State of the PWHPA Ahead of Weekend Montreal Showcase
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State of the PWHPA Ahead of Weekend Montreal Showcase

State of the PWHPA Ahead of Weekend Montreal Showcase by Zoë Hayden

While the end goal of a professional league from the PWHPA contingent of women's hockey is still not a reality, the organization announced in August that they would be adopting a new format for the Secret Dream Gap Tour. The main change is that each team will be region-agnostic, as opposed to having a "home base" in a specific city or region. The previous format was geared towards having a central training location for each team that was convenient to the rostered players, and players would try out or join a specific team based on location. Now, players will continue to train in one of five locations (Boston, Minnesota, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal), but will join players from across the regions when they meet for a Secret Dream Gap Tour showcase.

The new format sees all PWHPA teams comprised of 25 players. Over 150 players registered to the PWHPA for the 2022-23 season. To determine the rosters, the PWHPA called upon a pool of hockey experts to rank the players according to a new format. Rosters purport to evenly distribute the top 100 ranked players across 4 teams.

The ranking format, and who contributed, are details that have not been made public. The full rosters, announced in September, are as follows:

Team Adidas

Defense: Emily Curlett; Jessica Digrolamo; Jincy Dunne; Megan Eady; Renata Fast; Haili Krzyzaniak; Jocelyne Larocque; Meaghan Mikkelson

Forwards: Kendall Coyne Schofield; Samantha Donovan; Laura Dostaler; Kelly Gribbons; Jess Jones; Amanda Kessel; Sarah Nurse; Kristin O'Neill; Sarah Potomak; Jill Saulnier; Laura Stacey; Kayla Vespa; Kaitlin Willoughby

Goaltenders: Aerin Frankel; Maddie Rooney; Sydney Scobee; Shea Tiley

Staff: Matt Leitner (GM/Head Coach)

Team Harvey's

Defense: Mellissa Channell; Laura Fortino; Jacquie Greco; Savannah Harmon; Kristen Richards; Lauriane Rougeau; Lee Stecklein

Forwards: Emily Clark; Rosalie Demers; Jessie Eldridge; Karell Emard; Alexa Grushchow; Rhianna Kurio; Bailey Larson; Marie-Philip Poulin; Alexandra Poznikoff; Jamie Lee Rattray; Hayley Scamurra; Sophia Shaver

Goaltenders: Marlène Boissonnault; Ann-Renée Desbiens; Geneviève Lacasse

Staff: Danièle Sauvageau (GM/Head Coach)

Team Scotiabank

Defense: Jaime Bourbonnais; Mélanie Desrochers; Katelyn Gosling; Megan Keller; Brigette Lacquette; Makayla Langei; Cat Quirion; Ella Shelton

Forwards: Victoria Bach; Alex Carpenter; Mélodie Daoust; Madison Field; Grace Graham; Rebecca Johnston; Nicole Kosta; Hayley Lunny; Kelly Pannek; Tatum Skaggs; Natalie Spooner; Blayre Turnbull

Goaltenders: Kristen Campbell; Amanda Makela; Emerance Maschmeyer

Staff: Becky McGee (GM), Dean Seymour (Head Coach)

Team Sonnet

Defense: Erin Ambrose; Leah Bohlken; Lilian Braga; Emily Brown; Emma Buckles; Ella Matteucci; Nikki Nightengale; Claire Thompson; Micah Zandee-Hart

Forwards: Hannah Brandt; Hanna Bunton; Samantha Cogan; Demi Crossman; Iya Gavrilova; Brianne Jenner; Hilary Knight; Rebecca Leslie; Carolyne Prévost; Abby Roque; Malia Schneider; Natasza Tarnowski

Goaltenders: Lindsay Browning; Nicole Hensley; Erica Howe

Staff: Rebecca Michael (GM), Laura McIntosh (Head Coach)

Montreal Showcase Rosters:

Looking at these rosters, there are a lot of cool opportunities for matchups and combinations we've never seen before in women's hockey. Top-level players will join each other on rosters for the first time, creating the possibility for some fantasy-level line combinations. Each team has world-class goaltending. Each team boasts defenders who have outstanding two-way games and are valuable on special teams. Whereas Francophone players have historically often stuck together on Quebec-based teams at the pro level, the best French Canadian talent in women's hockey is now distributed throughout multiple rosters – so the season's first showcase in Montreal won't have a de facto home team.

The roster selection process has, on paper, made each team highly competitive, and it will be interesting to see how the teams play together in the showcase format, wherein they presumably haven't had much time to practice together. But the frenetic pace of hockey often dictates that teams have to mesh quickly. A skilled group that has done months of training camp together can still falter. The new format is designed to elevate the competition but also to provide an element of surprise.

At the time of this writing, the PWHPA has not announced what its player compensation structure will be for 2022-23. Back in April, when there were rumors that the PWHPA-backed league would launch in January 2023 and play a 32-game season, it was reported that the minimum salary would be $35,000. Salaries in the Premier Hockey Federation are also not public, but players can choose to disclose them, and those disclosures and other information about women's hockey pro level compensation have been dutifully documented by Mike Murphy in a Google Sheet. The PHF minimum salary this season is $13,500, but at least two players (Mikyla Grant-Mentis and Kali Flanagan) are reported to make $80,000 or more.

Since the new league has not materialized, the PWHPA has said it cannot discuss future plans due to NDAs with investors. Some prominent names have left the PWHPA to join the PHF, which may create the appearance of competition between the two organizations, despite insistence to the contrary by those involved in both camps.

Brianna Decker, who most recently played in the PWHPA with Team WSF (New Hampshire) in the 2020-21 season, joins the PHF this season in a part-time role as a team and player development advisor. Decker has been a prominent offensive piece on Team USA internationally over the years, and is not joining a PHF team, she told Sportsnet, only because she is still recovering from a severe injury she sustained during the Olympics. Decker says she wants one league. Against all odds, the PHF may now have the allure of an established organization. The PHF's new team, the Montreal Force, will take the ice in November, nearly seven years after the then-NWHL teased Toronto and Montreal expansions, when there were still CWHL teams in both cities. The Force have signed some very good players who have been with the PWHPA for the last three years, and in the CWHL before that with Les Canadiennes, including Ann-Sophie Bettez, Kim Deschênes, and Sarah Lefort. The Toronto Six have also added Sami Jo Small as their new team president; Small was one of the founders of the CWHL and had not formally joined either the PWHPA or the NWHL/PHF since the CWHL folded.

Skepticism about any organization's structure and leadership is still healthy, especially considering the recent revelations about rampant player abuse in the National Women's Soccer League and those about systemic abuse, sexual misconduct coverups, and victim payoffs by Hockey Canada. Transparency in women's sports lags behind, and transparency in hockey overall lags behind even further. The Victory Press published a report of issues cited by players about why they stopped playing in the NWHL/PHF in May 2020, and their concerns are certainly still valid. More recently, the potential player pool and prospective staff can look to the car crash that was the Lake Placid season last year, league's Board of Governors' botched attempts to court Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini as a team owner, and the continued involvement of Digit Murphy and BTM Partners in operating several PHF teams as issues to consider. While there have been significant leadership changes in the PHF since then, including the transition to Reagan Carey as commissioner after Ty Tumminia's rather bizarre tenure, it can take time to build trust, and money isn't the only factor.

The PWHPA's player-based Board provides a different structure, even if the organization is not a formal league. "We believe in the vision, we believe in the mission, and we believe in leaving this game better than we entered it... Right now, the vision that we have does not exist in women's hockey. And I think that's what keeps us going every day," PWHPA board member Kendall Coyne Schofield told Alex Azzi at NBC in August. Metropolitan Riveters veteran Madison Packer seems to think the PHF has already done everything it can to prove it's here to stay and can provide monetary compensation, as she told The Ice Garden's Dan Rice in late September:

I don’t know if it’s frustrating, or disappointing is maybe a better word. I don't know what more we can do; I just wish that they could see that – it's obviously not what they have in their minds, but people are making real money here and there are a lot of players who are better than me, and I'm one of the top-paid players in the league. You would be making great money over here, and making me and everyone else better. That's what I want, to get it to the point where I can't play anymore. I’ve done my job and made the league strong enough that I can't compete.

If we get all the best players playing in the same spot – people will be making $120 - $130,000 because the sponsorship dollars are coming in and the money will be there. It's going to happen, just not as quickly as everyone wants. It'll happen, we've already seen it start to happen. Eventually, people age out, and eventually, people will get tired of leaving money on the table. We just have to keep our heads down and keep doing the right things – not engaging in the back-and-forth, which is not healthy. We want everyone, and if they think that what they are doing is right, then to each their own and hopefully we can meet in the middle at some point.

Packer's take here is actually somewhat similar to what Hilary Knight said to the media during the PWHPA Philadelphia (actually New Jersey) showcase back in March 2020 – though admittedly Knight seems a bit deliberately vague here, implying that "people behind the scenes" will find out what the vision is for the PWHPA's path forward:

I think a lot of media stories have been us versus the NWHL, and you know, it's kind of shame. You know, they're doing what they're doing, the PWHPA is doing what we're trying to do, and maybe they're different visions, maybe they align... [that's for] people behind the scenes to work out. But, I don't necessarily see them as a problem. I think what we're doing is fantastic, and it's electrifying.

In short: things are holding steady right now. Maybe they align, maybe they meet in the middle. Maybe they don't. As Decker told Sportsnet, as well: "If there's going to be two leagues, I think it's what suits you and works best for you."

There are still at least 100 players ready to lace up skates and participate in the PWHPA for its fourth round of showcases, dating back to September 2019, just a few short months after the CWHL unceremoniously ceased operations. While the PWHPA's showcases paused in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they resumed in 2021, with a series of showcases throughout the first half of the year, and then more in the back half and into the first part of 2022.

The three showcases that have been announced so far for 2022-23 are:

  • Montreal, Quebec – October 15-16
  • Truro, Nova Scotia – November 4-6
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – November 26-27

The PWHPA is aiming for a competition structure similar to actual league play this season, so the showcases will actually build towards a single championship event, planned for March 2023. The disjointed structure and irregularity of the last few years probably has more to do with COVID restrictions and public health concerns than anything else. Being able to plan and do a season like this year's feels like a culmination of what the PWHPA has been working towards since 2019 – and the quality of hockey on the ice looks to be really and truly outstanding.

There will be five total Dream Gap Tour showcases before the championship event, which will cap the season off. Throughout the showcases, teams will accumulate points which will determine their rankings for the championship weekend. They will compete for the Secret Cup, which was last awarded in May 2021 as the prize for the Canadian Secret Dream Gap Tour championship in Calgary. (Team Bauer, based out of Montreal that season, hoisted the Secret Cup after they bested Toronto-based Team Sonnet in the championship game. The game-winning goal came from, you guessed it, Marie-Philip Poulin.)

The PWHPA have also announced some major sponsors for the 2022-23 season, including official equipment provider CCM and a partnership with Gatorade Canada.

Expect at least two more announcements about showcase weekends, and details about the championship event, in the coming weeks and months.

Montreal's showcase will stream worldwide in English on the CBC Sports website and in French at Radio-Canada Sports. The games will be at Centre 21.02 in Verdun, where the Montreal-based PWHPA players have trained for the last few seasons. Tickets are still available, with each day pass priced at $28.75 CAD. Here is the full schedule:

October 15

  • 1:30 PM Eastern – Team Scotiabank vs. Team Sonnet
  • 4:15 PM Eastern –  Team Harvey's vs Team adidas

October 16

  • 1:30 PM Eastern – Team adidas vs. Team Scotiabank
  • 4:15 PM Eastern – Team Sonnet vs. Team Harvey's