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.”