What to watch for as the 2021-22 Premier Hockey Federation season begins

(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The good news: The Premier Hockey Federation (PHF) is back.

The even better news: “Back” also means back to normal.

Last year was eventful for the professional women’s hockey league. From a condensed bubble season to mid-season schedule changes to Barstool Sports commotion to COVID-19 breakouts, every day was full of the unexpected.

With a new name and fresh rainbow branding, the PHF, formerly known as the NWHL, will open the 2021-22 season on Saturday with all six teams in action over the weekend.

Here are a few storylines to follow as the puck drops:

The Pride-Whitecaps rivalry continues

The Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps have faced each other in the last two Isobel Cups. The Whitecaps see this season as a chance for them to even up after the 2020 championship was cancelled due to COVID-19 and the Pride won the Cup in 2021.

“We have some unfinished business from last year,” said Minnesota forward Allie Thunstrom. “Obviously we didn’t win that final game, and obviously really wanted to.”

Teammate Winny Brodt-Brown, the oldest player in the PHF at 43 years old, said part of the reason she didn’t retire last year was because she couldn’t end her career with Boston lifting the Cup.

The Whitecaps claimed the championship over the Buffalo Beauts in Minnesota’s inaugural season in 2019, but Boston has proved dominant ever since.

Through three seasons, the Pride have managed a 7-3 advantage over the Whitecaps. Boston went 23-1 during the 2019-20 season, with the team’s sole loss coming against the Whitecaps. In 2021, Minnesota won their lone regular-season matchup before Boston took the final, 4-3.

The Pride went through a wild ride in last year’s bubble, losing their first five games before finding a rhythm and racking up four straight blowout wins in their run to the championship.

Boston returns goaltender Katie Burt, who was with the PWHPA last season, as well as two-time Defender of the Year Kaleigh Fratkin and 2020 co-MVP Jillian Dempsey. With Dempsey’s counterpart, 2020 co-MVP Thunstrom, leading the way for the Whitecaps, the Boston-Minnesota rivalry should be one of the most entertaining parts of the 2021-22 season.

Don’t count out the Buffalo Beauts

On paper, things don’t look great for the Beauts. The 2017 Isobel Cup champions, who appeared in the finals every year until 2020, sunk to the bottom of the standings in the past two seasons. They’ve also lost multiple key players, including season points leader Kristin Lewiki and top defender Alyson Matteau.

But what people haven’t seen is that the Beauts, with 10 new faces, have build up their team behind the scenes and are entering the season with character, tenacity and chemistry.

“That was our number one priority: not only to find the best hockey players but to find the best humans,” said new head coach Rhea Coad. “We did that. Now it just comes down to having fun and working hard.”

“It’s weird to think the season hasn’t started yet,” said goaltender Carly Jackson. “It feels like we’re in mid-season form. Everybody on the team is so close and we just have such a fun group to be a part of. Every time we go to the rink, everyone’s just smiles and good energy all around, so I’m just so happy to be back. Being a Beaut is just the absolute best.”

The Toronto Six are still riding first-season momentum

Alexa, play “Love Story” by Taylor Swift.

The Toronto Six are back and ready to dance to their favorite postgame jam, this time in their own locker room … for the first time ever. Playing their inaugural season in the bubble last year, the Six have yet to meet and play in front of their fans.

“It’s really exciting,” said defender Lindsay Eastwood. “We’re actually going to be able to get a little more normalcy here this season.”

As they make their debut at their home arena in North York, Ont., under new coaches Mark Joslin and Angela James, it’ll be like having a first season all over again. The Six came out on fire in Lake Placid during their first year, finishing on top of the regular-season standings before losing in semifinals. If they can carry that same “first-season excitement” into 2021-22, the Six will be a team to watch.

Whale have high expectations for No. 1 draft pick Taylor Girard

The Connecticut Whale are still looking for their breakout season. Adding the 2021 No. 1 draft pick, forward Taylor Girard from Quinnipiac, is a good place to start.

At 5-foot-10, Girard is known for her size and physicality. She finished her senior season second in scoring with seven goals and nine assists through 15 games.

“She’s really good with the puck,” said Whale veteran Emma Vlasic. “Her shots are definitely some of the hardest that I’ve seen and I think she’s just really clever offensively. I think that will really help us produce scoring and everything. So I think from an offensive standpoint and what I’ve seen, I’ve been impressed. She’s definitely going to add some speed and size.”

The Connecticut Whale and Metropolitan Riveters open the PHF season on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET, followed by a full slate of weekend games.

All games this season will be broadcast on ESPN+.


Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.