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After PHF sale, veteran stars request ‘unified’ messaging from players

PHF players celebrate during the 2023 All-Star showcase in January. (Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)

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.