PHF makes history and uses All-Star Showcase to look toward hockey’s future

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By Mikayla Guarasci

When the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) players arrived at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC) on Sunday for morning skate ahead of the all-star game, The Toronto Leaside Wildcats youth girl’s hockey team was running an early morning practice. 

The future of their league was right in front of them.

Team USA was the first to hit the ice for the morning skate and when they did, the Wildcat girls came out of the dressing room and gathered by the glass. They watched in awe as the professional athletes began their skate. There was something special about the next generation of women’s hockey players skating on the same ice as the best PHF players just minutes before. 

“As the league continues to grow, that’s who we are doing it for,” said Madison Packer, captain of Team USA and the Metropolitan Riveters. “It’s fun to interact with them and show them a little bit of what we’re about and it’s always important to give back. Someone at some point did those things for us so it’s part of our job and it’s a lot of fun.”

The 2023 PHF All-Star Showcase was hosted by the Toronto Six at the MAC. This was the first time the event was hosted outside of the U.S. The 2022 event was set to be held in Toronto but was relocated to Buffalo due to pandemic restrictions. This was also the first professional hockey all-star event to take place at the MAC since the 1968 NHL All-Star Game hosted by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I’ve got my two kids here with me, so to share this with them is awesome”

The league added Toronto—their first Canadian team—in 2020 and expanded to Montreal before the start of the current season. 

This year’s event included three teams: Team Canada, Team USA and Team World. Each team featured 15 players, made up of the 45 players selected as all-stars.

The format was a three-team round-robin with the top two teams playing in the final game.   

Team Canada went 2-1 on the day, avenging their round-robin loss to Team World in the final.

Burford, Ont.’s Emma Woods was excited to have the event hosted by her team. The player welcomed family and friends to the event.

“To be able to host an event here is awesome, especially in the heart of downtown. I know everyone is excited to come back here,” said Woods. “We have a good community and fan base in Toronto.” 

Expansion to Canada is part of what PHF Commissioner Reagan Carey refers to as the beginning of “the new era of the PHF.” 

“[To] just set a new tone for where we want to be and also how quickly we want to get there,” said Carey. “It means a lot of resources financially for players and otherwise, with medical benefits. It means that we are building a community of people that we want to have along for a long ride with us on this journey.”

As Carey mentioned, the PHF is looking to be a stable option for the player’s livelihoods. Since 2021, the PHF has raised team salary caps from $300,000 to $750,000 USD with benefits. The salary cap will double to $1.5 million per team for the 2023-24 season. 

The game also marked Packers’ record-breaking sixth all-star appearance. Packer and the other captains, Kaleigh Fratkin (Canada) and Kateřina Mrázová (World), were selected by a team vote. 

“I’ve got my two kids here with me, so to share this with them is awesome,” said Packer. “It really is my favourite weekend every year, just to get together with all of the players from across the league.”

Shiann Darkangelo, Taylor Girard and Sydney Brodt were USA’s goal-scorers during the round-robin. The team went 0-2 but kept the games close, losing to Canada 2-1 in a shootout and 3-2 to World.

But it was Team World who stole the show with what is now known as the unicorn goal celebration. All the members of the team would hold their stick vertically on top of their helmet while skating by the bench after the goal. Toronto Six and Team World forward Leah Lum said it originated with the Czech players and was quickly adopted by the team as their goal celebration. 

By the end of the event, the crowd had joined in on the celebration, using their noise makers as hockey sticks on their heads.

The celebration was put to good use as Fanni Gasparics of the Metropolitan Riveters recorded a hat trick in World’s game against the USA and added a fourth goal in the final against Canada. She also made a huge block against the USA to help secure the win and a berth in the finals.

“As the league continues to grow, that’s who we are doing it for”

Beyond the game itself, the league made an effort to engage with the female hockey programs in the community. They hosted skill development clinics for local teams with the all-stars and invited youth players to line up with the pros during roster introductions.

“We always talk about wanting to be a league that honours past pioneers and inspires the future by what we do in this moment,” said Carey. “For us to be able to be here and for these young girls to see this, all of us growing up playing hockey never had that opportunity. Every single person involved with the PHF really understands how meaningful and important that is.”

The players embrace their role as someone for the next generation to look up to. 

Buffalo Beauts forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis coaches with the Brampton Canadettes organization, and Brittany Howard of the Toronto Six works with the North York Storm. During the event, members of the hockey teams in attendance visited the all-stars. 

Sunday’s event was capped by Team Canada’s Loren Gabel receiving 2023 all-star game MVP honour after scoring three goals and an assist in the event. Her chemistry with former teammate Howard was a highlight of the night. 

Gabel knows what it’s like to be in the shoes and skates of those young girls watching.

“I was one of them once. Just giving back to the community is truly amazing,” said Gabel.

She shared that her motto is “just continue to challenge yourself and chase your dreams” and added how great it was to see so many young girls at the event.

The PHF all-star weekend was a success in Toronto, not only because of the on-ice activities but due to its impact on the youth hockey community. The girls in attendance will never forget watching their hockey heroes and seeing the possibilities of what they can achieve. 

If you can see it, you can be it and many young Toronto athletes saw professional women’s hockey right before their eyes. 

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