The PWHPA new-look Dream Gap Tour — Whale watching — Must-click women’s hockey links

The IX: Hockey Friday with Eleni Demastihas, Aug. 19, 2022

This week we got a major announcement on the PWHPA front, learned the apparent name of the Montreal PHF team, got a handful of PHF signings, and got the rosters for Hockey Canada and USA Hockey’s national teams. Just a bit busy!

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(Welcome to Hockey Friday! Note: Lela Moore is off this week. We’ll be back in your inboxes for Soccer Monday.)

On the PHF signing front, the Connecticut Whale are the story of the week. 

The Whale re-signed veteran forward Janine Weber. I haven’t been shy about my opinion that Weber is a vastly underrated talent in this league, a versatile player who makes everyone around her better and is almost impossible to knock off the puck. The Whale also added former Buffalo Beaut defender Emma Keenan, who will comfortable fill the stay-at-home, physical role left behind by Taylor Marchin, now with the Metropolitan Riveters. 

The Whale continued their strong week by signing two former Whale players in Meeri Räisänen and Kateřina Mrázová. Räisänen had an impressive season in net for the Whale in 2018-2019 behind a much shallower team than the one Colton Orr has put together this offseason. I would not be shocked to see her nab the starting spot from Abbie Ives— her calm style of play is a great fit for this Whale team— but I also wouldn’t be shocked to see Orr go with a true 1a 1b tandem, either. Mrázová had twelve points in sixteen games that very same Whale season, and this time around her supporting cast includes the likes of flashy rookies like Caitrin Lonergan and All-Star forwards like Kennedy Marchment and Taylor Girard. In short, the Whale are becoming increasingly hard to bet against. 

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Per a tweet from Josh Gerben on Thursday evening, it appears that we know the name of the PHF’s Montreal team: the Montreal Force. 

As I mentioned on Twitter, when these types of filings are made, there usually isn’t color in them. With that being said, I wouldn’t expect the logo on jerseys to be greyscale at the end of the day. Here’s something fun for you to see what some color options might look like…

Now for the big PWHPA announcement: no league this season. Instead, a continuation and slight shift in the existing Dream Gap Tour system they’ve run for the past few seasons. 

This year, there will only be four teams: Team adidas, Team Harvey’s, Team Scotiabank and Team Sonnet, all named for PWHPA sponsors. The teams are not region-specific like they were last year. Instead, PWHPA players will have the option to practice in Boston, Calgary, Minnesota, Montreal and Toronto, and will then be randomly assigned to one of the four teams for each tour stop. That means players often won’t play on teams with the players they practice with, which will lead to lots of new line combinations but definitely presents a chemistry challenge. 

Rosters are reportedly determined through a “player ranking format” that was utilized by an unnamed panel of people with various kinds of experience in the sport. We don’t currently have any more detail on what that format is like, how it was applied, or who specifically is on the panel. That being said, tryouts clearly only form a part of this analysis, because tryouts were held on a weekend that both the Canadian and American national teams were in camp. Many of those players have definitely made rosters without attending tryouts, so there must be other aspects to the analysis. 

The press release also assured us all that they’re still working on “a top tier professional league for the best women in the world,” but mentioned that because they’ve signed NDAs with potential partners they can’t comment further. What I’ve heard is that the potential league is unlikely to be ready to go in 2023, but things certainly change quickly, so we’ll have to see how it shakes out. The Dream Gap Tour begins in October and will run for five weekends, with another new special event added, and a Championship weekend as the players compete for the Secret Cup.

Things that were not in the press release that I have been hearing:

  • Players will all make the same amount of money, but as of right now that amount has not been set. It won’t be set until rosters are set, and players don’t expect to know the figure until September. 
  • Practice is encouraged, but not necessarily required for all players, in those five locations. 
  • Not every geographic location has a full roster’s worth (twenty-five) of players available to practice, which may be one of the reasons for the rotating rosters. 

Now, a quick note on North American national teams. 

The Hockey Canada roster has few surprises on it:

Notably absent are Natalie Spooner (pregnancy), Rebecca Johnston (opted out), Melodie Daoust (opted out), and Jill Saulnier. The most exciting player to keep an eye on, in my opinion, is Victoria Bach. If she can take the roster by storm with Spooner out, she may earn herself a permanent top or middle-six spot on this roster. The talent is absolutely there. The most surprising snub was Loren Gabel, for the second straight tournament. No invitees who are signed to PHF contracts made the roster, including Mikyla Grant-Mentis. 

The USA Hockey roster was similarly uncontroversial. New to the roster are Rory Guilday, a 5’10” defender out of Cornell University, and Hannah Bilka, a speedy forward out of Boston College. With the right linemates, Bilka could really blossom into an offensive force on this team. That being said, I think the space left behind by Dani Cameranesi’s retirement is, at least right now, Jesse Compher’s to lose. 

Finally, I will take a second to plug The Ice Garden’s podcast on the PHF. Yes, I am on this podcast, but so are Dan Rice and Mike Murphy, who are must-follows if you want to keep up with the league. We recently recorded an episode that was a lot of fun. 

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Eleni Demestihas