PWHPA purchases PHF — Future full of uncertainty — Must-click women’s hockey links

The IX: Hockey Friday with The Ice Garden, June 30, 2023

The Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) has ceased to exist in the form we know it as.

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Angelica Rodriguez with The Ice Garden here and, as I was putting the final touches on this newsletter, Jeff Marek of Sportsnet dropped the bombshell some of us hoped for and many more of us were completely shocked by: Billie Jean King Enterprises and the Mark Walter Group, who comprise the ownership of the PWHPA, have purchased the PHF

At the time the news dropped, the players were unaware and found out with the rest of us. Immediately, Twitter flooded with confusion and excitement — excitement that turned into anxiety and then anger as developments indicated that every PHF player’s contract would be voided (which can be construed as normal) and PWHPA players would be given first priority, despite the PHF supposedly being the “foundation” for the new entity (which is not normal, or at least should not be). 

So much is unknown at this time, and much has been reported already — none of it being fair or beneficial to the 120-plus players at so many different points in their professional careers. Those who have uprooted their lives, signed for two seasons, pinned down day jobs and made plans for their visas and let their families know how awesome of an opportunity this was going to be. Those who thought their professional futures were set are now reportedly going to be pushed into fewer roster spots, forced to compete with players on national teams who are already familiar to coaches and GMs. Forced to once again face an uncertain fate. 

That’s to say nothing about the coaches, GMs, social media managers, equipment managers, athletic trainers and other staff who now have no clue if they have jobs in this sport anymore. People who have changed the standard for what a pro women’s hockey team looks like and how it interacts with the media and with fans, are now stranded. 

There’s a lot that can be said about what this means for the “level” of women’s hockey competition, but what I will say is this: the players and staff who comprised the PHF deserved so much better. They deserved transparency, and communication, and respect — all things they have received in varying amounts over the Federation’s eight-year history, and received exactly none of on Thursday evening. No one’s hands are clean here, and everyone is left wondering what the point is at the end of the day if there isn’t more competition and instead… there is less. 

Moreover, there is an element of cruelty to this that cannot be overlooked. Dropping an emergency town hall late on a Thursday, just before a major holiday, stunning all these players who thought things were business as usual; advising them that in fact, they no longer have the contracts they were banking on to lease a home or arrange for transport, and time is running out rapidly for them to find another league to play in; making sure they knew that even though they were on solid footing with the PHF, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association is in charge now, and they’ll remind you who plays second fiddle. In essence, players and agents demanding better contract terms also seemed to have this handed to them as a sort of punishment, a move that reeks of union busting on the PHF’s part (and if so, what delicious irony that the PW is now the one calling the shots). Now, they may even be forced into a CBA they didn’t even get to vote on.

A movement that supposedly valued labor is doing none of that with those who aren’t on “their side” of the fence. And a league that trumpeted so much growth and positivity just let its players down in the worst way. All of this feels like the exact opposite of growing the game, instead turning into some sort of rigged chess board where all the pawns — the players — have been unceremoniously dumped from the board. That is more of a slap in the face to me than any normal merger could ever have been, because it shows those at the top for what they truly are: a bunch of hypocrites playing a game those on the ice could not have cared less about.

Bits and bobs

Not sure any of this matters anymore but I already wrote this entire newsletter before the announcement

The Whitecaps were the busiest team this past week, signing two players — introducing rookie Paetyn Levis out of Ohio State, and bringing back ROY contender Natalie Snodgrass. Both are on two-year deals, and all of a sudden the Whitecaps are looking like a team with quite some depth in the forward corps for the foreseeable future. I’m especially excited to see what Levis can do, after a huge career with the Buckeyes culminating in a NCAA Championship run last season (where they narrowly lost to the University of Wisconsin). 

Toronto also brought back a returner in Emma Woods, signing her to a one-year deal. No. 67 played a huge part in the offense last season for the Six, going almost one point per game (10 G, 13 A) and being the overtime hero in the Isobel Cup semis against Connecticut to clinch their first-ever postseason win.  

Meanwhile, the Beauts added to their defensive corps with the signing of Northeastern alumna Lauren MacInnis. MacInnis isn’t a huge scorer, but she looks to do well on the defensive end of the puck, which is good for a team with the worst goal differential in the league (but again, not a lot of that was on-ice personnel-related). 

Ian Kennedy penned this list of potential future venues for women’s pro hockey, worth a look. One note from a longtime Buffalo reporter: the Beauts did in fact play at HarborCenter’s KeyBank Rink for the first three seasons of theirs and the PHF’s existence, including for the season and a half that they were under Pegula Sports & Entertainment ownership. Since the Pegulas sold the Beauts back to the league, however, they have not exactly been welcomed back (but their mascot and other branded stuff is apparently somewhere in the building). Also, while Mattamy would be a lot of fun, parking there is an absolute nightmare. Just saying. (Also also, I beg for better editing.)

Check out this feature on Taylor Baker by Elias Laradi of Black Rosie Media, which dives into her play for Team Hungary and what she brings to a Montreal squad that had up to this point shown a lot of potential to set the league on fire in the coming season.

Finally, I have no problem sharing my own piece at TIG about women’s hockey and its relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. As the new league formed of the detritus of the PHF and PWHPA begins its journey, it can’t be ignored that there are still transphobic board members in the PW. Not only is there no actual proof that the buyout is contributing to the growth of women’s hockey, but we have likely seen the last evolution of any kind of trans and nonbinary inclusion. Future, indeed.

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Written by The Ice Garden