changed. We knew it was ambitious, we knew it was aggressive, but we wanted to put that on the schedule, basically, as a goal for us.

Hefford adds: “January is not happening. It will be an extension of our season for these athletes, not a new entity. »

This means that many of the best players in the world will again play in traveling events this season, in Canada and the United States, instead of a new professional league.

Although the target was not met for January 2023, there is no doubt in Hefford’s mind that a women’s professional league will soon emerge from the PWHPA. She says the association has been working with consultancy firm Deloitte for a year and a half to build a league model and implement it. Additionally, the PWHPA has signed a letter of intent to work “on an exclusive basis” with Billie Jean King Enterprises and the Mark Walter Group, “working through whatever possibilities may exist.”

“It takes a long time to do something this big,” adds Hefford. “And for us, we’ve always said, ‘We have to get it right. It hasn’t been going too long, or ever, really, for women’s professional hockey, and we think we have to get it right this time around, and the players are determined to get it right.

“We are pushing as hard as we can and trying to get things done as quickly as possible, but we are where we are. We’re excited to know where we are and the momentum we’re feeling, and we’ll continue to build on that.

The PWHPA has made progress this year over last. Teams will play a minimum of 20 games (Hefford hopes that number will be 24), the most in conference history.

Weekend showcase events will continue to travel to different cities for matches, but this year, since there are four teams (compared to five last season), each team will participate in each showcase. This means that the level of play will also be higher than ever: 150 players have signed up for the PWHPA, and the player pool has been reduced to the top 100 talents, including 40 Olympians.

The four teams are all represented by sponsors – Harvey’s, Scotiabank, Sonnet and adidas – with rosters that read “like all-star teams,” as Hefford puts it. You’ll find “Captain Clutch” Marie-Philip Poulin on Team Harvey’s with Ann-Renée Desbiens, who helped Canada win gold at the Olympics and World Championships earlier this year. The Scotiabank team has a strong blue line led by Team USA’s Megan Kellar and Canada’s Brigette Lacquette. And, unlike in the past, rosters weren’t formed based on where players live.

“The roster confusion is kind of a transition to what fans will see in a professional league, where the best women in the world can all be in a league together,” Hefford explained. “It’s no longer Toronto-area players versus Minnesota-area players versus Calgary players.

It was an idea put forward by the PWHPA board of directors, which is made up of association members like Knight and Nurse and Coyne Schofield. They wanted to make teams less regionalized, as some regions have more elite players than others, and some regions have access to more ice time.

And unlike previous seasons, where it was all the winner each weekend, the points are cumulative this year, with a crowned champion at the end of the season. Since all four teams will play the same number of games, stats will also be easier to compare between players and teams. Showcases, cumulatively, will have more of a league feel than ever.

Players like Nurse and fellow Canadian national team regular Renata Fast and American Alex Carpenter, who joins the PWHPA this season after playing the last couple in Russia, will all train together in the Greater Toronto, Hefford explains, but they’re not all on the same team (Nurse and Fast are on the adidas team and Carpenter is on the Scotiabank team).

As for how those rosters were put together, it was a process determined by a nine-person selection committee from organizations like the NCAA, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada. The selection committee evaluated each player who registered with the PWHPA, and each received a weighted score.

When Hefford says “there were a lot of things to consider” to make the four teams, that’s an understatement. Not only did they want parity — enough front-row players on each team, for example — they didn’t want a squad made up of American players and no Canadians (“We really wanted to mix nationalities,” Hefford says) , and they couldn’t have a group of left-handed defenders together, and they couldn’t have a Nike-sponsored athlete on the adidas team, for example.

“Really, it was a lot of things, and we tried to balance it as best we could,” Hefford says. Each player having a weighted score, each team had the same total score.

This means that the level of play and the parity will be better than ever. Also new to the PWHPA this year is more support with strength and conditioning than in previous seasons, and “players will receive more compensation this year,” Hefford said.

“Every year has been bigger and better, and I’m confident this year will be our best yet,” she adds. “We are working on some pretty big things, and hopefully this is just the start.”

Hopefully this is the end too.

When asked if this might be the last season of showcase events for the PHWPA, Hefford replied, “We hope so.”

When the association formed four years ago, the goal was never to be a touring model. “It was just the best way we could operate in the circumstances we found ourselves in, being a players’ association,” Hefford said. “For a few years, we had hoped to be able to get out of the touring model. Hopefully we will move on to something bigger and better this year after the season.

There’s nothing to announce on that front yet, but there will be in the future, according to the four-time Olympic gold medalist who has led the PWHPA since its inception.

“We’re all very excited about where this takes us,” Hefford says.


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