Likely locations for PWHL teams and Eleni’s picks — NCAA conference tournament updates

The IX: Hockey Friday with Eleni Demestihas, March 3, 2023

Happy Friday, everyone! 

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If you’ve been following women’s hockey for a bit, you know that SB Nation’s women’s hockey blog was recently axed along with most of its other hockey sites. The Ice Garden and its team have relaunched the site independently. Some articles will be behind paywalls, but many will still be free. You can find the new site at this link for now, although the old domain will be back soon enough.

One specific article I recommend is Mike Murphy’s recap of the PWHPA league that appears poised for next fall.

While I personally think “Professional Women’s Hockey League” is kind of a lame name, the fact is nobody’s going to think of the league as anything other than the PWHL, which will work just fine. One thing we know is that four of the teams will be in the U.S. and two will be in Canada.

This week, I’m going to give you my “best guess” locations for PWHL teams and my wishlist for where I would put them if I was in charge (and my reasons).

Best guesses for PWHL teams

The four U.S. markets for PWHL teams will likely be Pittsburgh; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia.

All four cities have hosted PWHPA events. It may surprise you not to see Minnesota on this list, but the PWHPA has not really made inroads into that market, and the Whitecaps have been in the area for decades. There are NHL teams in each of the above markets that have shown they’re happy to support, at least in some minor way, a women’s team or program.

Beyond their history with the PWHPA, Philly and Pittsburgh will provide an immediate rivalry that PWHL fans and players will love. Additionally, Philly is close enough to New Jersey and New York City for players from or working in or around those metro areas to commute, if the pay structure doesn’t support a living wage across the board (which we don’t know yet). 

Chicago not only has been a location for PWHPA events, but also has the added bonus of a direct tie with Kendall Coyne-Schofield being employed as a development coach for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. There’s a thriving girls’ hockey scene in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, so the Midwest really needs more than just the Whitecaps, and Chicago is an obvious fit.

Washington is another no-brainer to me — the PWHPA has played there before and will play there again this month, and the NHL’s Capitals and the women’s sports teams (the WNBA’s Mystics and the NWSL’s Spirit) have shown interest in the sport and in collaboration. It’s an attractive destination for players and a city where hockey continues to grow at a rapid pace. If you’re looking to grow the game, Washington is a great U.S. market to start with. 

The PWHL wouldn’t be in competition with a PHF team in any of these locations, which is notable to me. I doubt that you’d get the PWHPA to state one way or another whether it wants to compete directly with the PHF, but no matter the reason, I don’t expect an overlap in the U.S. For one thing, the PWHPA has never played in Boston, and ice is scarce and expensive there. The closest it got was the middle of suburban New Hampshire, which would be a bad place for a professional sports team in any league (albeit a great place for Boston metro area junior hockey, both boys’ and girls’). Although many PWHPA players are from Minnesota or have played there, as I said before, the PWHPA itself hasn’t had much of a presence beyond having a “hub” that practiced there. The NHL’s Wild have not really collaborated with them, and direct competition with the Whitecaps would surprise me when the rest of the Midwest lacks a professional women’s hockey presence. 

The PWHPA did play in New York City, but there would be the same problems as in Boston, just compounded: Ice is even rarer and more expensive in New York City and, to some extent, New Jersey. It has never played in Connecticut and won’t put a team there. I suppose it’s possible that it’d consider putting a team in Buffalo, but I doubt it unless the Pegulas are back on the scene, and I doubt that even more because they have a lot going on professionally and personally that would make this kind of investment very surprising. The PWHPA has also never played in Buffalo, so it isn’t on my list. 

We’ll see how close I am to being correct. I haven’t heard anything definitively about locations, but from what I have heard, I think Pittsburgh and Chicago are pretty clear locks. 

If I were the PWHL commissioner

In a universe where I could pick any U.S. cities for PWHL teams with no restrictions, here’s what I would do:

Chicago, still, for all the reasons I mentioned above. But also, its NHL team has been awful both on and off the ice, and there’s a serious niche of hockey fans in and around Chicago who would really embrace a well-marketed alternative they can feel good about. Taking advantage of that would be really smart. Chicago Hockey need not be synonymous with an organization that covered up the homophobic sexual abuse of a player and retains a racist caricature on their jerseys and as their name. Chicago deserves better than that, and the PWHL could provide it.

Washington, still, for all the reasons I mentioned above. Additionally, though, I see it as sort of a gateway market for moving south. Ideally, the south and Midwest/west is where I would focus expansion of the league and the sport.

St. Louis: The PWHPA played in St. Louis in 2021, and though this may seem random, I think it’s a great fit. The hockey fan base in St. Louis is passionate and loyal; the NHL team is likely to be happy to provide some support and cross-marketing; and Lindenwood University is the alma mater of a goaltender you might know, Nicole Hensley. Plus, if you’re putting teams in Chicago and Washington, St. Louis is not a bad option geographically.

Nashville: The PHF had an All-Star weekend in Nashville a few years back, and it was amazing. The NHL’s Predators were great hosts, but I don’t see the PHF expanding that far south when it has so much of the Midwest to cover so that Minnesota isn’t on its own. The sport is growing rapidly across the American south and Nashville is an extremely fun city to live in — what’s not to love? It also works geographically with the other three U.S. teams in this scenario.

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PHF updates

The PHF still has yet to announce the location for its championship weekend at the end of this month. I don’t have much to say about that, other than what I’ve said before: It’s poor form, and it’s hurting the league and the sport. 

We enter the second-to-last weekend of regular-season PHF games with the Toronto Six in first place, two points ahead of the Boston Pride. Boston will face the Minnesota Whitecaps this weekend, while Toronto has a bye week, so I’d expect them to flip places once again. The Whitecaps have not won a game since Feb. 6, and I don’t see them surviving the insanely high-octane Pride offense without goalie Amanda Leveille, who is on long-term injury reserve.

NCAA updates 

The Hockey East championship is set for Saturday and will be a matchup between top-seeded Northeastern University and No. 3 Providence College, which knocked out No. 2 Vermont to advance. 

The WCHA semifinals are set for Friday: 

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 UMD

No. 2 Minnesota vs. No. 3 Wisconsin

The WCHA championship will be on Saturday between the winners of those games. 

The ECAC semifinals are set for Friday:

No. 4 Clarkson vs. No. 1 Yale

No. 3 Quinnipiac vs. No. 2 Colgate

The ECAC championship will be on Saturday between the winners of those games. 

The NEWHA semifinals were on March 1. LIU defeated Franklin Pierce 2-1 in overtime and St. Anselm beat Stonehill 4-2 to advance. LIU and St. Anselm will face off on Saturday in the NEWHA championship. 

The CHA championship will also be on Saturday between No. 1 Penn State and No. 2 Mercyhurst. To advance, Penn State swept No. 4 Lindenwood in a two-game series while Mercyhurst swept No. 3 Syracuse.

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Written by Eleni Demestihas