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PWHL inaugural season: What we know ahead of Jan. 1 start

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PWHL Boston's Emma Buckles chats with teammate Kaleigh Fratkin at practice. (John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The first puck drop for the PWHL is set for Jan. 1 — just five months after the league was announced. But a lot of moving parts need to be secured before play can begin.

On June 29, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chelsea FC owner Mark Walters bought out the previous pro women’s league, the Premier Hockey Federation. And since then, Walters, tennis legend Billie Jean King and multi-sport executive Stan Kasten — investors in the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association — have transformed the previous leagues into a single six-team entity.

And just last week, the league hosted nine preseason contests so coaches could finalize their rosters and get a last look at the competition heading into the inaugural season. 

To add to the whirlwind, the league also plans to make rule changes that differ from rules in the NHL. For example, the PWHL is debating allowing two-minute penalties to continue after the opposing team scores on the power play. Many of the rule changes seem to be targeted at increasing scoring opportunities and action.

“We’re going to have to look at the data and see if it actually created more scoring chances or more goals, which of course I think is the goal,” Jayna Hefford, the PWHL’s senior vice president of hockey operations, told CBC and Radio-Canada.

“We’ll debrief the event and really understand the pros and cons, and see if it makes sense to implement any of them.”

The PWHL is also still assembling its player discipline committee and its collection of referees, both of which must be finalized before the first puck drop. The league plans to use a pool of officials from other organizations, which include the American Hockey League, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey.

As is typical in women’s hockey, body checking isn’t allowed in the PWHL, but the players still want to play a physical game. So expect no shortage of action along the boards or penalties called.

The first regular PWHL season will consist of 24 games, with international breaks included in the schedule so that players can maintain their national team commitments. The four best teams will make the playoffs and will play best-of-five series through the end of the tournament to determine a champion.

Regular-season tickets went on sale this week and, according to Hefford, sales are already out-performing projections. Toronto already has sold out all 12 home games at 2,600-seat Mattamy Athletic Centre.

“We go into this understanding that we’re building a league, we’re launching a league,” Hefford said. “We’re not going to fill every building every night, so we have pretty conservative projections, I would say. But in initial days into ticket sales we’ve exceeded our projections, which is really great news for us.”

The PWHL plans to launch merchandise soon, including replica jerseys, that should be available in arenas and in online stores.

Even before it hosts its first game, Kasten is shocked at how well the league has come together in such a short time. 

“To see it really coming together, I can’t describe it,” Kasten said. “This will be the league with the highest level of skill for women hockey players ever in the history of the world.”