It’s not often players are all smiles after a good, hard practice but for members of the PWHL Ottawa team there was no better feeling than hitting the ice at TD Place.
Friday’s practice was the first official on-ice session of training camp for the new Professional Women’s Hockey League franchise in Ottawa and players couldn’t be more excited to get to work.
With the regular season set to get under way in January players and coaches will have to make the most of the next few weeks, but right now the focus is on building some team chemistry.
“They just want us to be able to play our best hockey and whatever that looks like for us and however it get’s done they want to assist us any way they can,” said forward Gabrielle Hughes. “Right now, they just want us to get comfortable. Get a feel for the rink, get a feel for the girls and just start to have fun.”
These are memorable moments for not only the players, but the coaching staff.
Head coach Carla MacLeod admitted she pulled out her phone on the ice and shared a video of the experience with her mom.
As a former national team player and long-time coach, MacLeod said she understands far too well how long players have been waiting for this opportunity.
“I think we’ve been wired in our game to always be thinking about the future,” she said. “It’s about making sure the future [players] have got something to dream about and that’s an important part, but it’s also about where we’ve come from and the heavy, heavy lifting that’s been done by so many men and women leading into this moment.”
MacLeod added that while there’s much to be done in preparation for the regular season, the key for now is encouraging her players to get familiar with one another.
“That’s when you start to find chemistry and things like that,” she said. “We actually have some time. We’ll use the next couple of weeks, we’ve got our exhibition series, so we’re not in a race, we’re not in a rush.”
Wednesday, the team took the opportunity to participate in a scavenger hunt that led them to Ottawa’s downtown core, where they had the chance to meet with some of their newest fans.
A number of players are familiar with one another whether having played together at the collegiate level, on the national team or against one another on the international stage.
“You know that coming into this league everyone’s going to be great,” Hughes said. “There’s not going to be one bad hockey player. We’re all at the professional level now so being able to see what everyone brings to the rink is really fun and honestly everyone’s been very impressive.”
Being a part of the league from its very inception is a special moment for players and they’re enjoying every aspect.
“It’s super special,” said forward Emily Clark. “I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet, but it’s definitely in conversations. We understand the opportunity and, honestly, the privilege that we have to start something like this.”
Clark added that while players will be sure to enjoy the moment, they also want to keep the bigger picture in mind.
After months of preparations general manager Mike Hirshfeld sat back and watched the first practice with as much excitement as those who were participating in it.
“I’m just super excited, it’s a historic day,” Hirshfeld said. “It’s been 3 1/2 months of a lot of planning to get to his point. Just thrilled to see them out there and having fun.”
Hirshfeld said the team will get down to a bit more of the business next week as they prepare for preseason scrimmages in Utica, N.Y. the week of Dec. 3 where all six franchises will be participating.