Pulse of the PWHL - Week 1
By Scott Lowe – MYHockeyRankings.com
No reasonable person would have expected every single detail to go smoothly early in the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League season.
That the league had come together at all with six rosters full of the world’s best players in time for a Jan. 1 puck drop was a miracle in itself given that the league was just a concept in the minds of some forward-thinking folks a little more than six months ago.
The fact that there was a professional women’s hockey league that appeared to have sufficient backing to pay its players a livable wage and remain financially viable was more than enough. We could deal with a few bumps along the way as league officials, hockey operations staff and players worked together to tweak the product as necessary in the early stages.
Elite-level women’s hockey players and North American hockey fans had waited such a long time for a league like this to become a reality; if a little more patience was required until the operation, product and presentation were perfected, no one would have uttered a negative word.
The world’s top players had a place to play while earning a livable wage, and we had a front-row seat to watch it all unfold. The opening of the season was the culmination of the hard work and sacrifice made by so many players over the years and was cause for a tremendous celebration under any circumstances.
As it turned out, no patience was necessary. The league is here, and it is spectacular.
The puck dropped as scheduled on the historic first PWHL season slightly after 12:30 p.m. EST Jan. 1 at Mattamy Athletic Centre in downtown Toronto. And from that first moment on it’s been full-speed ahead with no looking back.
In fact, it’s not likely that PWHL officials could have scripted a more perfect opening week if given the opportunity.
While there was more excitement surrounding this attempt at creating a viable North American professional women’s hockey than for any previous leagues, no one could have anticipated the overwhelmingly positive reception the PWHL would receive from North American hockey fans.
Fans tuned in and turned out. In droves.
Game 1 between Toronto and New York on New Year’s Day was a sellout. Nearly 2.9 million Canadians tuned in from all over the country to witness history that day, with more viewers checking out the action in the United States on various regional sports networks.
That game featured the first-ever PWHL goal by Team Canada defender Ella Shelton and the league’s first shutout, a 29-save effort by Corrine Schroeder, as New York prevailed, 4-0.
Not one, but two, women’s professional hockey attendance records were set during the PWHL’s opening week of play.
The first record-breaking game took place on Day 2 of the season, with 8,318 spectators cramming into Ottawa’s TD Place to see Montreal win the PWHL’s first overtime game, 3-2, over the hosts.
Ann-Sophia Bettez buried the game-winner 1:04 into the extra period. The game featured the league’s first penalty shot, awarded to Captain Canada Marie-Philip Poulin, who faced the awkward task of trying to score on her longtime Team Canada teammate Emerance Maschmeyer.
Maschmeyer stood tall and stoned the attempt of her teammate, one of the world’s all-time greats, but she ultimately would surrender the deciding overtime tally. The overtime winner allowed another of Maschmeyer’s Team Canada mates, golden-goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens, to earn the victory in goal for Montreal.
That new women’s pro hockey attendance record stood for all of three days until it was shattered Jan. 6 in Minnesota’s home-opening victory, a 3-0 shutout of Montreal at the Xcel Energy Center.
A crowd of 13,316 turned out to see home-state hero and former University of Minnesota star Grace Zumwinkle record the PWHL’s first hat trick, while Olympic gold-medalist and former Minnesota-Duluth standout Maddie Rooney made 24 saves to notch the franchise’s first shutout.
“I knew our fans would show up for us, but today they have taken it to a whole new level,” PWHL Minnesota General Manager Natalie Darwitz said in a story on the league’s website. “I feel tremendously proud and inspired by our fan support. On behalf of our team and our league, I want to thank the fans and everyone who has made this day possible. I’ve enjoyed numerous amazing hockey experiences in Minnesota over my career, and experiencing today and the record crowd was emotional and ranks near the top of the list.”
In between those record-breaking games, longtime Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron joined PWHL Boston team and staff members to announce that USA Hockey superstar Hilary Knight would serve as the team’s first captain. He and his family also were on hand Jan. 3 to drop puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff at Boston’s home opener, a 3-2 loss to Minnesota in front of more than 4,000 fans at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass.
Team USA forward Taylor Heise, the league’s top overall draft choice, scored Minnesota’s first goal in her first professional appearance. The unassisted tally came less than four minutes into the first PWHL game played on American ice. Minnesota’s Nicole Hensley stopped 33 shots to become the first league netminder to make more than 30 saves in a game.
Toronto avenged its opening-day loss Jan. 5, traveling to Total Mortgage Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., to knock off New York in its home opener, 3-2, in front of more than 2,100 fans.
Longtime Team Canada star Natalie Spooner recorded Toronto’s first goal in the first period, with familiar faces Sarah Nurse and Renata Fast picking up the assists. Their Team Canada teammate Emma Maltais buried the game-winner in the third, and Kristen Campbell stopped 29 shots to earn the franchise’s first shutout.
The only setback for the PWHL during its historic first eight days of action was dished out by Mother Nature, who served up enough inclement weather to prevent Ottawa from traveling to Boston for their Jan. 8 matchup. That game will be rescheduled for a later date.
Pulse of the PWHL – Week 1
There were too many historic firsts during the first week of the inaugural PWHL season to mention them all, but this week and in future weeks we will use this space to bring attention to highlights and cool league happenings that might have gone unnoticed.
Friends Are Foes
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the PWHL’s first week of play was the intensity that the players brought to the ice. Many players found themselves competing against longtime friends and teammates from national teams, college programs and previous professional experiences, but in spite of that, the games were highly competitive and extremely physical.
The PWHL essentially is using the National Hockey League rulebook with a few minor modifications, but the checking rules essentially are the same as what the players are accustomed to from playing collegiately and internationally. It just seems as though the on-ice game officials, who are from the American Hockey League, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, are letting the players play a little more and not being so quick to call body-contact penalties.
That has helped shape an exciting and more physical brand of hockey than both the players and fans are used to, something that seems to be very much appreciated by everyone involved.
Get Out of Jail Free
Speaking of rules, another rule that differs from the NHL is what is being called the “jailbreak” goal. When a team scores a short-handed goal that team’s penalized player is immediately released from the penalty box. Emma Maltais recorded the league’s first “jailbreak” goal in Toronto’s 3-2 win against New York Jan. 5.
Not in Our House
Rumor has it that at least some Ottawa fans booed Canadian national hero Marie-Philip Poulin as she prepared to take the league’s first-ever penalty shot against the home team and her Team Canada teammate Emerance Maschmeyer. All is fair in hockey and war it seems.
Three Stars of the Week
1. Grace Zumwinkle - Minnesota
2. Alex Carpenter - New York
3. Corinne Schroeder - New York
Week 1 Standings
The league also announced that the standings would be based on a three-point system in which teams are awarded three points for a win, two points for an overtime or shootout win, one point for an overtime or shootout lost and no points for a regulation loss. Here is a look at the current standings:
- Minnesota 2-0-0-0 (6 pts)
- New York 1-1-0-0 (3 pts)
- Toronto 1-1-0-0 (3 pts)
- Montreal 1-1-0-0 (2 pts)
- Ottawa 0-0-1-0 (1 pt)
- Boston 0-1-0-0 (0 pts)
Grace Zumwinkle MIN – 4
Alex Carpenter NY – 2
Ann-Sophie Bettez MON – 1
Megan Keller BOS – 1
Katerina Mrazova OTT – 1
Chloe Aurard NY – 3
Ashton Bell OTT – 2
Kelly Pannek MIN – 2
Susanna Tapani MIN – 2
Lexi Adzija OTT – 1
Grace Zumwinkle MIN – 4
Alex Carpenter NY – 3
Chloe Aurard NY – 3
Ashton Bell OTT – 2
Kelly Panek MIN – 2
Save Percentage Leaders
Maddie Rooney MIN – 1.000
Corinne Schroeder NY – 1.000
Nicole Hensley MIN – .943
Ann-Renee Desbiens MON – .918
Kristen Campbell TOR – .898
CLICK HERE for the upccoming PWHL schedule