The Premier Hockey Federation has been bought out by investors in the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which clears the way for a singular professional women’s hockey league in North America.

The Mark Walter Group acquired PHF “assets,” per a news release, and plans to build on the foundation of the seven-team league to launch a new league in 2024. The PHF will cease operations.

How does that work?

The Mark Walter Group has been working with the PWHPA and Billie Jean King Enterprises for the past 14 months to plan for a new league. PWHPA players formed a union earlier this year and have been in the process of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.

Ratification of that CBA would be the final step in forming the new league. The PHF was told that its “infrastructure will be the foundation” that the new league will build itself from, ESPN reported.

The Mark Walter Group will back the league financially, and King and Dodgers president Stan Kasten will be among the board members.

“I have always believed that professional sports should bring the highest levels of performance and organization, and this new league will have the backing and resources it needs to represent the very best of women’s hockey,” said Mark Walter, who is the controlling owner of the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers and the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks.

What happens to PHF players?

More than 120 players had signed full-time contracts with the PHF for the upcoming season. Those contracts have been voided using termination language in those contracts, but players will still receive severance and a period of continued health benefits. The PHF was not unionized.

What is the history between the PHF and PWHPA?

The PHF, originally dubbed the National Women’s Hockey League, was founded in 2015. While the league became the first women’s hockey league to pay players, more than 200 of the top women’s hockey players opted to forgo participation until receiving proper resources. Thus, the PWHPA was formed.

Over the last four years, the PWHPA has played in showcase events. The PHF, meanwhile, underwent a name change, expanded and increased its salary cap to $1.5 million. Despite calls for a unified league, the PWHPA planned to move forward apart from the PHF over concerns about its business model and long-term viability, The Athletic reported last year.

When can we expect the new league?

The new league is expected to launch in January 2024, as announced Friday by The Mark Walter Group, Billie Jean King Enterprises and PHF governors Johanna and John Boynton.

The PWHPA had been aiming to launch a league for the 2023-24 season, The Athletic first reported in March. A start date is contingent on the ratification of a new CBA, with PWHPA players voting over the coming days. (PHF players will not be included in the vote.) With the expectation that the CBA will pass, the league would launch in 2024 and the CBA would run through 2031.

A CBA being ratified prior to the start of a league’s launch would be a first for any women’s professional league. The WNBA adopted its first CBA two years after its inaugural season, in 1999, while the NWSL took 10 years to ratify its first CBA. While the PHF had league bylaws, it did not have a CBA in place.

How many teams will be in the league? Where will they play?

The number of teams in the new league and the locations of those teams are still being determined.

The seven-team PHF had franchises in Boston, Buffalo, Connecticut, New York/New Jersey, Minnesota, Montreal and Toronto. The new league is expected to have six teams of 23 players each, three in Canada and three in the United States, with Boston, Buffalo and Connecticut likely nixed, per reporter Ian Kennedy.

The Toronto Six are looking to become the first Canadian team to win the Isobel Cup in the Premier Hockey Federation playoffs.

The Six and the Minnesota Whitecaps will face off in Sunday’s championship game, which is set to be played in Phoenix at the Arizona Coyotes’ home arena. The NHL team has partnered with the league to host the PHF final in a NHL arena for the first time.

The Whitecaps finished 10-11-3 in the regular season. But even after entering the playoffs on an eight-game losing streak, they swept the hosting Boston Pride in a best-of-three semifinal series.

Boston entered as the two-time defending Isobel Cup champion and seemed set up to succeed again, with the PHF’s leading scorer in Loren Gabel (40 points) and leading goaltender in Corinne Schroeder (1.67 goals against average and 0.955 save percentage). But they could not handle the Whitecaps.

The Six bested the Connecticut Whale in the other semifinal series, claiming a 3-0 victory in Monday’s deciding Game 3.

“The last two seasons were kind of disappointments for us, so it makes you that much more hungry going into the next season,” Six forward Emma Woods told Sportsnet. “All the returners are feeling that big-time this year.

“We want to win the Isobel Cup. It’s never come back to Canada. There’s a lot of anticipation and nerves of course too, but a lot of excitement. We’re here to win.”

In her first season with the Six, Brittney Howard led the team with 16 goals (26 points). But Connecticut has the firepower to match in Kennedy Marchment, who had 17 goals on the season and was second in the league in points with 35.

This season has been a big one for the PHF, which increased its salary cap to $750,000 and next season will double that to $1.5 million. The increased investment has meant salaries for players, with some topping six figures for the first time, and momentum for the league, which stands as the only professional women’s league in North America – at least for now.

“Go back to what I probably have been saying the last five, six years,” former player Brianna Decker told SJ Hockey Now. “We need to have one league in order for this thing to work. The PHF is doing a great job. I think it’s come miles and miles compared to how they were, when they were the NWHL and when I was playing for them.

“They’re organized. They’re working on things every single day. They’re driven. Having Reagan Carey in there, it’s been a lot different. At the end of the day, we’ve got to have players all in one league in order for this to work, making it easier for fans and people who are supporting us.”

Full Playoff Schedule

Note: All game times are listed in Eastern Time. All semifinal games will air on ESPN+. *If necessary.

  • Semifinal #1: Minnesota 2, Boston 0
    • Minnesota 5, Boston 2
    • Minnesota 4, Boston 1
  • Semifinal #2: Toronto 2, Connecticut 1
    • Connecticut 5, Toronto 3
    • Toronto 3, Connecticut 2
    • Toronto 3, Connecticut 0
  • Championship: Minnesota vs. Toronto
    • Sunday, March 26 — 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2

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.