Women’s professional hockey is growing in North America, but remains divided.
The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), which holds most of the power of star players in Canada and the United States, has a developing league with Billie Jean King and Mark Walter, co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers , as potential funders.
The premier hockey federation is increasing salaries and teams in North America in its eighth season and recruiting recognizable Canadian hockey names into leadership positions, is determined to strengthen its presence in the women’s professional hockey space.
The division continues a longstanding struggle by women to establish a marketable and sustainable hockey league to ply their trade as true professionals.
And the gulf currently seems unbridgeable as an attempt to negotiate unification – with NHL encouragement – came to nothing earlier this year.
The 2022 Women’s Hockey World Championship in Denmark has 34 players from the PWHPA – including 21 on Canada’s roster, 13 on Team USA and none from the PHF on either squad. Seven PHF players are spread over the lists of Finland, Switzerland, Czechia and Hungary.
The PWHPA features the most recognizable North American female hockey players in Denmark, including Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hilary Knight, Amanda Kessel, Marie-Philip Poulin, Sarah Nurse and Brianne Jenner.
Although they do not give specific reasons for their reluctance to join the PHF, they clearly indicate that their vision of a professional league differs.
“We have the utmost confidence and belief in what we do,” Nurse said in Denmark. “We really want to create this professional league because we don’t believe it currently exists.
“Things are very close. We have incredible support with our investment group with the Walter group and also Billie Jean King. There couldn’t be better people on our side. Things are really moving forward and we really hope to be able to make an announcement to the public very soon. »
So while the PWHPA, with 43 Olympians among its 150 members, continues to schedule Dream Gap Tour weekend tournaments this fall to keep tabs on its product, the PHF is upping the ante with various incentives.
Raise the salary cap for each team by 150% to $750,000 – an average of $29,000 on a roster of 26 players – covering player health care bonuses, a commitment to update facilities and equipment , increasing ice time and expanding the regular season schedule to 28 games are among them.
The actors participate in the profitability of the PHF and retain commercial control of their own image.
Brampton, Ont., forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis became the league’s highest-paid player this year when she signed a one-year, US$80,000 contract with the Buffalo Beauts.
Grant-Mentis was invited to Canada’s selection camp this month but was not named to the world championship roster.
The PHF’s expansion to Montreal in 2022-23 gives Canada a second club in a seven-team league alongside the Toronto Six.
Hockey Hall of Famer Angela James is the new co-owner of the Six and fellow Hockey Hall of Famer Geraldine Heaney is Toronto’s new head coach. Both played for Canada’s national team.
James chastised the PWHPA in a social media post earlier this year for its reluctance to work with the PHF.
Long-time coach and general manager of the Canadian women’s team, Melody Davidson, who led the team to Olympic gold medals in 2006 and 2010, joined the PHF this year as director league hockey operations.
And the PHF announced on Friday that American striker Brianna Decker is on board in a team advisory and player role, but not as a player.
Decker, an Olympic gold medalist and six-time world champion, is the most decorated player to be associated with the PHF. She is not playing for the United States in Denmark after breaking her leg in the Olympic tournament in February.
Decker’s American teammate and American captain, Coyne Schofield, remains true to her allegiance to the PWHPA.
“We haven’t seen a league that offers women the opportunity to be professional only in hockey,” said Coyne Schofield in Denmark. “When you look at the definition of professional and professionalism, it’s an opportunity to call it your job.
“Right now that doesn’t exist in women’s hockey anywhere in the world. You need to have additional income. »
Kessel says there’s more than player salaries at stake.
“It’s just about having the level to be the best of the best,” said the American striker. “We expect a different level of professionalism and not just to be paid more. We want great facilities, having all your coaching staff and professional coaches, playing full time, and that’s something that still doesn’t exist.
“Wages can go up. That’s great, but really, we want a good base.
While the PWHPA would like NHL headquarters to get involved in a league, it has meanwhile partnered with 10 of its clubs, including the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.
Neither Billie Jean King Enterprises nor the Mark Walter Group responded to interview requests from The Canadian Press.
PWHPA senior consultant Jayna Hefford said she was “unable to comment” on a league because the association is bound by a letter of intent with both parties.
Canadian forward and PWHPA member Sarah Potomak says a league seems imminent.
“Really close,” she said. “This year it might not be exactly how we want it to be, but I’m very confident that next year we’ll have a very good league.”
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