No confirmation of team names or a fixed start date yet, but Professional Women’s Hockey League leaders say they’re filling in the blanks as fast as they can.
PWHL training camps opening Wednesday in its original six cities — Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul — encompass 184 players with less than half of them under contracts.
“It feels like we’ve been at this for 10 years, but it’s just been four months,” PWHL board member Stan Kasten said Tuesday during a media conference call. “We had a blank sheet of paper and no employees four months ago and now we have over 120 employees.”
The colours of jerseys in each market were revealed Tuesday minus names or logos, but with cities’ names stitched across the front.
Each club will play a 24-game regular season starting in early January. An opening date and a television deal have yet to be announced.
The PWHL named former WNBA executive Amy Scheer its senior vice-president of business operations Oct. 26. She needs time to review unannounced decisions on the league’s business operations, Kastens said.
“I don’t have a date for any of those things,” Kastens said. “The reason for more delay for the last couple of things that we really are close on, like 98 per cent on, is my fault because I have asked her once she got here to take a fresh look with her and the staff that we now have. Just look everything over again one last time before we commit to it.
“That includes broadcasts, that includes schedule, that includes uniforms, that includes practice venues, so things that we are ready to announce, we’re going to take a little while longer. If Amy thinks somethings need more of a review, or a complete rethink, well, that’s what we’ll do.
“The most important first step is what kind of product we put on the ice and that is the thing I have the most confidence in. We really have all the best players that we could possibly have now.”
Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter is the financial backer of the PWHL. Kastens, who is the Dodgers’ president, says it’s possible players will start the season without names or logos on their jerseys.
“Amy and her staff are reviewing many things. That’s one of the projects we’re reviewing,” he explained. “Once we make decisions on those things, then there’s a production delay and that’s just inevitable.”
League business confirmed during Tuesday’s conference call with Kastens and PWHL senior vice-president of hockey operations Jayna Hefford:
— Teams will play at least some games in NHL arenas.
— The PWHL will follow the NHL rulebook, with some adaptations because fighting and body checking aren’t part of the women’s game.
— The officiating pool will include AHL, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey referees and linespeople.
— Games won’t be limited to weekends, but could be played every day of the week.
— The PWHL is striving to get all games on television, but all games will be streamed.
Players gather in their respective markets Wednesday for medical and physical testing and orientation before hitting the ice Friday or Saturday. Camp rosters must be whittled down to 23, plus two reserve players, by Dec. 11.
“When we started this journey, we didn’t have a single roll of tape, a single set of laces, a skate sharpener, you know, simple things like Band-Aids,” said Hockey Hall of Famer Hefford.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard to make sure that when the players walk in, they have everything they need to be professional athletes.”
The league also announced this week all six clubs will congregate Dec. 3-7 in Utica, N.Y., for pre-season scrimmages, training and information sessions.
“Certainly in Year 1, it gives us a chance to work through a lot of things, whether it be various educational pieces we want to talk to the players with, around concussions or doping or many of those big issues that are really important,” Hefford said. “We’re going to have everyone in one place.
“For us, on a hockey ops, on a game presentation, on the marketing side, we have an opportunity to try some things and make sure that when we launch in January, we’re ready to go.”
Training camps will be two to three weeks in future years, but the players requested a longer runway to the inaugural season to relocate to their respective markets and promote the league. The PWHL is accepting online deposits of $50 for ticket packages.
Kastens says the PWHL’s two key partners are its players’ union led by Bryan Burke and the NHL, which isn’t contributing financially but is a key consultant for the women’s league.
“I’ve spoken to team presidents, I’ve spoken to team owners in the NHL, all of whom have told me about the speech that (commissioner) Gary Bettman made to them separately about how important we are, how important this mission is, and how much they should do to help us and that is exactly the kind of co-operation I have had,” Kastens said.
“I’ve had calls from NHL teams, not in our cities, who want to know how they can help, who are interested in getting a game, things like that.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press