PWHPA leader wants clarity on future by 2021
During the NHL’s All-Star weekend in St. Louis last month, women’s pro hockey players were more visible than ever before at one of the league’s marquee events. Members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association took part alongside NHL players in the Skills competition, competed for the first time in a 20-minute 3-on-3 game, played in an NHL gaming event and also appeared at Fan Fair meet-and-greets, among other integrations.
“Whether it’s a woman or it’s a man, these are the greatest players in the world all on the greatest stage in the world, and you’ve got to know that young kids — boys, girls, it doesn’t matter — they’re all watching,” said Steve Mayer, NHL chief content officer and executive vice president, events and entertainment.
The PWHPA would like to have those eyeballs supporting a league of its own. The organization was formed in May 2019 and includes hundreds of players who have boycotted the lone women’s pro hockey league in North America, the five-team NWHL. Some of the world’s best players are in the prime of their careers with no team to play for, and there’s a sense of urgency to support a formal league. The group’s leader, Jayna Hefford, said that by January 2021 the PWHPA would like to know what the future holds for women’s pro hockey in North America.
“That would be an ideal scenario in my mind,” said Hefford, who added that there’s an “ongoing relationship” between the PWHPA and the NHL. As part of its Dream Gap Tour this season across the U.S. and Canada, the PWHPA has partnered directly with some NHL clubs — including the Chicago Blackhawks, Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs — to have exhibition games and engage in skills clinics and meet-and-greet events.
Last month, at a PWHPA event in conjunction with the Maple Leafs, Secret Deodorant in Canada, one of the PWHPA’s sponsors, had some colorful language through its on-site activations and current #EqualSweat campaign.
“No league. No opportunity to play. Nowhere to train. No access to the facilities or coaching staff the sport demands,” a banner read. On a website specifically created for its relationship with the PWHPA, Secret appears to call out the NHL, too.
“There are 82 professional men’s hockey games you can watch each season,” the site reads. “There are 0 professional women’s games.”
John Celenza, co-founder of Toronto-based sports drink company BioSteel Sports — also a sponsor of the PWHPA — said he’d love for the NHL to support the PWHPA. Commissioner Gary Bettman told ESPN in September that his league was “supportive” and watching the developing women’s pro landscape, but wouldn’t “undermine an existing league.”
“We’re trying to say ‘Let’s do this now,’ and [the NHL is] saying ‘Be patient,’ kind of thing,” Hefford said.
Though there’s still much uncertainty with women’s pro hockey, U.S. Olympic gold medalist and PWHPA member Kendall Coyne Schofield said she’s optimistic about where the sport is headed.
“We didn’t come all this way to accept something that won’t set this game up for success in the future,” she said.