The international stage had a big shake-up this past week in women’s hockey, with Olympic rosters set in motion and continued talk about the future of professional women’s hockey in North America. One great defender retires, another signs a contract for next season. Here are the five biggest stories in women’s hockey the past week.
1. On Ice: Buffalo Beauts sign defender Marie-Jo Pelletier and add Cassidy Vinkle, Toronto Six sign Shiann Darkangelo
Beauts fans can’t ask for a better first signing than the return of the team’s number one defender. Assistant captain MJ Pelletier returns to the Buffalo Beauts for her third season, with an eye on setting the Beauts’ record for most points by a defender and an Isobel Cup. The Buffalo Beauts also added a new face, Cassidy Vinkle. After spending the last two seasons with the New England/New Hampshire hub of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, Vinkle will hope to add some forward depth to the Beauts. North of the border, The Toronto Six re-signed captain Shiann Darkangelo. A strong playmaker, Darkangelo will continue to lead Toronto with her wealth of experience.
For new fans trying to get a grip on the inner workings of the rapidly changing women’s hockey landscape, all NWHL contracts are for only one year, and salary is only disclosed with player consent.
2. Off-Ice: Team USA and former Boston Pride defender Kacey Bellamy announces retirement
Three-Time Olympian Kacey Bellamy announced her retirement on Tuesday morning after over a decade of playing professionally. Bellamy is one of the best defenders in hockey, a complete two-way player who helped lead Team USA to their first Olympic gold in 20 years back in 2018. During the course of her career, she has won eight world championships, three Clarkson Cups with the CWHL, and led the NWHL’s Boston Pride to the cup in their inaugural season with four points in four playoff games.
Bellamy’s decision has been a long time in the making, having told Emily Kaplan of ESPN that she considered retiring after winning gold in 2018 but decided to give it one more try. After the last-minute postponement of the 2021 Women’s World Championships, she decided to step away. “…I thought about other people’s dreams and aspirations. I’d most likely make the Olympic team, but deep down, that’s not fair to me or my teammates. Because am I mentally happy? And the answer would probably be no. I’d just be forcing myself to get an extra checkmark. There are girls that I played with for the last three years that haven’t made an Olympic roster, but I know deserve to be on that team personality-wise, character-wise, skill-wise. This could be their chance.”
3. On-Ice: Team Canada releases Olympic Centralization roster
All but four players from the 2018 Team Canada Olympic Roster have been included in Team Canada’s Olympic centralization roster for 2022. Five players will be cut from the 28 player list by late December, creating the 23 person roster that will travel to Beijing. Only four of the players (Bell, Fillier, Gosling, Maltair) are current NCAA players.
Goaltenders: Kristen Campbell, Ann-Renée Desbiens, Emerance Maschmeyer
Defenders: Erin Ambrose, Ashton Bell, Jaime Bourbonnais, Renata Fast, Jocelyne Larocque, Meaghan Mikkelson, Ella Shelton, Claire Thompson, Micah Zandee-Hart
Forwards: Victoria Bach, Emily Clark, Mélodie Daoust, Sarah Fillier, Julia Gosling, Brianne Jenner, Rebecca Johnston, Emma Maltais, Sarah Nurse, Kristin O’Neill, Marie-Philip Poulin, Jamie Lee Rattray, Jillian Saulnier, Natalie Spooner, Laura Stacey, Blayre Turnbull
Goaltender Kristen Campbell gets a well-deserved look at the senior team with Team Canada’s longtime number-one goaltender Shannon Szabados not on the roster. Campbell finished her college career at the University of North Dakota and the University of Wisconsin where she posted a cumulative .926 save percentage.
More shocking than who did make the team is who didn’t. Laura Fortino, a long-time national team member who led the team in ice time at 2019’s World’s, seemed like a lock for the Canadian defense core but did not make the centralization roster.
Laura Fortino, 30, is not on the roster. She led all Team Canada skaters with an average of 21:32 TOI/GP at the 2019 Worlds. That's 26.43 shifts per game.— Mike Murphy (@DigDeepBSB) May 12, 2021
Also interesting to note that Jamie Lee Rattray, who had the lowest TOI/GP in Espoo in 2019 (9:21 TOI/GP) is on the roster. https://t.co/zfFTcIfDjO
Neither did electric goal scorer Loren Gabel, who had six goals in seven games during the last Women’s World Championship. Daryll Watts and Élizabeth Giguère have been left off the roster again in a curious move. Watts has never been invited to the Team Canada senior team despite being 19th in NCAA program history in points with 240 in 134 games, a points per game average that puts her in the ballpark of Brianna Decker, Kendall Coyne Schofield, and Brianna Jenner. Likewise, Élizabeth Giguère has been left off every senior Team Canada roster despite winning top collegiate player in 2019-2020 and recording 233 points in 137 games which ranks her at 23rd most in NCAA history.
4. Off-Ice: Former Team USA captain Meghan Duggan hired by New Jersey Devils
Following her retirement earlier this year, Meghan Duggan has been hired by the New Jersey Devils as Manager of Player Development. Duggan is a three-time Olympian who captained Team USA to gold in 2018, as well as winning seven World Championships. During her club play, Duggan was part of the Boston Blades team of the CWHL that won two Clarkson Cups and played in the NWHL with the Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride. On the staff side of things, Duggan was an assistant coach at Clarkson University from 2014-2016.
According to the Devils, Duggan’s responsibilities include coordinating development coaches, improving progress plans, assisting in prospect scouting, and joining in on-ice development during the season.
5. Off-Ice: PWHPA looks for a path without NHL support
Since the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded in the spring of 2019, there have been calls for the NHL to create their own women’s hockey league to create a more sustainable league for women’s hockey players to compete in. Some players wanted to grow their own sustainable league within the already existing National Women’s Hockey League (which launched in 2015) while others wanted to boycott professional league play in North America altogether and force the NHL to step in. Those players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association, a player-run organization that has several hubs around North America and plays in traveling showcases.
An article from Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek reiterated that the NHL did not want to launch or operate a women’s hockey league at the moment, nor did it want to choose a side. However, the NHL would get involved with the NWHL and PWHPA if they merged or came to the NHL with a plan. The NHL has stated this stance previously, including when the PWHPA first formed in 2019. Important to note is that the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (2009-2019) was the only league in North America until 2015 but it did not receive financial support from, or work a joint operation with, the NHL. Individual NHL franchises such as the Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild, and New York Rangers have partnered with women’s hockey franchises or events, but the NHL as an overarching league has been hands-off.
Following those comments, PWHPA executive Jayna Hefford told John Wawrow at the Associated Press that NHL support is no longer a priority for the PWHPA if the NHL is not interested in giving it. “We aren’t focusing on who doesn’t want to partner with us. We are excited about aligning our passion with those who do,” said Hefford, following a year where the PWHPA has gained sponsorships from the likes of Secret, Budweiser, and individual NHL franchises like the St. Louis Blues who help host their showcases. However, Hefford did confirm that she has talked to NWHL commissioner Tyler Tumminia and is open to continuing them.
Hefford’s statement to the Associated Press also confirmed that the PWHPA would continue having showcases during Olympic centralization when many of their star players would be absent due to national team obligations.
Image Credit Michelle Jay, NWHL