Live from the Surreal and Special 2024 PWHL Draft Floor
- 6 min read

Live from the Surreal and Special 2024 PWHL Draft Floor

Live from the Surreal and Special 2024 PWHL Draft Floor by Zoë Hayden

We will have individual draft recaps for all six PWHL teams in the pipeline soon, but we wanted to provide an overview of the in-person experience at the 2024 PWHL Draft.

The Good and Great

  • From a press perspective, there were good resources available throughout the evening. The wifi worked very well in the RiverCentre with high utilization. When it became clear that there weren't enough seats for media early in the evening, staff quickly added more tables and power bars.
  • Compared to the 2023 draft in Toronto, it was a very different atmosphere and a very different space. Media were seated very close to the draft tables and could get a good look at GMs and staff, and fans were situated in a balcony above the draft floor and could see the entire thing. Prospective draftees and their families sat behind the draft floor and got to have a bit of a special walk-up to the stage.
  • PWHL communications staff were extremely accommodating and the interview space was set up professionally (though not a lot of in-person media took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions). They made Claire Thompson available over Zoom in the media room and worked through technical difficulties to make sure people could speak with her.
  • The fan experience included merch, an opportunity to see and get your picture taken with the Walter Cup, and time on the purple carpet to see players walk in (both current players and prospective draftees). (We also took advantage of the opportunity to meet the Cup!) There were lots of great signs by young fans. And it was a lovely opportunity for the draft class to show off their style and personalities.
  • After players were drafted, if they were at the draft in person, they did quick interview hits next to the stage with Saroya Tinker, which were fun and natural. Saroya has a way of putting people at ease and it was an effective way to get some quick comments from draftees and learn more about them.
  • Obviously, the level of talent in this draft was extremely high and it was a pleasure to see so many new players enter the PWHL player pool and begin their professional careers. From a hockey perspective, this was a deeply exciting draft, and we will have detailed draft analysis about the picks in the coming days.

The Bad

The purple carpet "show" was hosted by TikTok/Instagram influencers "The Hockey Guys" and it was honestly kind of a disaster. They were completely unprepared for the job, and on top of that, the broadcasting was poorly executed. (One of them had a handheld microphone and the other had a wireless lavalier mic which did not work, so he was not mic'd for much of the purple carpet show, despite the fact that he spoke frequently.)

The worst part, though, was that they did not know who most of the players were and did not have any familiarity with them. Players had to introduce themselves to them and they didn't know basic information like the school they attended or their position. It was absolutely painful to watch, even as background noise while trying to cover the draft floor, and it felt deeply disrespectful to the players. Several current PWHL players and draft prospects did not seem impressed with the situation and discussed it amongst themselves.

While these guys have a huge following on social media and have mentioned and promoted the league before, they were clearly way out of their depth and immensely unqualified. The end result was a really poor experience for fans and players. It was simply not the presentation you want to give to new or established fans. Anyone with any familiarity with the league and the draft class would have been preferable. It felt like a very sad attempt at engagement farming and this is exactly the sort of thing that this league, specifically, is tasked with doing better – understanding their audience and not making cheap ploys to juice their social numbers.

The Bizarre ("The Minnesota Situation")

The Minnesota situation is, to say the least, truly surreal. Those who have been following the situation are aware that Natalie Darwitz was dismissed as general manager amid rumors of a feud between her and head coach Ken Klee, with "veteran players" backing Klee. Klee and his assistant coach Mira Jalosuo were running the draft table for Minnesota last night. And the draft, of course, was in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.

Minnesota hockey fans, to say the least, have strong opinions about all of this. Early in the draft, Klee was being booed and heckled extremely loudly as he walked up to the stage. (This stopped in the later rounds and it is unclear if those fans were asked to leave or if they departed voluntarily.) There were some fan signs supporting Darwitz and deriding Klee, and at one point a loud voice rang out during a lull in the crowd, saying, "JUSTICE FOR DARWITZ."

This story, by Rachel Blount at the Star Tribune, describes the experience very well and includes quotes from Klee in response to my question about the animosity in the room:

Klee was asked about the boos, and whether he wanted to say anything to Minnesota fans upset at the events of the past few days.

"I didn't want anything else to be a distraction," Klee said. "I wouldn't want anything to take away from any of [the drafted] players' experience.

"It's unfortunate a little bit at the beginning. But it's OK. People are entitled to their opinion."

PWHL Minnesota players attending the draft included Lee Stecklein, Kelly Pannek, Nicole Hensley, Grace Zumwinkle, Liz Schepers and Sophie Jaques. Former Gophers forward Taylor Heise, whom Darwitz chose with the overall No. 1 pick in last year's draft, also was there.

Most players didn't want to make any comment about Darwitz. Heise, the MVP of the Walter Cup playoffs, declined to speak about the situation, but she gave a glowing review of her first PWHL season.

"I will say, I had an amazing year," Heise said. "I wish Natalie nothing but the best."

Klee, assistant coach Mira Jalosuo and manager of sports performance Sam Hanson made Minnesota's draft picks. Unlike Darwitz, who chose seven Minnesotans in last year's 15-round draft, Klee's group picked none. Minnesota's seven draftees include three from Canada and one each from North Dakota, California, New York and Czechia.

On top of that, Minnesota selected Britta Curl 9th overall in the second round. Curl, a forward from the University of Wisconsin, has a history of posting and liking transphobic and homophobic content on social media, alongside other topics, like COVID-19 denial and anti-vaccination content. The pick was booed by fans in attendance and when Curl's name was mentioned later there were further boos. Curl was not permitted to give a one-on-one to outside media after her selection. (To be clear, no prospects or draftees were given one-on-ones with outside media at the draft, but Curl did state her willingness to comment before PR staff intervened.)

The atmosphere was odd for a Minnesota-hosted draft. The team has seemingly not "read the room" in terms of what the fanbase expects after such a tumultuous few weeks, and Klee's comments suggest that they are hoping the situation goes away. Fans were excited about draftees and supportive of the Minnesota team itself, but the reception to Klee and Curl in particular was not overwhelmingly positive.

Karissa Donkin of CBC asked directly during Klee's media availability if he had discussed Curl's selection with any members of the LGBTQ community and he was unable to provide a direct answer the question, stating multiple times that he was simply selecting the best available players, and misspeaking or misstating that Mira Jalosuo (who is queer) had announced Curl's pick. The pick was actually announced by St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter. It's unclear if Jalosuo herself selected Curl, though she was onstage for the pick with Carter, and Klee did not come to the stage for this particular pick.

There continue to be a lot of rumors and innuendo swirling around regarding Darwitz's dismissal. PWHL SVP of Hockey Operations Jayna Hefford denied to provide any specific reason, citing an internal and external review of team staff that took place at the end of the season. This will continue to shape perception of the team and the league. There is an opportunity for here for clear and rigorous reporting to emerge about the circumstances of Darwitz's departure and how it will affect PWHL Minnesota, but so far, most of what has come out has been opinion or a pastiche of anecdotes that do not provide actual clarification about the situation. Until that changes, I guess we live here now.

The next event will be the PWHL Awards, set to begin at 1:00 PM Central. Check out the list of finalists and look for further coverage of the PWHL Draft and Awards on the Victory Press.