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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+.

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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.

Two-time Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas Re-Signs with Barcelona on Two-Year Deal

Alexia Putellas on the field for barcelona
The two-time Ballon d’Or winner has been with Barcelona for 12 years. (Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Alexia Putellas has re-signed with FC Barcelona on a new two-year deal that will run through 2026. The agreement includes an option for a one-year extension. 

The two-time Ballon d’Or winner has been with Barcelona for 12 years, and her previous contract was set to expire next month. However, she’s spent the better part of the last two seasons battling injuries, starting with an ACL tear that kept her out of the 2022 UEFA European Women's Football Championship and limited her participation in Spain’s FIFA Women's World Cup win last summer. 

Putellas returned in March from her latest injury setback, making 25 appearances across all competitions for Barcelona this season and scoring 10 goals. 

In total, the midfielder has made 400 appearances for Barcelona. Among her 20 major trophies with the club include eight Liga F titles and two UEFA Champions League titles — including helping the team to its first European trophy in 2021. 

She then won the Ballon d’Or in back-to-back seasons in 2021 and 2022. 

Putellas could add a third Champions League trophy next weekend, when Barcelona faces familiar foe Lyon, a team they’ve lost to in two previous Champions League finals. Should they secure the UWCL, they would win the quadruple for the first time, having already won Liga F, the Copa de la Reina, and the Spanish Supercopa. 

WNBA on Pace for Record-Breaking Season

onquel Jones #35 of the New York Liberty rebounds during the game against the Indiana Fever on May 18, 2024 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn
Indiana's game against New York on Saturday was the most-watched WNBA game to ever air on ABC. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

The WNBA continues its historic trajectory one week into the season, with attendance and viewership skyrocketing across the board. 

Indiana’s Saturday game against the New York Liberty was the most-watched WNBA game ever on ABC, drawing 1.71 million viewers. The Sparks vs. Aces matchup that followed became the third most-watched WNBA game broadcast on ABC with 1.34 million viewers.

On Monday, the tense finish between Indiana and Connecticut drew 1.56 million viewers to ESPN, the second most-watched WNBA game to ever air on cable.

Outside of the league’s viewership, both in-person attendance and merchandise sales have also been on a meteoric rise. On Saturday, the game between New York and Indiana shattered the single-game ticket revenue record in the WNBA, with the Liberty pulling in $2 million in sales. 

New York and Indiana played their home openers in front of more than 17,000 fans, with attendance up 14% year-over-year, according to the league. Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Aces, the Liberty, the Wings, the Dream, and others have already sold out of their 2024 season ticket allotments.

Since April’s WNBA Draft, revenue from the WNBA’s official online store is up 2,260%, already blowing past total sales for the entire 2023 season.

While the numbers may cool somewhat as teams settle into their seasons, the pop in demand has already overwhelmingly delivered for the WNBA in 2024.

Angel Reese Adds USL Team Owner to Growing Résumé

chicago sky rookie angel reese speaking at an event
Star rookie Angel Reese is all in on the USL Super League. (JC Olivera/Variety via Getty Images)

Chicago Sky rookie Angel Reese continues to add to her résumé, becoming the newest member of the DC Power Football Club’s ownership group

The No. 7 pick in the WNBA draft joins an group that includes the MLS team DC United as well as other DC-area community members and business owners. One of the USL Super League’s inaugural clubs, DC Power FC is set to begin play in August. 

"I want to help grow women's sports and elevate female athletes across the board," Reese, who's from Maryland, said in a statement. "We're taking over, and I'm honored to be able to support Power FC and invest in women's soccer in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) community."

The USL is a sanctioned Division I league, meaning that it is on par with the NWSL and MLS in the United States. The league's eight current clubs are Brooklyn FC, Carolina Ascent FC, Dallas Trinity FC, DC Power FC, Fort Lauderdale United FC, Lexington SC, Spokane Zephyr FC, and Tampa Bay Sun FC.

DC Power FC will also be playing their home games in a familiar location: Matches will be hosted at DC’s Audi Field in partnership with MLS side DC United. Audi Field also home to the NWSL’s Washington Spirit.

"Angel's decision to be a founding investor alongside us in Power FC is groundbreaking," Jason Levien, DC United's CEO and co-chair, said in a statement. "As a Maryland native, Angel is so passionate about being a catalyst for positive change in women's sports in the DMV as well as globally while inspiring the next generation of female athletes. We're looking forward to her partnership in the boardroom as an equity partner."

It's been speculated that the Super League ultimately intends to compete outright with the NWSL. But in its first year, the league will focus on featuring the depth of women's soccer talent in the US.

Former NWSL players like Taylor Aylmer (Spokane), Jordyn Listro (Tampa Bay), Erika Tymrak (Tampa Bay), and Domi Richardson (Tampa Bay) have already announced a return to professional soccer via the USL.

The league is aiming to provide counter-programming to summer women's sports in the States, with a season running from fall to spring like the European calendar.

In a social media post, Reese said that she’s "grateful & blessed" to be part of the new ownership group. It’s the latest move in what has been a whirlwind spring for Reese, which included getting drafted, attending the Met Gala, signing a new partnership with Good American, and debuting with the Chicago Sky, among other achievements.

"Looking forward to creating new opportunities for women in professional soccer," she tweeted. "I’ve always had to desire to invest in a local team as a Maryland native!"

Reese is the latest female athlete to buy into a women’s sports team, joining the likes of Naomi Osaka, who owns a stake in the North Carolina Courage, and Serena Williams, who's part-owner of Angel City FC. 

Other pro athletes involved in women's sports team ownership include Patrick Mahomes, who shares ownership responsibilities of the Kansas City Current with his wife Brittany. Kevin Durant and Eli Manning are part-owners of Gotham FC, while NFL superstar Tom Brady is part-owner of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces.

Nelly Korda Continues Unprecedented LPGA Run

LPGA golfer Nelly Korda poses with Mizuho Americas Open trophy
Nelly Korda took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open on Sunday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Nelly Korda continued her unprecedented LPGA run on Sunday, winning her sixth tournament in the last seven starts. 

The 25-year-old Florida native took home the title at the Mizuho Americas Open, becoming the first LPGA player to record six wins in a single season since 2013 — and that’s with three majors and a little over half the season left to play.

"Oh, my gosh, six," Korda said after the win. "I can't even really gather myself right now with that, the head-to-head that Hannah and I had pretty much all day. Wasn't my best stuff out there today, but fought really hard on the back nine."

Korda is just the fourth player on tour to win six times before June 1st, joining LPGA Hall of Famers Babe Zaharias (1951), Louise Suggs (1953), and Lorena Ochoa (2008).

Should her victory run continue, Korda could break the current record for single-season wins, currently set at 13 by Mickey Wright in 1963.

Korda ended Sunday's tournament one shot ahead of Hannah Green, finishing the 18th with a par putt to win it all.

"I mean, to lose to Nelly kind of like is — it's sad, but then it's also Nelly Korda," Green said of her second-place finish. "You know, like she's obviously so dominant right now. To feel like second behind her is quite nice. Unfortunately the bogey on the last has a little bit of a sour taste."

Next up is the US Women’s Open, a tournament that Korda has yet to win in her career. 

"Obviously it's on the top of my priority list," she said. "I just know there is never any good when you put more pressure on yourself. Just going to stay in my bubble that week and take it a shot at a time."

Earlier this year, Korda became the fastest player to collect $2 million in prize money over a single season. This latest win earned her an additional $450,000, bringing her season total up to $2,943,708.

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