PWHL retirement announcements — Pro hockey headlines

The IX: Hockey Friday with The Ice Garden, June 21, 2024

We are at the eve of a new season in the PWHL, set to begin before we know it. With that, and with a new draft class, new eval camps and new opportunities elsewhere… naturally, there will come a new crop of retirement announcements. We’ve already seen a handful at this point, with one already to be expected as of this March, but it makes it no easier to witness athletes in their prime take a step back from their professional hockey careers. In this week’s Hockey Friday, we take a look at who we will be missing once the puck drops on the league’s second season.

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Brittany Howard: The PWHL Toronto forward has seen ice time in virtually every pro women’s league over the past five seasons, as well as the NCAA where she was a standout for Robert Morris University. She made the biggest impact for the Toronto Six (PHF), with 16 goals and 26 points in 20 games played. Her speed, deadly shot and all-around skill made her a threat regardless of where she ended up, but she struggled to find a consistent footing with PWHL Toronto. Still, I will miss seeing her hustle in Toronto blue and white and wish her luck on her coaching career with the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Organization. 

Melodie Daoust: Daoust is a bit of an outlier on this list, as she’s the oldest retiring player thus far at 32. Still, the resume she’s built and the legacy she’s leaving behind cannot be understated — both as a longtime member of Team Canada and a reserve member on the inaugural PWHL Montreal squad. Unfortunately, her reasons for leaving pro hockey are probably not as uncommon: simply put, she had to make a choice between her playing career and her personal life, as so many who weren’t as lucky with their contracts or draft positions have had to do. 

Erica Howe: It was a bit of a surprise to see Howe on the roster at the start of the season, I have to admit – but Howe, 32, likely provided excellent mentorship for Kristen Campbell in the backup goaltending role. Moreover, she’s proven herself a winner with both an NCAA championship (2014 with Clarkson) and a Clarkson Cup (2018 with the Brampton-Markham Thunder, where she earned playoff MVP with her play). Goaltenders are arguably the most jobbed of all positions when it comes to earning a spot on a PWHL roster, so I can see this season bearing witness to a whole lot of turnover where the net is concerned, and a lot of talented goalies having to figure out a new move.

Brittyn Fleming: The 25-year-old retires with a Walter Cup and two pro seasons under her belt, one with PWHL Minnesota and the other with the PHF’s Minnesota Whitecaps — after five years at Minnesota State. Along with the other Minnesota player on this list, she’s one of quite a few pro players who have strong ties to the area. That said, there are a lot of players like this — depth players who can fill a needed role outside of the top six prototype — who I fear will find it more difficult to find a place long-term in the PWHL. It just goes to show how far we still have to go in terms of appreciating depth players, as well as with expansion of the PWHL to accommodate all types. 

Jessica Healey: Heals’s locker room presence is probably one of the best and most well-known things about her, and that along with her scrappy play and good offensive instincts as a defender will be greatly missed. Still, her decision to step back and focus on coaching in her hometown of Edmonton, Alberta isn’t completely out of left field; she announced her engagement a year ago and is heavily involved in both hockey and yoga instruction, so making the choice to focus on home and family makes a lot of sense. 

Sophia Kunin: The most recent announcement on this list, Kunin played just one season of true pro hockey though she spent four seasons with the PWHPA previously. A solid depth player with lots of size, strength and pedigree (having grown up in Minnesota and captained at Wisconsin), she retires a champion alongside Fleming.

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Women’s hockey links

Our friend Sally Hoerr has a great piece on New Zealand standout Dr. Helen Murray, who has been doing some incredible research on CTE and neurodegenerative diseases while also playing hockey. It’s a testament to the range of athletes within women’s hockey — so many players are also teachers, doctors, scientists, engineers, you name it. 

Mike and I also reported on the IIHF Female Player of the Year vote. While Natalie Spooner ultimately nabbed the prize for her MVP-clinching performance with PWHL Toronto, each of us went a slightly different route with our voting. Mike decided on PWHL New York and Team USA veteran Alex Carpenter, while I decided Finnish blueliner Jenni Hiirikoski was most worthy of the honor. Check out our reasoning for each. 

Last link from The Ice Garden (TIG), I promise — we really love giving newer writers a chance to shine, and we were able to do that here with student writer Meira Waldstreicher, who wrote something up on the PWHL’s ability to reach fans everywhere. It’s definitely worth a read, so check it out. 

On the non-TIG front, Ian at The Hockey News has a piece on Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe’s decision to support a smaller arena proposal to replace TD Place, where PWHL Ottawa broke and set new attendance records. Personally, I don’t know how we have a problem reconciling up-to-date facilities with sufficient seating in 2024, but that’s just me. 

The Victory Press has been, along with us, dropping their season reviews and draft grades for each PWHL team. Most recently, Melissa Burgess has PWHL Boston’s draft and season recaps, and Nicole Haase followed right behind with New York’s draft recap, so check those out if you haven’t already.

Finally, it’s back, folks — #WHKYHAC will be held Aug. 17 and 18, with the return of The Viz Launchpad competition! I’m excited for this, and hopefully at some point I’ll finally be able to join. As someone who wants to be a data nerd but for some reason is wildly intimidated, I know Carlie and Company will present it in a way that makes me feel welcome. 

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Written by The Ice Garden