Five at The IX: Ranked Edition — Who would have rocked the PWHL?

The IX: Hockey Friday with The Ice Garden, March 1, 2024

Over at The Ice Garden, we have a lot of fun conversations amongst ourselves. Some of them are just fun and fresh and happy; some are created solely to break our own hearts (at least, that’s what it feels like). Imagine my absolute despair when faced with the question, “What are your top players no longer playing whom you think would have killed it in the PWHL?” Because what a QUESTION, am I right? Tear my heart out, stomp on it, graffiti it and set it on fire. So many names come to mind — names from the distant and not-so-distant past alike. And now, I’m sure, they’ve come to your mind as well, and now you’re tearing up and reminiscing and I’m Enemy No. 1 in your eyes. (It’s fine. Wouldn’t be the first time.)

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So with that said if I, Angelica Rodriguez, had to think about it, now so do you. Here’s a list (compiled by myself, with help from some TIG staff) of players who would have slayed the PWHL, in my opinion. These are in no particular order aside from the order of how much they hurt me to write. Enjoy.

Brianna Decker: Siiiiigh. If only she had been able to stay healthy. Decker’s speed, hustle and scoring ability have earned her a vaunted spot in U.S. hockey history, in addition to an NCAA championship, a Patty Kazmaier Award and three Olympic medals. Imagine the absolute menace she would have been on PWHL Boston alongside some of her USA teammates. 

Kelley Steadman: She operated on another freakin’ level when it came to her time in the NWHL (as the PHF was then named). The number of points she scored in just 18 actual games played is kind of mind-boggling to think about and, in a low-scoring league like this one, seeing her hustle and really test these goalies would be such a treat. 

Florence Schelling: Best goalie in Swiss women’s hockey history? Likely. Schelling was a huge part of Switzerland’s come-up in the 2010s, including their best-ever Olympic finish (a bronze medal at Sochi in 2014). In a league full of immensely talented netminders, it only pains me to think of whom we’d have to have lost to make room for her. 

Jonna Albers: When Albers retired ahead of the inaugural puck drop, it was a stab to the gut. Could you imagine her speed alongside Taylor Heise, Grace Zumwinkle and Kendall Coyne Schofield in Minnesota, especially during the playoffs (where she shined)? Yeah. Heartbreaker.

Rebecca Johnston: Johnston has long been over a point-per-game player and an incredible playmaker, and I know she would have done much of the same on any of these PWHL teams. She shines in practically any situation you put her in, and I know she would give players like Alex Carpenter a run for their money in the points race.


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Honorable Mentions

Sydney Baldwin: My teammate at TIG and Around the Rink co-host Allie Morse wanted me to include Baldwin for her smarts on both sides of the puck. With defensive smarts a must on every team, I think she would have been a great option for some depth, as well as a good player to have in transition (even if not a huge point scorer).

Claudia Kepler: This is a bit of a deep cut and an outlier. Kepler isn’t officially retired, at least not in that I’ve seen, but she went undrafted and didn’t seem to get any PWHL camp invites. Her usage on the Buffalo Beauts (PHF) was likely a big reason for this; while she excelled and made the most of every shift, her ice time was dramatically cut throughout the season for little to no reason. Still, she’s one of the strongest, most accurate shooters I’ve seen in my life, and I would weep for anyone on the receiving end of a check along the boards by her. 

Links

If you haven’t yet gotten the full idea of the PWHL playoff format and next year’s draft information, check out their press release on the matter here — and let me know what your favorite aspect of it is. I kind of like the idea that the team that does the best of the worst gets the first overall pick in next season’s draft as a way to curtail tanking, to be honest.

TIG and The IX alumna Eleni Demestihas is one of the featured agents profiled in the Toronto Star for a piece on the evolving landscape of professional women’s hockey and the representation that goes with it. 

Karissa Donkin over at CBC wrote an incredible piece on superfan Debbie Harrison, who at the age of 64 has been watching the PWHL’s inaugural season unfold and wearing some amazing outfits in the process. Her dedication, as she travels two hours to watch PWHL Toronto play, is absolutely admirable.

Also by CBC, over on their YouTube channel, is a heartfelt conversation between Saroya Tinker and Sarah Nurse to wrap up Black History Month. Nurse and Tinker answer some big questions and have some amazing memories together, which is really fun to watch. The video is about 13 minutes, so perfect for your lunch break.


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The Athletic also has a really great feature on Nurse and her profile as one of the most recognizable faces in women’s hockey at this point, if you have the means to read. 

For the college crowd, conference quarters are underway. Hockey East has its own preview of the opening round (which took place Wednesday) up at The Ice Garden by our very own Emma Sullivan. I also have a preview of this weekend’s ECAC Hockey action for you to enjoy. 

And finally, mark your calendars for March 9 if you love Team USA. NHL Network will be airing a multi-part docuseries mapping out the road to this year’s Worlds in Utica, New York (just a few hours away from yours truly), to conclude April 20. The trailer is already out and linked in the release. 

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Written by The Ice Garden