PHF opening weekend recap — PWHPA’s second Dream Gap Tour stop — Commissioner Reagan Carey on what’s next for the PHF

The IX: Hockey Friday with Eleni Demestihas, Nov. 11, 2022

Happy Friday! This past weekend was PHF’s opening weekend and a PWHPA Secret Dream Gap Tour stop in Truro, Nova Scotia. I’m going to give you a quick recap of those games. I also spoke to PHF Commissioner Regan Carey this week about where the league is today, what to be excited about in the future and how the league is making changes to try to better spotlight and support its athletes. Carey was appointed PHF Commissioner in April 2022.

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Opening weekend started with a bang for the PHF, as Boston hosted Connecticut for a rematch of the 2022 Isobel Cup Final. Virtually everyone projected this as a close, tight, physical game and, for a while, it was. Neither team scored in the first period, and the Pride only scored one goal in the second, courtesy of newcomer Élizabeth Giguère. In the third period, though, the Pride came alive: they scored three more goals in the span of a few minutes, two from Loren Gabel and one from Allie Thunstrom. One of those was even a powerplay goal — something the Pride had a lot of trouble scoring last season. Rookie goalie Corinne Schroeder made 36 saves to open her pro career with a shutout.

The Pride went on to shut out the Riveters the next day, winning 2-0 less than twenty-four hours after their opening night. Those goals came from captain Jillian Dempsey and Élizabeth Giguère, who, along with Loren Gabel and Becca Gilmore, will be joining their national teams for the Rivalry Series this weekend.

The Six swept the Whitecaps at home in Toronto to open their season, winning both games 3-2 (one in regulation, and one in overtime). The big story out of that series was Brittany Howard, who scored the first goal of the PHF season and her first PHF goal to go up 1-0 on the powerplay. She assisted captain Shiann Darkangelo’s goal in the third period to tie the game, then scored the overtime winner. She also scored one of Toronto’s three goals the next day, alongside newcomer Leah Lum. Saroya Tinker scored the game-winner for Toronto, and Minnesota left Canada without a win. Minnesota looks like a team still trying to find their chemistry defensively, while Toronto has had less turnovers and Howard has fit in seamlessly on that top line. 

Finally, Buffalo and Montreal split their series in Buffalo, with each team winning one fast-paced and high-scoring game. The first game went to a shootout, where Montreal took the win. Three of Buffalo’s four goals in that game came from defenders, and all three of those goals were ‘first goals’ for those players: Whitney Dove, Maddie Truax and Atonia Matzka. Kim Deschênes and Emma Nuutinen scored in the early rounds of the shootout, but Samantha Isbell won the game for Montreal in the eighth round. 

The following day, with Kassidy Sauve out due to injury, the Beauts signed Tera Hofmann to a Professional Try-Out (PTO). She started the game and ultimately got the win, making thirty-one saves and ending the day with a .926 SV%, which is pretty ridiculous, all things considered. Autumn MacDougall’s game-winner in the third period came off a crisp cross-ice pass from Anjelica Diffendal. This was a huge game for Buffalo, who badly needed an identity-establishing win after an offseason marked by a lot of changes. That being said, Montreal looks much faster and sharper than I expected them to, and I’ll admit that they surprised me. I have a feeling the standings are going to be a wild ride right to the end this year.

The PWHPA had their second Dream Gap Tour stop last weekend, this time in Truro, Nova Scotia. Team Scotiabank looked impressive coming into this second stop, but it was Team Harvey’s that really stole the show in Nova Scotia. 

Team Harvey’s won all three of their games last weekend, relying on huge offensive performances. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Marie-Philip Poulin, in overtime. The Canadians on the team led the way, with huge performances from Jamie-Lee Rattray and Poulin powering them past each of the other three PWHPA teams. The best American skater on the team this past weekend was Lee Stecklein, who had a four-point game on Sunday. 

Team Sonnet won only one game, but their performance on Sunday against Team adidas propelled them in the standings so that they ended up in second place. Abby Roque had a dominant weekend, and scored two goals in that game. The Jenner-Roque-Cogan line was downright terrifying:

Team adidas struggled all weekend, but ultimately ended up with the same 2-2-0-1 record as team Sonnet. They are currently in their place because Team Sonnet won their head-to-head game. After a strong showing in Montreal, Team Scotiabank finds itself at the bottom of the table with a 2-3-0 record. The games ranged from fast and high-scoring to physical and close, with something for everyone. The next Dream Gap Tour stop will be in Pittsburgh on November 26 and 27. 

On the NCAA front, check out this feature by Nicole Haase featuring Grant Salzano.

Interview with PHF Commissioner Reagan Carey

PHF Commissioner Reagan Carey was in Boston this past weekend for PHF opening weekend. I caught up with Carey this week to get her thoughts on the league’s present and future.

Question: So I heard you were in Boston this past weekend as the season began. What did you think of the atmosphere?

Reagan Carey: It was great, a ton of energy, the place was packed, we had the opportunity to reward the fans by celebrating the championship from last year and kick off the new season with a strong game. There were a range of fans too, which I like to see. After the game, I had ten to twelve year olds telling me that they were season ticket holders.

Question: What are some things this season that you’re excited for the fans to see?

Reagan Carey: Everything. I’m sure you saw some of the games…just how ready and prepared these players are, they were fast games for opening weekend. To know that’s only week one, and we’ll get more as the season goes on, from a fan standpoint the product and the quality of the hockey is exciting. From an off-the-ice standpoint, we’re focused on being able to tell more of the players’ stories, and share the culture within the teams a bit more, and show the quality of character we have around the league.

Question: This year there are more and more players coming from outside North America to compete in the PHF. What is it about the league that you think has contributed to this shift?

Reagan Carey: Well, I think the women’s game has been working together and coordinating for decades on how to grow and make sure we’re developing globally. The more the leadership with the national teams get involved, the more opportunities are provided, being able to share best practices and support of each other when we’re not competing on the ice. We’ve seen that growth at the international competitions too, with World Championships and certainly at the Olympic Games, at the U18 level as well, the level of competition. Part of it is just the nature of women’s hockey, but also from a PHF standpoint, certainly the leadership with have involved now, some of the newer leadership, especially looking at Mel Davidson, Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker—there’s a lot of player relations work and different experiences at the international level that gives us the ability to explain the opportunity of the PHF at an international level. Being a part of the global game is important to us, and I think in addition to making the league better, we’ll see the reflection of the benefits in international tournaments as well.

Question: I know that over the past year there was some focus on teams seeking new and private ownership. As of today, are there still teams seeking that level of ownership? What does that process look like?

Reagan Carey: Well, I think we’re a growing league so there’s always a focus on who are the right people to be involved. There are a lot of people raising their hands and inquiring about supporting the league and it’s an ongoing effort to vet that process and look for those that are going to help drive the league forward. Overall, we’re welcoming those conversations and identifying the right people, the right groups who are in it for the right reasons. Conversations like that continue to go on, and we’re obviously proud to welcome Montreal in, and continuing to look at what’s in the future on that front. There are a lot of people we’re talking to on that front.

Question: I’m sure you’ve probably seen the Yates report and some of the discussion surrounding abuse of players in the NWSL by staff and coaches. Does the PHF have a plan or system in place that allows players to report their experiences in the event that anything similar occurs?

Reagan Carey: Absolutely. Just last week we prioritized this in our league gathering and had a town hall on this topic to share all the things we’ve been working on this summer. We’re bringing in a lot of training, and we have partnered with a group that will help us with secure and anonymous reporting to make sure there is an opportunity for players and staff to voice any concerns and have them addressed immediately. From background checks to proper training, we know it’s going to be ongoing. We don’t want to be a league that checks a box once a season— it’s part of our commitment to the league to do this on a regular basis. It’s at a very strong level of priority for us and we think that ultimately, if everyone feels included and positive and safe in their work environment, the sky’s the limit for where the league can go.

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Written by Eleni Demestihas