Happy PWHL Eve: Previews and How to Watch

Happy PWHL Eve: Previews and How to Watch

Happy PWHL Eve: Previews and How to Watch by Victory Press Staff, Zoë Hayden, Melissa Burgess, James Domizio

It's the last day of 2023, and tomorrow, we'll finally see the first game of the 2024 PWHL regular season. After years of discourse, rumors, and waiting, the "one league" comprising the best talent in senior-level women's hockey outside of international play is going to drop the puck.

Regardless of how you experienced the road to get to this point, you have to admit: it's pretty exciting. The rosters are incredible, the staff are first-rate, and the players are finally getting the resources that they deserve, both behind the scenes and in terms of media buy-in. The debut of the product on the ice is the culmination of everything we've been watching closely not just since late June when the PHF folded, but since 2019 when the CWHL folded, since 2015 when the NWHL launched (and when this website was founded), and on and on back through the years. Before us, there have been so many others; before this player group, there have been so many others. What the PWHL does this season will be consequential. We're looking forward to being with you every step of the way.

We've tried to keep this sport in the forefront of our minds and draw attention to it on a regular basis because we know that it's special and that it can, at its best, be part of a better world that is kinder and more inclusive. Also: women's hockey is just really good. More and more people are saying it.

We're so excited to see the potential demonstrated in real time, in places where people can actually see it. If you've never been this excited for regular season hockey before: you're not alone.

Season Opener Details & How to Watch

The PWHL season opener will take place on January 1, 2024, with New York visiting the Mattamy Athletic Centre in downtown Toronto. The rink, which is the smallest among PWHL home venues, has sold out every PWHL Toronto home game this season. Puck drop will be at 12:30 PM Eastern on New Year's Day.

Luckily for those of us who can't be there, the game will be broadcast on CBC, Sportsnet, and TSN in Canada, plus NESN and MSG in the United States, and will be available anywhere outside of Canada on the PWHL's YouTube channel. Canadians will be able to stream via the CBC Gem app or CBC Sports app, online at CBC.ca or TSN.ca, and via Sportsnet+. ICI TOU.TV will provide streaming French-language coverage.

To get you ready for the hockey itself, Zoë, James, and Melissa have written some quick thoughts about what to expect from each team and from the season overall.

2024 Team Season Previews

PWHL Boston

by Zoë Hayden

Things to watch: Boston quietly assembled what, to my eye, looks like the best complement of two-way players in the PWHL, largely on draft day. Adding defender Sidney Morin during the waiver period took their blueline to the next level as well. I'm most excited to see how this team runs defense and how they play in transition. I'm thinking of Hilary Knight stopping a clearing attempt along the boards and turning it back towards the net; I'm thinking of Alina Müller catching the puck in flight on a long pass from Megan Keller. I'm also thinking about stuff like springing Jamie Lee Rattray out of the penalty box or Sophie Shirley wrecking someone along the boards. This is a team that can thrive on one-on-one battles and will reward the viewer for paying attention to the small stuff. 

How they win: Those aforementioned one-on-one battles, when executed well and with strong puck support, will mean that this is a team that can come out on top in close games. With a stellar goaltending trio (the luxury of having Emma Söderberg as a backup? come on) and extremely smart defenders like Jess Healey and Emily Brown on patrol, they have game-breakers on both offense and defense. I would not want to be on a team headed to the third period tied, say, 2-2 with PWHL Boston, because you'll have a hard time finding the back of their net regardless of how well you play, and they have several weapons who can always get a timely goal.

How they lose: Close games are still close games, and because Boston's roster is composed of so many detail-oriented players, I think their mistakes will be amplified when they do happen. Smart hockey can also be frustrating hockey. Boston will struggle when thrown off their defensive game and will need to get back to basics quickly when that happens.

PWHL Montreal

by Zoë Hayden

Things to watch: Montreal feels like such a special team already. The opportunity to finally play professional women's hockey at Verdun Auditorium, at a purpose-built women's hockey facility, with many of the players it was built for in the first place, is going to make theirs one of the most emotional home openers you'll ever see. PWHL Montreal has a collection of players who are arguably the best in the world at their positions in Marie-Philip Poulin, Ann-Renée Desbiens, and Erin Ambrose. They also have a stunning complement of depth forwards who will be deadly in and around the goal line, like Jillian Dempsey and Sarah Lefort. This is a gritty roster that is also capable of stuff that looks like a video-game cheat code. Their gameplan will be to grind their opponents down – and then unleash something (or somethings) unexpected.

How they win: PWHL Montreal will get gritty goals this year, that's a given. But I also think they could find themselves excelling in special teams categories – whether penalty killing or on the power play. This roster's ability to score in any situation will make them tough to defend against, especially when protecting a narrow lead.  

How they lose: If you want to beat Montreal, you have to play their game back at them. That means entering the zone with speed, throwing pucks at the net, and generating traffic. If they don't show you holes in their game, you will simply have to make some. A team that plays simple offense and frustrating defense can make Montreal sweat.

PWHL Ottawa

by James Domizio

Things to watch: Ottawa has a strong balance of offense and defense – as well as youth and experience. Several of the team's players are former NCAA captains – Kristin Della Rovere, Zoe Boyd, Lexie Adzija, and alternate captain Jincy Roese. That's not even counting the rest of the leadership group: alternate captain Emily Clark and captain Brianne Jenner, each of whom also bring Olympic medals to the table.

How they win: When they're allowed to play their game, Ottawa can win in different ways, from a shut-down defense to an all-out offensive assault. If Maschmeyer is able to use her Team Canada backup experience to transition into this starting job, then Ottawa's forwards will have an even easier job. Finally, if coach Carla MacLeod can bring medals to Team Czechia, then a group of some of the continent's best players should impress under her wing. Athletes love playing for MacLeod and the positivity from the dressing room will be infectious.

How they lose: The same way they lost all three of their preseason games – by not scoring enough. Giving up eight to Minnesota is gonna happen sometimes, and Boston and New York will certainly be holding other teams to one goal or less this season, but the offense needs to pick up. Jenner, Clark, and young star Daryl Watts combined for zero goals in their first two games and then didn't play in the final game of the preseason. If Ottawa is gonna compete, they'll need more from their forward core.

PWHL Minnesota

by James Domizio

Things to watch: With coach Charlie Burggraf stepping down as head coach, there's a very small question mark over the team, but let's be real: even you, dear reader, could probably coach this team to a victory or two. That question mark is mainly over the head of new coach Ken Klee, whose praises were sung by likely captain Kendall Coyne Schofield in her 2022 biographical book, As Fast As Her: Dream Big, Break Barriers, Achieve Success:

How they win: Going by their preseason results, they've already shown the ability to win in a few different ways. In game 1 vs. Ottawa, eight different skaters registered goals in a comeback that saw the squad overcome a 3-0 lead; in game 2 vs. Toronto, the squad came back from an even bigger 3-0 lead partly on the back of two goals from first inaugural draft pick Taylor Heise; and in game 3 vs. Montreal, Minnesota scored a goal in the first 3:35 of all three periods. And despite not yet needing their goalies to step up, Minnesota boasts three of the best in the world. Scary! They also have perhaps the most elite penalty-killing forward in the women's game in Kelly Pannek.

How they lose: Rarely, probably! While Minnesota probably won't stay undefeated all season, they've looked great so far. However, stronger early-game play would reduce their dependence on mid-game scoring outbursts and give their goalies a better shot at stealing games.

PWHL Toronto

by Melissa Burgess

Things to watch: Toronto is the oldest team entering the inaugural PWHL season, and with age comes experience. When you really examine the roster, you'll realize that all but four players on Toronto have prior pro experience, whether in North America or overseas. Only four players on the roster are coming out of college! That means players like Kali Flanagan, Sarah Nurse, and Hannah Miller – who captained KRS Shenzhen – all bring unique pro experience to the table. I’m really excited to watch Ohio State standout Emma Maltais make her pro debut. She had 48 points last season, including 37 assists; she's a proven playmaker, and no matter where she finds herself in the lineup, she'll be a key asset.

How they win: Balancing their offensive game. They've got a few really strong offensive talents in players like Sarah Nurse, Jesse Compher, Natalie Spooner and Blayre Turnbull, but being able to roll four strong forward lines will be key. Making sure players like Jess Jones, Hannah Miller and Brittany Howard have space to flourish will help make their game well-rounded and give them scoring from up and down the roster.

How they lose: Exposing weak spots in their goaltending. They're coming into the season with a trio of Erica Howe, Kristen Campbell and Carly Jackson. Jackson recently won an Isobel Cup in the PHF, but she'll be facing many more of the top women's hockey players than she's perhaps used to & it’s to be determined if she’s up for the challenge. Howe only played four games last season with the PWHPA and had a 3.54 GAA, which is less than ideal. Campbell put up a 2.77 GAA in 11 PWHPA games last season. While they're all talented goalies, there might be some rust and learning curve for each of them.

PWHL New York

by Melissa Burgess

Things to watch: Corinne Schroeder and Abbey Levy are two strong goaltenders who may fight for the starting job. Levy is coming off a five-year collegiate career that included three seasons with BC. She had a 1.77 GAA and a career-high .947 save percentage in her final season, appearing in 30 games and sporting an ‘A’ as an alternate captain. She'll be looking to make a splash in her pro debut, but how will she fare alongside Schroeder, who was nearly unbeatable in her first pro season? Schroeder had a 1.67 GAA and .955 save percentage last season with a very talented Boston Pride team that went 19-1-0. She was a big part of their success, which fell apart in the playoffs, but I expect she's coming into this season ready to show everyone that last season wasn’t a one-off for her.

How they win: This is a really well-rounded team with strong offensive, defensive and goaltending components, but it all has to come together to equal success. Talent is important, but it's the work ethic, grit and overall team effort that’s key. It seems like head coach Howie Draper and Pascal Daoust have really stressed the importance of these assets to their team; they made cuts pretty early in training camp and have had plenty of time to gel before Monday's opening game.

How they lose: Injuries are definitely something to be mindful of for this team. Madison Packer missed time during camp after suffering an injury in the team’s first scrimmage. She’s been cleared to play, but it’s uncertain at this point if she’ll be in the lineup Monday; she told The Hockey News' Rick Menning that there’s no rush, and that the team wants her to be healthy in April and May. Captain Micah Zandee-Hart has also been sidelined, though she may be back on the ice sooner than originally expected. Early injury trouble could mean a slow start for New York and could cost them some points in the standings.


What are you especially looking forward to about this season?

James: As a lover of all things structural, I can't wait to see what women's hockey looks like with a (comparatively) big budget. Yes, the eventual reveal of team names and logos will be exciting, but I find myself thinking most about all the firsts we're about to witness. Who nabs the first goal? The first shutout? The first Michigan? Hell, we've already seen our first coaching change and the season hasn't even started yet!

Zoë: I am so excited to see so many players skating together who have never had the opportunity to play together before, and the possibilities that this league is going to create in terms of a real talent exchange among the best players in the world. The way the sport looks even in just 2 or 3 years after these players have been in a melting pot together for some time is going to be really special – but it all starts here, and we're going to see some immediately iconic plays from day 1.

Melissa: I'm really looking forward to watching Ottawa this season. They've got players from all over the world – Canada and the United States, yes, but also Japan, Czechia, Hungary & Germany. The level of talent in this league is already so high, but it'll be extra-special to see this international blend that's already seemed to foster quite a team camaraderie before the season’s even begun.

We can't predict what's going to happen in this 24-game season, in a brand new league. But if you had to pick a team right now to win it all, based purely on vibes, which would you pick and why?

James: My brain says Minnesota, but my heart says Ottawa! Their roster is exciting, with a strong balance of offense and defense as well as youth and experience. They also have the attention of the city of Ottawa due to the Senators being a perpetual mess, so a championship run could make the capital into a bona fide PWHL town.

Zoë: On paper, to me, Toronto looks like the team to beat. They might fly under the radar by playing a simple but extremely effective style of hockey and that could be what wins them a championship. They may have the oldest roster in the PWHL, but I think age and experience could count a lot in Year One.

Melissa: It's Boston for me, namely because that goaltending tandem of Aerin Frankel & Emma Söderberg is going to be so good. They've also got so much talent all-around; they’re going to be hard to beat.

We'll see you all tomorrow. Let's make it a beautiful and kind 2024.

(Photo: Ken Lund/Flickr)