As we head into NWHL free agency this weekend, women’s hockey fans got some exciting news with the sale of a franchise, more games announced, and more updates on NCAA seniors. Let’s take a look at what happened in the second week of May.
1. Off-Ice: The Connecticut Whale have been purchased by Tobin Kelly and Shared Hockey Enterprises (SHE), LLC
The Connecticut Whale has become the third privately owned NWHL team, alongside the Boston Pride and Toronto Six, after being sold to Tobin Kelly and fellow investors at Shared Hockey Enterprises LLC. Kelly is a Massachusetts native with experience on the business side of hockey, having founded the sports equipment company Arc Hockey and running the largest outdoor youth hockey tournament, the Youth Pond Hockey Festival. Connecticut is often regarded as the smallest NWHL market, having moved around the state several times before finding a home in Danbury and sometimes struggling to attract free agents compared to nearby Boston and Metropolitan. Having the additional investment in facilities, equipment, and coaching staff that private ownership provides will make Connecticut a more attractive destination for free agents in the offseason. Journalist Maggie Vanoniat the CTPost has reported Kelly’s interest in upgrading locker rooms and equipment areas at their home rink in Danbury.
Last October, the NWHL created the group ‘Women’s Hockey Partners’ to take control of the four teams (Buffalo, Connecticut, Metropolitan, Minnesota) without private ownership. Women’s Hockey Partners was created with the goal to sell these franchises to outside investors and further a joint venture model. The sale of Connecticut is their first successful transaction since its creation.
2. On Ice: As NWHL Free Agency begins Saturday, expect the unexpected
Saturday will mark the beginning of free agency for the NWHL, and the first free agency under the recently doubled salary cap of $300,000 per team. Recent personnel changes have made it hard to predict what players teams may be looking for, the connections to the NCAA they may have, and how they may look to change their teams in the offseason to contend for the Isobel Cup. The Toronto Six have not hired a new general manager after dismissing Mandy Cronin in January due to “business reasons.” Anya Packer is heading into her first offseason as a general manager for the Metropolitan Riveters with years of experience in the NWHLPA, giving her extensive knowledge on the players’ side of negotiations. Buffalo Beauts general manager Nate Oliver has a year of experience under his belt after being promoted last May, but this will be his first full offseason (and first offseason without as much pandemic uncertainty) and first draft (bonus: the Beauts hold the number one pick). As mentioned above, the Connecticut Whale’s private ownership gives them a whole new advantage in free agency they’ve never had before.
The Hockey Writer’s NWHL reporter Dan Rice tweeted that we’re close to our first re-signing, so the first name we hear may not actually be that surprising. Still, between new faces, an uncertain draft, and more money, teams have a chance to build or further their identity with an intensity never before seen in the NWHL.
3. On Ice: The Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association announces tournament in Calgary, becoming the first action seen by Canadian hubs in over a year
The Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association, a group composed of women looking to play competitive hockey in North America outside of the NWHL, will host a week-long tournament in Calgary between May 24 through May 30. Comprised of the Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal teams of the PWHPA, the tournament will be six round-robin style games where each team plays each other twice. At the conclusion of the six games, two teams will go on to the championship determined by the PWHPA’s scoring system that rewards additional points in the standings for things like shutouts and hat tricks alongside actual wins. Sportsnet Now will stream the games on May 24-27, with Sportsnet broadcasting the final three days on national television. Calgary’s stop will continue the PWHPA’s 2021 dream gap tour, wherein each stop a select few teams from the PWHPA’s five hub cities travel to another location and competes in a mini-tournament. The idea is to provide competitive play more flexible than a league and showcase women’s hockey to markets in all of North America without the constraint of a traditional franchise or league model.
While fans have seen some action from the PWHPA’s two American hubs in New Hampshire and Minnesota this year, the three Canadian hubs have not gotten to play since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic due to Canada’s protocols. With the postponement of the Women’s Ice Hockey World’s Championship to August, Calgary’s tournament also serves as crucial ice time for Team Canada and USA players in the PWHPA like Sarah Nurse, Marie-Philip Poulin, and Kacey Bellamy who have been unable to play in a proper game in over a year.
For more in-depth information about the PWHPA and what they do, as well as how they’re different from the NWHL, more detail can be found in the last few paragraphs here as well as on their website.
4. Off-Ice: Few updates from the Toronto Six a month after transphobia scandal
Sometimes, lack of a big update is an update in and of itself.
Last month, it was discovered that Toronto Six coach Digit Murphy was working with the transmisogynistic group “ Women’s Sports Policy Working Group” which aims to keep transgender women out of sports. After a period of silence and outcry from fans and fellow teams alike, the Toronto Six apologized and said they’d be “advancing the conversation” on a podcast with transgender activists and NCAA coach Brianne Brinker to address the situation. The tweet was made on April 5, and the conversation has yet to be had. In the past month, the Toronto Six have failed to take any public action further than public statements, such as donations or platforming trans activists. Coach Digit Muphy has also yet to apologize, and has not been dismissed from her role.
Journalist Marisa Ingemi from Sportsnet reported Digit Murphy’s quotes that the organization has since done some education panels with Athlete Ally. Murphy also said she reached out to Jessica Platt, a hockey player formerly of the Toronto Furies who had concerns that she was not given proper consideration on the Six roster because she’s transgender, but they haven’t spoken yet. The organization expressed interest in collaborating with LGBT organizations next season, but nothing tangible has manifested. Ingemi reported in the same article that Murphy will not face any disciplinary action.
5. On-Ice: Syracuse, Ohio State, University of Minnesota, and Colgate seniors give updates on if they plan to return for an extra year of NCAA eligibility
Syracuse Women’s Hockey Captain and Toronto Native Jessica DiGirolamo announced she will be back for the next NCAA season.
Co-Captain Kristen Siermachesky will not return to Syracuse’s hockey program, as she looks to get her master’s degree at the University of North Carolina instead.
Ohio State seniors also gave some clarity to their future plans. Liz Schepers is taking her extra year of eligibility, getting her grad degree alongside backup goalie Lynsey Wallace who is also returning to Ohio State but does not seem likely to return to hockey itself. Star player Tatum Skaggs is not returning but is planning to continue to pursue hockey either on the USA national team or overseas in Europe. Assistant Captain Lisa Bruno is moving back to Canada and has not announced plans to play hockey, but the Ontario native may be worth a call from the Six if they’re looking to add a shutdown defender.
#GWH will not be the same without senior @Taylorwente next year! Thank you for four years of equal parts laughter and tenacity and the best bus co-piloting the #Gophers have ever had. We will miss your cheerfulness, your wise cracks, and your giant heart. 〽️🏒 pic.twitter.com/DvTAzOwUj9— Minnesota Women’s Hockey (@GopherWHockey) May 10, 2021
Minnesota Golden Gopher forward Taylor Wente is leaving the NCAA program, making her eligible for the NWHL Draft if interested. Wente was a half-point per game player in college with 73 points in 127 games, and has experience in the Women’s U18 World Championship having won gold in 2017, making her an attractive draft target for the Whitecaps.
Colgate seniors Coralie Larose and Shelby Wood have signed overseas in Switzerland with Neuchâtel Hockey Academy.
Can’t get enough hockey? Check out the Venus Sports NWHL page here.
Image Courtesy of Michelle Jay, NWHL.