Jillian Dempsey is the Boston Pride.
She is the only player to have skated in every Pride regular-season and playoff game in franchise history. As of writing, that amounts to 141 games since October 2015. Not only is she the iron-woman; she is also an incredible offensive talent. Over the course of her Premier Hockey Federation career, she's averaged over a point-per game, with 144 points.
Dempsey, a native of nearby Winthrop, Massachusetts, made the jump from the Canadian Women's Hockey League to the then-fledgling NWHL in 2015. She is one of just a few original NWHL players currently actively playing in the league, alongside Madison Packer, Shannon Turner, Janine Weber, and Kiira Dosdall-Arena.
When the new league was beginning, Dempsey says, it came out of nowhere.
"I had no idea that it was even in the works," she said. "Some of the more veteran players who were on my [Boston] Blades team were talking about the new league coming, and how there were tryouts, I believe it was that Mother's Day weekend, and that it was a league that was going to pay players."
"They were saying, this is a great opportunity, it's a step in the right direction, and it's something that we should consider doing," she added. "A majority of our team that season went to those tryouts, and then everything kind of unfolded from there."
When the NWHL began, of course, there were the Founding Four teams, in Buffalo, Boston, New York, and Connecticut. Born in the Boston area, and at the time, playing for the CWHL's Blades, there was never any question of which team Dempsey would aim for.
"My heart is set in Boston," she said. "It's home for me. There was really no other place that I thought about being in, so it worked out great that I was able to earn a roster spot and stay in Boston."
As one of those inaugural players, Dempsey has seen the progress of the league over the years, through good times and rough patches, as well as the overall changes in the women's hockey landscape throughout that time.
"Obviously, we had some little setbacks early on," she said. "I don't know too much about business and start-ups, but I know that's part of getting things off the ground. It's part of the process. You go through some of those harder times and learn from that, get feedback and be able to improve and make adjustments."
"We definitely had some hiccups early on, but we were able to stay with it," she added. "I think there was a real turnaround in probably season five, where we got more private ownership and then we had more partners and sponsors stepping up. Player experience was really starting to get enhanced around then, so many of the little things, like getting gear provided, the experience in the locker room, and little things with travel – so many of those things that, as a player, you feel on the day-to-day basis."
"Then, the bigger growth that's a little more visible and exciting, with the salary cap this past offseason," she said. "It's definitely come a long way, and we still have higher ambitions for it, but it's been awesome to be part of that journey and witness the growth that's happened."
We're so much farther than where we were, and we're still working hard to get better, to where we want to be.
Since 2015, Dempsey and the Pride have won the Isobel Cup three times, providing some of her best memories from her seasons in the PHF.
"I remember so many of the little things, and I really try to soak it all in, because it goes quickly. It's hard to believe how many years in I am," she said. "The most memorable [moments] are the past couple Isobel Cup wins, because it wasn't smooth sailing. We really had to claw our way back and be resilient and prove ourselves to each other and come together as a group. When you do that, the victory is so much more sweet."
Over the years, Dempsey has, of course, seen the league expand multiple times: first to Minnesota, then to Toronto, and most recently to Montreal. While no future expansion plans have been confirmed, Dempsey has a few ideas in mind where she'd like to see games: Nashville and Seattle.
"We had an All-Star Game in Nashville, and the crowd was electric," she said. "I didn't really know Nashville to be a big hockey city, so it was really exciting. Almost every seat at that Predators' game was filled. They went into overtime, and people still stayed for the first half of that All-Star Game. We felt very supported in that environment, and obviously Nashville is a pretty cool city."
"Seattle would be cool," she added. "That's a long travel, of course. It's beautiful out there, and with the Kraken starting up... any expansion has been really awesome, to add more teams into the mix and give more players opportunities to play after college."
While Dempsey has been tearing it up on the ice all these years, she also balances a full-time career as a teacher, and it's clear from speaking to her that she is equally passionate about both of her career paths. Prior to this season, Dempsey re-signed with the Pride for two years and disclosed that her salary holds an AAV of $40,000. It's a far cry from her inaugural season, when she made $10,500.
Even as salaries in the PHF continue to raise, potentially to a level where playing hockey as a full-time career is a viable option, Dempsey elects to do both – and sees it as an asset, not a challenge.
"I think it's such an asset that we have multiple careers," she said. "It's so incredible. You look at the education of people playing in the league, and most players have gone to college and played collegiate [hockey] and have a degree. It's so impressive to be able to do that and to play at the high level we're playing at. I've always viewed it as an asset."
"I know it's not the end game, and obviously we want to get to the point where hockey can be a full-time career that people can choose if they wish to," she added. "But for me, I love doing both, and it works with my schedule. I'm fortunate that it works perfectly with a teacher's schedule to be balanced, and I've done it for all of these years."
I love doing both... I know not everybody's in that position, but I'm fortunate to be able to do the two things I'm passionate about and not have to choose.
Dempsey currently teaches fifth grade in her hometown. Her students attend games and sometimes participate in youth intermission skates, too. With it being a small town, everyone knows she plays professional hockey, and she says it's special for her to be able to share that with them.
Dempsey is able to balance her two passions – and two careers – in teaching and professional hockey. She has no plans to choose one or the other. She'll keep doing both, as long as she can. "I'd love to," she says.
(Photo: Michelle Jay/PHF)