The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) will open its inaugural season on New Year’s Day.

Toronto will host New York at Mattamy Athletic Centre at 12:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, as the first game of the new league. The other five teams in the league will host their own home openers over the next 12 days, the PWHL announced Tuesday.

  • Montreal @ Ottawa
    • When: 7 p.m. ET, Tuesday, Jan. 2
    • Where: TD Place Arena, Ottawa
  • Minnesota @ Boston
    • When: 7 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Jan. 3
    • Where: Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.
  • Toronto @ New York
    • When: 7 p.m. ET, Friday, Jan. 5
    • Where: Total Mortgage Arena, Bridgeport, Conn.
  • Montreal @ Minnesota
    • When: 3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Jan. 6
    • Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.
  • Boston @ Montreal
    • When: 3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Jan. 13
    • Where: Verdun Auditorium, Montreal

The announcement of the home openers doubled as the announcement of the home arenas, which range from 2,600-seat Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto to 18,000-seat Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

“Giving our athletes the opportunity to step onto the ice to compete in front of our passionate fans has been the driving force of our efforts, and it’s going to be an exciting reality on New Year’s Day,” PWHL Advisory Board member Stan Kasten said in a news release. “It’s time for the best women’s hockey players in the world to lift our game to greater heights.”

The newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) will feature six teams in its inaugural season, three in the U.S. and three in Canada.

The PWHL officially announced its franchise locations in a news conference Tuesday, but the league provided an early reveal via its newly unveiled account on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. The PWHL account follows exactly six other accounts — those of its teams in the New York City area, Boston, Minnesota, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Team names and logos will be revealed later.

In choosing its sites, the PWHL hewed closely to the imprint of the defunct Premier Hockey Federation. Investors in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association bought out the Premier Hockey Federation in June, clearing the way for the PWHL as the singular professional women’s league in North America.

The traveling four-team PWHPA played in showcase events around the U.S. and Canada. The seven-team PHF had franchises in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New York/New Jersey, Minnesota, Montreal and Toronto, five of which are represented in the PWHL.

“We wanted a market that was excited about the women’s game, that had a lot of traditional hockey fans that we thought would support women’s hockey,” said Jayna Hefford, the senior vice president of hockey operations for the PWHL.

The PWHL, which counts with Los Angeles Dodgers owner Mark Walter and tennis legend Billie Jean King are among its primary investors, sought markets that could provide arenas large enough to host games as well as dedicated training facilities for the home teams. Washington, D.C., and London, Ontario, were two other potential sites discussed by the league, the Associated Press reported.

Players will soon find out which of the teams they will call home for the 24-game inaugural season, which is set to begin in January 2024. Each team can sign up to three players during a free-agency window starting on Sept. 1, and then a 15-round draft will follow on Sept. 18 in Toronto. Players from both the PWHPA and PHF, plus NCAA graduates and international players, will have the opportunity to declare for the draft.

Teams will be able to sign additional players after the draft, and each roster will feature 23 players. The CBA lays out a salary range of $35,000 to $80,000 per season, and six players on each team will be signed to three-year contracts of no less than $80,000 per season.

The PHWL Players Association ratified its collective bargaining agreement via a unanimous vote in early July, making it the first union in North American women’s pro sports — and possibly all of pro sports — to have a ratified CBA prior to the start of competition. Ahead of Tuesday’s announcement, Brian Burke signed a multi-year deal as the executive director of the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players Association union, a source told Just Women’s Sports. The executive committee for the union, which includes Brianne Jenner, Hilary Knight, Liz Knox, Sarah Nurse and Kendall Coyne Schofield, supervised the hiring.

Burke, 68, most recently served as the president of hockey operations of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins from 2021 to 2023. He also served as a board member for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, which folded in 2019. He called Tuesday the “most exciting day in the history of women’s hockey.”

The PWHL has received advice from the NHL as it plots out its inaugural season, board member Stan Kasten said. The leagues also plan to collaborate on neutral-site games for PWHL teams, special events such as the outdoor Winter Classic series and more.

“They have been fantastically supportive of us from the first minute. … They understand this is our league and we’re going to have to make our own decisions,” Kasten said.

The new professional women’s hockey league, set to launch in 2024, will reveal the number of teams for its inaugural season as well as the cities those teams will call home in a news conference at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday.

Players are set to meet Monday night ahead of the announcement, a source told Just Women’s Sports.

Investors in the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association bought out the Premier Hockey Federation in June, clearing the way for a singular professional women’s league in North America. The four-team PWHPA played in showcase events around the U.S. and Canada, while the seven-team PHF had franchises in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New York/New Jersey, Minnesota, Montreal and Toronto.

In addition, Brian Burke has been signed to a multi-year deal as the executive director of the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players Association union, a source told Just Women’s Sports. The executive committee for the union, which includes Brianne Jenner, Hilary Knight, Liz Knox, Sarah Nurse and Kendall Coyne Schofield, supervised the hiring.

Burke, 68, most recently served as the president of hockey operations of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins from 2021 to 2023. He also has worked for the Vancouver Canucks, Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames.

The union ratified its collective bargaining agreement via a unanimous vote in early July. It is the first union in North American women’s pro sports — and possibly all of pro sports — to have a ratified CBA prior to the start of competition. The WNBA ratified its first CBA in 1999 ahead of the league’s third season, while the NWSL’s first CBA was finalized in 2022 ahead of the league’s 10th season.

The sale and subsequent shuttering of the Premier Hockey Federation had a seismic impact on women’s hockey — and on PHF players.

Investors in the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association bought out the PHF. While the move cleared the way for a singular professional women’s hockey league in North America, PHF players were left without a home.

More than 120 players already had signed with the PHF for the 2023-24 season, but those contracts have been voided, and the players are not guaranteed a spot in the new league. Many already had started to prepare for the upcoming season, from relocating to their teams’ cities to finding housing, before they learned of the sale Thursday via Zoom call.

Mikyla Grant-Mentis was training on the ice when the news broke. She knew about the scheduled call but expected it to be uneventful, so she counted on teammates to catch her up on the details. Instead, less than five minutes after the start of the meeting, they were texting her to tell her their league was finished.

“I got off the ice and was like, ‘Holy crap, I need to get on this call to see what’s happening,’” Grant-Mentis told SportsNet. “It didn’t really last much longer than that, because I feel like everyone was honestly pretty blindsided and didn’t really have much to say. We didn’t really know what was happening at that point.”

Grant-Mentis already had signed with the Buffalo Beauts for the upcoming season, at a price tag of $100,000.

“The first few days were definitely very tough, because we were expecting to make a certain amount of money next year, have our plans set — pretty much getting ready to move back to Buffalo, for me,” she said. “And then in a very short Zoom call, it was kind of all just torn down.”

Veteran leaders from the PHF have told their fellow players to funnel all media requests to them “until further notice,” according to a message reviewed by Just Women’s Sports. The hope is to ensure “PHF players are unified and consistent with our message across all communication channels.”

A group of 11 players issued a public statement Sunday that expressed optimism about women’s hockey moving forward. But 2021 MVP Grant-Mentis is not one of them.

“I hope this group that was put together is able to benefit us and make waves, so the PHF players are not just left in the dust, so that we are taken care of in this new league,” Grant-Mentis said. “I’m hoping they’ll be able to do something for us in the long run. But, you know, it’s all up in the air. We don’t really know what’s going on.”

Just one year ago, Grant-Mentis signed a historic deal with Buffalo that made her the highest-paid professional women’s hockey player in history. Now, she told Sportsnet, she’ll have to find a part-time job to help pay the bills.

While she’ll join PWHPA and PHF players in vying for roster spots in the new six-team league, there are only so many roster spots to go around. Grant-Mentis should be well-positioned among PHF players, but even if she signs with the new league, she will be taking a pay cut.

Player salaries in the new league will range from $35,000 to $80,000, The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian reported. At least six players on each roster must be signed to deals worth at least $80,000 a year, and no more than nine can be signed to contracts worth $35,000 a year.

“I don’t really have any input, because no one really asked us what we think about it,” Grant-Mentis said. PHF players did not get to vote on the PWHPA’s newly ratified collective bargaining agreement, though they will be able to join the union if they sign with the new league.

“So, we kind of just have to go with what’s going on,” she continued. “And hopefully in a couple of years, we’ll be back up to making $100,000 and everyone being able to survive off the money that they’ll be paid.”

Grant-Mentis also is worried about the friends and teammates who could have a hard time making the new league, saying that people are “kind of missing the whole story.” While the best women’s hockey players will convene in one league, there is a downside for a group of players who “don’t really have a voice,” she said.

“It kind of did ruin a lot of people’s lives in a very quick, 10-minute Zoom call,” she said. “I think people should really see the other side of it. You know, all the people in the PHF that signed contracts were relying on this money, relying on the job for next year. And now there’s a very big (sense of) uncertainty.

“With the limited amount of teams [in the new league], that means not everyone’s going to get a spot. … It sucks. Because a lot of people did put their whole life on pause thinking that we would survive for another five, six years playing hockey, and then start their lives. But that kind of came a little bit quicker than many of us were thinking.”

Last Thursday, PHF players and staff learned that assets of their league had been acquired by the Mark Walter Group ahead of the launch of a new professional women’s hockey league in January 2024. While the PHF portrayed the news as good for the future of women’s hockey, players — whose contracts for the upcoming season are now void — understandably had some questions.

“I think people are having a lot of different, conflicting feelings simultaneously. I think there’s some shock, some anger, some sadness, as well as some hope and optimism and excitement,” PHF Players’ Association (PHFPA) executive director Nicole Corriero told Just Women’s Sports in a phone interview.

Corriero, who got a heads up about the sale from commissioner Reagan Carey last Tuesday, said the players’ association has had internal discussions since the announcement about how to best support players during the transition period.

“The drastic changes that people are going to be having to make in terms of their lifestyle, financial decisions, things like that — along with the uncertainty that’s coupled with it — is really daunting and really challenging,” she said.

Corriero, a former three-time NCAA All-American at Harvard, has led the PHFPA for just over a year. She said the players’ association is committed to ensuring that anyone affected by the sale has an outlet for communication.

“I would say my biggest concerns are the people who were new signees, whether they’re coming out of college or people that are coming overseas,” Corriero said.

“It’s understandable that not everybody is going to get their pom-poms out and be excited, even if there is a lot of positivity, a lot of hope and a lot of optimism for the future.”

While the PHF Players’ Association has not posted anything on its social media channels, on Sunday a group of 11 PHF players representing all seven teams issued a public statement that expressed a message of optimism entering this new era of women’s hockey.

“We are hugely excited to see a unified league that will house all of the best athletes that hockey has to offer and aim to build the strongest league that can stand the test of time,” they wrote.

The players who signed the letter — Jillian Dempsey, Allie Thunstrom, Dominique Kremer, Kacey Bellamy, Kennedy Marchment, Madison Packer, Kaleigh Fratkin, Katerina Mrazova, Sydney Brodt, Ann-Sophie Bettez and Shiann Darkangelo — are among the PHF/NWHL’s most senior veterans.

They are also among the league’s most talented players; 10 of the 11 were named All-Stars in 2023 and all are expected to contend for a spot in the new league. The only non All-Star in the group, Kacey Bellamy, served as PHF scout and player liaison during the 2022-23 season. In April, she announced she was coming out of retirement to sign with the Connecticut Whale.

While some members of the player leadership committee also serve as players’ association representatives, the two groups are separate.

According to Corriero, the players in the leadership committee are “players that the now dissolved league contacted or communicated with to discuss some of the initial news because they can be an initial support system.”

Corriero added: “The leadership committee is not intended to replace the Players’ Association. It has a somewhat different objective in terms of what it’s trying to promote and help to communicate on behalf of the players. It is a separate entity in that it was kind of created in conjunction with the league as a conduit for communication and helping with the transition.”

In a message reviewed by Just Women’s Sports, the player leadership committee asks players to forward any media inquiries or communications regarding the PWHPA, PHF or the new league to a committee email address “until further notice” to ensure “PHF players are unified and consistent with our message across all communication channels.”

Asked how this committee’s goals and mission differ from those of the players’ association, Fratkin wrote: “The Player Leadership Committee and the PHFPA are complementary resources for players who played in the PHF. This is not a faction with separate goals. Our purpose is to be an added liaison for players during this transition.”

The player leadership committee did not respond to a question about how its members were selected. The league also did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding its role in assembling and/or selecting members for the player leadership committee.

Members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) ratified their collective bargaining agreement via a unanimous vote Sunday night after a 72-hour voting window.

The new CBA also comes on the heels of the confirmation of a new women’s professional hockey league, which is slated to launch in January 2024 with financial and leadership support from the Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises.

The union, dubbed the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players Association (PWHLPA), was voluntarily recognized by its new employer, though the league itself is yet to be named. It is the first union in North American women’s pro sports — and possibly all of pro sports — to have a ratified CBA prior to the start of competition. The WNBA ratified its first CBA in 1999 ahead of the league’s third season, while the NWSL’s first CBA was finalized in 2022 ahead of the league’s 10th season.

The PWHPA’s bargaining committee — consisting of Kendall Coyne Schofield, Brianne Jenner, Hilary Knight, Liz Knox and Sarah Nurse — negotiated with the league’s new owners for five months. They kept PWHPA players up-to-date on the negotiation process until the final CBA was proposed on Thursday night.

The new women’s hockey CBA outlines salary and facility requirements and guarantees benefits and standards for health insurance, housing stipends, a 401(k) program, relocation expenses, per diems, hotel accommodations, pregnancy benefits, childcare coverage, parental leave, nursing accommodations and more. 

Hailey Salvian of The Athletic reported that salaries will range from $35,000 to $80,000 or more during the initial year of competition, with minimum salaries set to increase by 3% each year. Salvian also reported that the CBA includes stipulations that no more than nine players can be paid the league minimum and that, during year one, at least six players per team will be signed to three-year $80,000-plus guaranteed contracts.

According to a source who reviewed the document, there isn’t a traditional salary cap. Instead, the CBA is structured on salary averages to ensure that the divide between lowest and highest paid players doesn’t grow too large.

 “It sets us up with this foundation and expectations. Players know what they’re going to get,” PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford told Just Women’s Sports.

“There are player protections and workplace safety (requirements). There are standards that are going to have to be met as it relates to facilities and where players train. All of that is critical to the success of a long term, viable league.”

Stan Kasten, a member of the league’s new board who was part of the negotiating process, praised the players involved. 

“I can’t say enough about the determination of this group of PWHPA players. They fought for what they believe, they were determined, passionate and really, really smart,” Kasten told Just Women’s Sports.

“They held out until they got the rights, the protections, the facilities – all of those things that elite athletes deserve. And they didn’t settle for second best, they waited. And they wound up with something that is kind of a dream come true for all of us involved in this.” 

When the PWHPA filed its articles of incorporation in 2019 following the collapse of the CWHL, as players looked for more than what the PHF (then NWHL) could guarantee, the group cited sustainability as one of its goals.

“We are prepared to stop playing for a year—which is crushing to even think about—because we know how important a sustainable league will be to the future of women’s sports,” Shannon Szabados, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada, said at the time. 

It ultimately took four years, not one, but Kasten said the new ownership group is in it for the long haul. 

“We have not just a long-term vision, but a permanent vision, and that requires funding,” he said. “It requires infrastructure. And, most of all, it requires strength of ownership and leadership. And we’re starting with Mark Walter and Billie Jean King and, I’m sorry, it doesn’t get better than that.”

There is a long history of women’s sports leagues — including women’s hockey leagues — launching without proper funding, infrastructure, or safety measures in place. That was even one of the factors Sally Yates cited in the U.S. Soccer-commissioned report into abuse in the NWSL. 

“In the haste to get the League off the ground, the Federation conducted limited financial due diligence on the new league’s prospective owners and did not put in place the infrastructure or planning necessary to support the League over the long haul. Instead, the focus was on putting eight teams on the field,” the Yates report read.

The new hockey league is looking to avoid such pitfalls.

“Fans maybe don’t understand why (a CBA) is so important, but when we look at those other leagues, when we look at what’s happened in women’s hockey, a lot of those difficult things that have happened were because there weren’t player protections and workplace safety and termination clauses,” Hefford said. 

While current PWHPA members negotiated and voted on the CBA, former PHF members will be eligible to join the PWHLPA union.

The Premier Hockey Federation has been bought out by investors in the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which clears the way for a singular professional women’s hockey league in North America.

The Mark Walter Group acquired PHF “assets,” per a news release, and plans to build on the foundation of the seven-team league to launch a new league in 2024. The PHF will cease operations.

How does that work?

The Mark Walter Group has been working with the PWHPA and Billie Jean King Enterprises for the past 14 months to plan for a new league. PWHPA players formed a union earlier this year and have been in the process of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

Ratification of that CBA would be the final step in forming the new league. The PHF was told that its “infrastructure will be the foundation” that the new league will build itself from, ESPN reported.

The Mark Walter Group will back the league financially, and King and Dodgers president Stan Kasten will be among the board members.

“I have always believed that professional sports should bring the highest levels of performance and organization, and this new league will have the backing and resources it needs to represent the very best of women’s hockey,” said Mark Walter, who is the controlling owner of the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.

What happens to PHF players?

More than 120 players had signed full-time contracts with the PHF for the upcoming season. Those contracts have been voided using termination language in those contracts, but players will still receive severance and a period of continued health benefits. The PHF was not unionized.

What is the history between the PHF and PWHPA?

The PHF, originally dubbed the National Women’s Hockey League, was founded in 2015. While the league became the first women’s hockey league to pay players, more than 200 of the top women’s hockey players opted to forgo participation until receiving proper resources. Thus, the PWHPA was formed.

Over the last four years, the PWHPA has played in showcase events. The PHF, meanwhile, underwent a name change, expanded and increased its salary cap to $1.5 million. Despite calls for a unified league, the PWHPA planned to move forward apart from the PHF over concerns about its business model and long-term viability, The Athletic reported last year.

When can we expect the new league?

The new league is expected to launch in January 2024, as announced Friday by The Mark Walter Group, Billie Jean King Enterprises and PHF governors Johanna and John Boynton.

The PWHPA had been aiming to launch a league for the 2023-24 season, The Athletic first reported in March. A start date is contingent on the ratification of a new CBA, with PWHPA players voting over the coming days. (PHF players will not be included in the vote.) With the expectation that the CBA will pass, the league would launch in 2024 and the CBA would run through 2031.

A CBA being ratified prior to the start of a league’s launch would be a first for any women’s professional league. The WNBA adopted its first CBA two years after its inaugural season, in 1999, while the NWSL took 10 years to ratify its first CBA. While the PHF had league bylaws, it did not have a CBA in place.

How many teams will be in the league? Where will they play?

The number of teams in the new league and the locations of those teams are still being determined.

The seven-team PHF had franchises in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New York/New Jersey, Minnesota, Montreal and Toronto. The new league is expected to have six teams of 23 players each, three in Canada and three in the United States, with Boston, Buffalo and Connecticut likely nixed, per reporter Ian Kennedy.

The PWHPA is still working toward establishing its own women’s professional hockey league.

In the latest move, players have formed a union and are negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with their investor group, The Athletic reported Thursday.

The Professional Women’s Hockey Player Association joined with Billie Jean King Enterprises and the Mark Walter Group last May with intention of establishing a new league. In August, the league announced a Dream Gap Tour for the 2022-23 season while it continued to plan for a full league.

A source within the PWHPA has pointed to the next hockey season as the target date for the league, which likely would place the launch in late 2023, The Athletic reported.

If the PWHPA and its union were to finish CBA negotiations before the league gets underway, that would mark a first for a major women’s professional league in North America.

The WNBA adopted its first CBA in 1999, one year after its founding. The NWSL only recently adopted its first CBA. The Premier Hockey Federation, which would be in direct competition with the PWHPA, does not have a CBA.

“We want to see our vision of a professional league become a reality as soon as possible,” PWHPA consultant Jayna Hefford previously told The Athletic, “but we’re not willing to compromise on doing it right.”

Hockey players are coming together to spotlight what Olympic gold medalist Sarah Nurse calls the “rich history” of Black players in the game, as well as the racial disparities that have plagued the sport for decades.

The new documentary “Black Ice,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, details the story of the Colored Hockey League of the Maritimes, a league founded in Nova Scotia in 1895, as well as the current state of the sport for Black players.

The film is produced by Drake, LeBron James and Maverick Carter and directed by Hubert Davis.

“We’re in an interesting place, where we can say, ‘OK, are we going to actually address this stuff and talk about it and deal with it?’” Davis told Hollywood Reporter. “Or are we just going to stay within our bubble? A lot of people are facing that choice at the moment.”

The voices of women’s hockey players play an important role in the documentary.

“I think there’s so much rich history with Black players playing the game and I think that’s going to be really showcased,” said Nurse, who stars for the Canadian women’s national team and features in the film. “But also to highlight some current players, obviously, is huge.”

Another player involved in the documentary is Saroya Tinker, a defender for the Toronto Six of the Premier Hockey Federation and an advocate for Black women in hockey.

Tinker experienced racism in the locker room at a young age, and it took her up until the last year to finally be herself within the sport, she revealed in an interview with TSN.

“I feel like I’ve really come into my own and been able to be my full self on the ice and outside of the rink,” she said. “It was a challenge growing up and having to put a piece of my Blackness aside to fit in, but at the same time we’re being unapologetic about who we are now.”

The 24-year-old contemplated leaving the sport after college, but she realized how many young girls looked up to her and hope to follow in her footsteps. She wants to make the sport better for them and to “be that role model for them.”

She thinks the film could drive uncomfortable conversations that will lead to accountability in the sport of hockey.

“Growing up, my biggest problem was that nobody was being held accountable when these situations came up,” she said. “I’m very excited about the future…I see people wanting to be allies and sticking up for their counterparts.

“We’re opening up the door for conversation and things will improve from there.”

Canadian hockey star Sarah Nurse will be the first woman to feature on the cover of EA Sports’ NHL video game, the company announced Wednesday.

EA Sports will include the IIHF women’s national team rosters in the game for the first time. While the video game company added IIHF women’s rosters to “NHL 22” as an update after the initial release, the game never before has featured women’s rosters from the start.

The latest edition will mark the occasion with Nurse joining NHL star Trevor Zegras on the front of the package.

“It is such a tremendous honor to be the first woman on the cover of the EA Sports’ NHL franchise,” Nurse said in a news release. “Hockey is really for everybody and I’m excited that ‘NHL 23’ is celebrating the diversity and inclusivity of the sport. I hope that the increased representation of women in such a prominent game will inspire young girls everywhere to know that there is a place for them in hockey.”

Nurse powered Canada to the gold medal at the Beijing Games earlier this year with an Olympic-record 18 points. She also is a member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.

EA Sports also will feature rosters from the top women’s soccer leagues in England and France on its next FIFA game, which comes out Sept. 30. Chelsea star Sam Kerr is a cover athlete for that game.