The championship match of the National Women’s Soccer League was the league’s most-watched game in history. The WNBA had its most-watched season since 2008 last year. So is it finally hockey’s turn? As chaos continues to unfold at Hockey Canada amid the organization’s handling of sexual-assault allegations, it feels as though there is no better time for women’s hockey to shine.
The Premier Hockey Federation’s eighth season kicks off this weekend, and The Globe and Mail has all the information you need to jump on the bandwagon. The women’s pro hockey loop, founded in 2015 as the National Women’s Hockey League with four teams, has since rebranded as the PHF and grown to seven teams, adding the Montreal Force to the lineup this year.
The season begins Saturday, Nov. 5 and runs to March, 2023.
For the 2022-23 season, the league increased team salary caps to US$750,000 from US$300,000, spread among 25 players. The minimum salary is US$13,500, and a few players are earning more than US$50,000.
The league’s newest team, the Montreal Force, has a roster of 21 players, including veteran forward Ann-Sophie Bettez, originally from Sept-Îles, Que., and former Buffalo Beauts forward Brooke Stacey, originally from Kahnawake, Que.
The Toronto Six finished second in the 2021-22 regular season, and heads into this season with former Team Canada gold medalist and defender Geraldine Heaney as head coach and two-time Team Canada gold medalist and goalie Sami Jo Small as president.
The Buffalo Beauts, one of the inaugural four teams in the NWHL, became the first professional women’s team to sign a player to a two-year contract in May when it inked top-scoring defender Dominique Kremer for US$65,000 a year. Kremer is originally from Dubuque, Iowa.
The reigning Isobel Cup champions, the Boston Pride, have re-signed their captain, Jillian Dempsey, of Winthrop, Mass., to a two-year, US$40,000 annual deal. Dempsey has played for the Pride since the beginning, and has never missed a game in more than seven seasons.
The Connecticut Whale will spend the majority of the 2022-23 season on new home ice, at the International Skating Center of CT, near Hartford. Whale defender Allie Munroe from Yarmouth, N.S. is one of the league’s highest-earning players after signing a two-year US$52,800 contract.
The Metropolitan Riveters, based in East Rutherford, N.J., signed three-time Olympic goaltender for Finland, Eveliina Makinen, U.S. Olympic gold medalist and right winger Amanda Pelkey of Montpelier, Vt., and forward Sarah Bujold, of Riverview, N.B., who spent the past three seasons in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League.
The Minnesota Whitecaps, from Richfield, Minn., will have their own beer on tap at home games this season after partnering with Nine Mile Brewing in Bloomington, Minn. Players visited the brewery, which is just 10 minutes away from the home arena, to help brew the aptly named Hat Trick Triple Berry Sour.
The road to the Isobel Cup
Each of the seven PHF teams compete in 24 regular-season games and then face off in playoffs in March for the chance to hoist the Isobel Cup.
The trophy is named for Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy, who helped popularize hockey in its early days in Canada, and was one of the first European women known to play the sport. Her father, Lord Stanley, Canada’s Governor-General from 1888-93, is the namesake of the NHL’s Stanley Cup.
Boston won last season’s Cup, defeating Connecticut 4-2, to claim its third championship.
Herb Carnegie’s legacy keeps growing stronger
How to watch the games
In August, the PHF and ESPN announced a two-year broadcasting extension for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons. The agreement means ESPN+ will provide live coverage of the PHF regular season, special events and the Isobel Cup playoffs in the United States and provide international rights for games to TSN.
Canadians can catch live coverage of PHF games on TSN.ca, the TSN app.
Montreal’s games will be broadcast in French by TVA Sports, available on TVA Sports and TVA Sports 2 and streaming online at TVASports.ca.
Paul Krotz, the PHF’s senior vice-president of communications, said in an e-mail that unlike last year, the league will not be streaming games on Twitch this season.
For fans in the GTA, the Six’s home ice is York University’s Canlan Sports arena. Tickets to home games can be purchased online, and start at $35. The team’s home opener on Nov. 5 is sold out, but tickets for the Nov. 6 game are available.
The Force’s games take place across Quebec, with home-opening weekend games in Montreal at the Verdun Auditorium and Aréna Raymond-Bourque. During the season the team will play in Sept-Îles, Rimouski, Rivière-du-Loup, Saint-Jérôme and Quebec City. Tickets can be purchased online, starting at just over $20, with free admission for children under five for some games.
Players to watch
Connecticut forward Kennedy Marchment of Courtice, Ont., led the PHF in points last season, scoring 13 goals and 20 assists. Behind her was Toronto’s Mikyla Grant-Mentis, originally from Brampton, with 30 points. Grant signed a record-setting US$80,000 contract with the Beauts this season. Buffalo’s Dominique Kremer was last season’s defender of the year with six goals and five assists. Toronto goaltender Elaine Chuli finished the 2021-22 season with the most wins in the league and the second-best goals-against average, behind Boston’s Katie Burt, who isn’t returning this season.
More women’s hockey
The other women’s hockey entity in North America, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, kicks off its second Secret Dream Gap Tour showcase of the 2022-23 season this weekend as well. The four teams – Team Adidas, Team Harvey’s, Team Scotiabank and Team Sonnet – are stacked with top players from Canada’s Olympic team roster, including Marie-Philip Poulin, Jill Saulnier and Natalie Spooner. They play Nov. 4 to 6 in Truro, N.S. The games will be broadcast on CBC, and tickets can be purchased online.
Sportsnet’s Kristina Rutherford reported that the PWHPA’s plan for its own pro league starting in January, 2023 was an “ambitious goal” that hasn’t yet come to fruition, but is something the players association is working toward. PWHPA teams will play a minimum of 20 games, in showcase events across North America. The PWHPA lists 10 NHL teams as partners, including Washington, the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Chicago and Philadelphia.