By Abigail Dove
Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) will see a professional sports team at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC). The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) announced the league will consist of six teams, including a team in Toronto.
The PWHL is the first women’s hockey league with a collective bargaining agreement, which provides more certainty for the players involved. Per the agreement, the PWHL’s salary ranges from $35,000 to $80,000. Teams will carry a minimum of six contracts that pay $80,000 annually over three years. In comparison, the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF)—a former women’s hockey league—salary ranged from $13,500 to $80,000.
Toronto’s team will play their home games out of the MAC, confirmed by TMU director of sports operations Nick Asquini in an email to The Eyeopener. The regular season is set to begin in January 2024, with teams representing Minnesota, New York, Boston, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto.
While the schedule is still uncertain, the effects of this news are making its impact on students, staff and athletes.
TMU Bold women’s hockey head coach Lisa Haley has been a part of the program since the team became a full-fledged varsity program in 2011. Haley said the MAC has hosted many exciting events, such as the PHF All-Star Game earlier this year. But, seeing a PWHL hockey team play in the university’s rink is exciting.
“For our players [on the women’s team], our men’s team, all the athletes, to see professional sports being played within the [MAC] is just a special opportunity,” said Haley.
Over the years, women’s hockey has had many professional leagues. However, there hasn’t been much success. In 2019, the Canadian Women’s Hockey (CWHL) collapsed and folded after only existing for five years. The league cited an unsustainable business model for the collapse as they were competing against the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL)—later renamed the PHF.
At the time, the growing concerns for the state of professional women’s hockey resulted in the “#OneLeague” movement across social media. However, following the dissolution of the CWHL, over 200 players—many of them being top players—from both leagues released a joint statement citing their dissatisfaction with the operation of both leagues as they weren’t able to make a livable salary from playing.
As a result, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA)—a non-profit organization—was formed in May 2019 to push for financial and health benefits in a sustainable women’s hockey league. With the top players boycotting the NWHL, the teams were left to sign new players who weren’t on prior rosters.
After years of discussion surrounding women’s hockey, the PHF was bought out and dissolved in July 2023 to create the PWHL, involving the top players from North America who were in the PWHPA.
Now, top players such as Marie-Philip Poulin, Hilary Knight, Sarah Nurse and many others will be involved in a professional league for the first time in nearly five years.
Jeff Marek, the host of The Jeff Marek Show and co-host of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast on Sportsnet, wants to positively impact the wider perception of women’s hockey.
“I want people to look at me, see someone on television–who is a man—and see how he is talking about the women’s game exactly how he talks about the men’s game,” he said in an interview with The Eye.
For first-year TMU women’s hockey forward Neely Van Volsen, this is an opportunity to look up to PWHL players. “To have these role models like Natalie Spooner and Emma Maltais. To know they’re going to be around the rink [and] we’re skating on the same ice surface, it’s pretty cool,” said Van Volsen.
With Toronto’s PWHL team making the MAC its home, it provides an opportunity for students to watch professional sports at the facility and create connections with industry professionals.
TMU has several connections to the league outside of the venue as well. Past staff members have found roles across the PWHL organizations. Former women’s hockey assistant coach Haley Irwin will be an assistant coach with the Ottawa franchise, while former women’s hockey player Olivia Giardetti will serve as the team’s manager of services. Meanwhile, former Bold women’s hockey manager of operations Alana Goulden will now work as a hockey operations manager with Toronto’s team. Kori Cheverie, former men’s hockey assistant coach, will serve as the head coach for Montreal.
Taking a broader look, the league has served as an inspiration for the future of women’s hockey, impacting non-hockey players as well.
“The PWHL is inspiring and gives me hope in how [women] are being perceived in sports and that [it] is changing for the better,” said first-year sport media student Tessa Di Matteo.
Van Volsen has hopes that the news of PWHL playing at the MAC will bring more fan engagement to the TMU Bold women’s hockey team games.
Kerrin Kerr, a first-year TMU women’s hockey forward, echoes this sentiment, emphasizing the significance of having inspiring role models and the opportunities that the PWHL brings.
“I think it’s really inspiring to young women and it unlocks a lot of opportunities. It’s really great how it’s all turning out,” said Kerr.
While the positive impact on the women’s hockey community is undeniable, there will be challenges that the PWHL will have to overcome.
Yet, as the league unfolds, there’s hope that it will foster greater engagement within the women’s hockey community. The PWHL represents a step forward in changing perceptions and providing hope for the future of female athletes in sports.
“[To] just keep building [and] don’t get frustrated,” said Marek on what his message to the PWHL would be. “Don’t listen to the haters about all of it.”
With files from Ilyas Hussein and Daniella Lopez