Toronto’s Professional Women's Hockey League team skated to victory Wednesday night, kicking off the league's first playoff match with a 4-0 win over visiting Minnesota.

Natalie Spooner — the league's leading regular season goalscorer with 20 goals in 24 games — opened things up with the first playoff goal in PWSHL history at 9:47 of the first period, later notching an assist in front of Coca-Cola Coliseum's 8,473 fans. Captain Blayre Turnbull followed up Spooner's efforts with two goals of her own, securing the game's final point with just 38 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

In the defensive end, goalie Kristen Campbell put a stop to all 26 shots fired her way. With game one behind them, Toronto has pulled ahead of Minnesota 1-0 in the best-of-five series.

"It's what I believe I expect and I think what the group expects as well," head coach Troy Ryan said in postgame remarks. "Being everything we thought it would be, I think the atmosphere was incredible. I think our performance was pretty good and I think it's a great stepping-stone for us to continue to build on for this series and hopefully moving forward.

For Turnbull, the win came as a result of weeks of regular season preparation, adding that the team was "proud" of its execution throughout their first playoff game. 

"The whole season we’ve been building and building waiting to get into playoffs and trying to find our game every week and get better so that when players arrived, we are ready to go," Turnbull said. "I think there’s still a few areas that we can keep improving on, but overall, we’re pretty happy with where we’re at, so we’re excited to get back on the ice for game two."

The postseason outing continues a record-breaking regular season for the young league. In total, the PWHL set six attendance records for women’s hockey this year, with nearly 400,000 fans showing up to watch the inaugural teams take the ice over the 72-game season.

Toronto will face Minnesota at home once more in Game 2 of the series on Friday, before the teams move to Minnesota for Monday's Game 3. 

The PWHL is set to break the women’s hockey attendance record after selling out the Bell Centre in Montreal. 

The game has been billed as the Duel at the Top, taking place between Montreal and Toronto.

“Quebecers and Montrealers have shown an outpouring of support for our team this season, regardless of where we have played our games,”  said Danièle Sauvageau, GM of the Montreal team, when the game was announced.

“Our fans have been asking us for this and we are happy to be able to give them what they want. It’s exciting to know that we will be playing in the largest hockey venue in North America, and I am certain that our supporters will be louder than ever.”

Tickets sold out in less than 20 minutes for the largest hockey arena in North America at a capacity of 21,105. Re-sale tickets are up to almost $450. 

The previous attendance record had been set in Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, with 19,285 turning out earlier this season. Earlier this month, Detroit set a new American record for professional women’s hockey, with 13,736 fans in attendance to watch PWHL Boston face PWHL Ottawa.

“To have the opportunity to play at the Bell Centre would be historical, I think, is the best word to say,” Monreal’s Erin Ambrose said last month. “We’ve talked about how great our fans have been, the way they’ve showed up in Laval, the way they’ve showed up at Verdun, the way they showed up on the road, too, in Toronto. 

“We would love that opportunity and hopefully it can happen. I know that I’m crossing my fingers that we can be here. I mean, it would be pretty unbelievable to walk out there and kind of hear the crowd erupt. It would be something pretty monumental.”

PWHL Minnesota made history on Saturday, as a record-breaking crowd of 13,361 fans turned out to watch their team beat Montreal 3-0 at Xcel Energy Center. The crowd shattered the attendance record of 8,318 that had previously been set by Ottawa in their debut a mere three days earlier.

Grace Zumwinkle led Minnesota with the league’s first hat trick.

“It was obviously super exciting. I think what was more exciting was just the atmosphere at the Xcel,” Zumwinkle told MPR News. “And I think breaking the attendance record of having roughly 14,000 fans was just as special as the hat trick in and of itself. It’s just huge that the league is getting to this point. And obviously super exciting for our team, especially with a lot of players from Minnesota.”

“Living in the State of Hockey, I knew our fans would show up for us, but today they have taken it to a whole new level,” said Natalie Darwitz, PWHL Minnesota General Manager. “I feel tremendously proud and inspired by our fan support.”

The only team in the league to play on NHL ice, they proved that they belonged on Saturday both with fan attendance and performance on the ice.

It helped that Team Minnesota houses a number of hometown players, from Lee Stecklein and Kelly Pannek, to No. 1 overall pick Taylor Heise. And then there’s Zumwinkle, an Excelsior native who scored the game’s only goals.

Zumwinkle told MPR News that playing at home in front of a Minnesota crowd was “surreal.”

“I think, especially playing for the Gophers, I got a taste of it, but nothing quite like having maybe 10,000 more fans than I was used to,” she said. “But I think it’s just the first word that comes to my mind is ‘pride.’ And I think that was evident in the fans that showed up.”

New York won the first-ever PWHL game on Monday, dominating Toronto in a 4-0 win.

It was a historic moment for women’s hockey, with Ella Shelton getting the first goal in PWHL history.

It was a monumental day for the new women’s hockey league, with lines for the sellout crowd out the doors and wrapped around the block to get in to watch New York win the first game in PWHL history.

New York followed up with three third-period goals from Alex Carpenter, Jill Saulnier and Kayla Vespa. New York goaltender Corinne Schroeder made 29 saves to get the league’s first shutout.

Billie Jean King, who helped to found the league, was present to witness history and give Toronto their starting lineup.

“Today was one for the history books, as the Professional Women’s Hockey League (@thepwhlofficial) played their 1st game in Toronto,” she wrote on social media. “@PWHL_Toronto took on @PWHL_NewYork, the game was action-packed, & the arena was full of terrific fans.”

Minnesota’s PWHL team will enter the inaugural season with a new head coach after Charlie Burggraf stepped down from the post. With less than a week before the puck drops on the new professional league, former NHL defensemen and U.S. women’s national team coach Ken Klee has taken over the role.

General manager Natalie Darwitz said that Burggraf told her on Tuesday that he would be stepping away from the job. He cited the decision as the right move for himself and his family.

“We thank Charlie Burggraf for all he did for our franchise, and we wish him only the best in the future,” Darwitz said. “Ken Klee brings a proven record of success to our coaching staff, and we are extremely pleased — for our players, our fans and our organization — that he has joined us.”

Klee was hired “within hours,” according to the Star Tribune. He previously coached PWHL Minnesota players Kendall Coyne, Lee Stecklein, Nicole Hensley and Kelly Pannek with the USWNT.

The former NHLer had been a finalist for the job in the initial search, but at the time Darwitz opted to hire her former Gophers assistant coach. But the familiarity with Klee helped to make the decision easy on Tuesday to offer him the job.

“I went through the interview process, but at the time it wasn’t meant to be,” Klee said. “Now it’s a little later and the time is right. I’m excited. I think super highly of these players.”

The PWHL begins its first season next week with six inaugural franchises. Minnesota will open its season on Jan. 3 in Boston.

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.”

The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) will open its inaugural season on New Year’s Day.

Toronto will host New York at Mattamy Athletic Centre at 12:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, as the first game of the new league. The other five teams in the league will host their own home openers over the next 12 days, the PWHL announced Tuesday.

  • Montreal @ Ottawa
    • When: 7 p.m. ET, Tuesday, Jan. 2
    • Where: TD Place Arena, Ottawa
  • Minnesota @ Boston
    • When: 7 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Jan. 3
    • Where: Tsongas Center, Lowell, Mass.
  • Toronto @ New York
    • When: 7 p.m. ET, Friday, Jan. 5
    • Where: Total Mortgage Arena, Bridgeport, Conn.
  • Montreal @ Minnesota
    • When: 3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Jan. 6
    • Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minn.
  • Boston @ Montreal
    • When: 3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Jan. 13
    • Where: Verdun Auditorium, Montreal

The announcement of the home openers doubled as the announcement of the home arenas, which range from 2,600-seat Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto to 18,000-seat Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

“Giving our athletes the opportunity to step onto the ice to compete in front of our passionate fans has been the driving force of our efforts, and it’s going to be an exciting reality on New Year’s Day,” PWHL Advisory Board member Stan Kasten said in a news release. “It’s time for the best women’s hockey players in the world to lift our game to greater heights.”

From start to finish, the Professional Women’s Hockey League is aiming for a six-month launch, which is quick. And the expected January 2024 start date is quickly approaching.

“Doing this in six months is nuts,” PWHL Advisory Board member Stan Kasten told The Athletic. “The NHL told me I was going to need more time and they were completely correct.”

That means that some things will have to fall by the wayside in the first year in favor of getting the players on the ice – including team names and logos. Jerseys for this year only have the team colors and city names diagonally across the chest. It’s been a point of contention for many fans on social media.

But to the league, team names weren’t worth slowing the process down.

“There are decisions you can make that are fast and if you make an error in your judgment on that decision, it’s easy to walk back, or you can learn from it and move on,” Amy Scheer, the senior vice president of business operations for the PWHL, told The Athletic. “From the team name perspective, it was just better off slowing the process down.

“When you come out with a team name, you want to have a full brand story, why the imagery and the logo, why the colors, why the name. And I just didn’t feel that we should rush it because you can’t walk back from it.”

In MLB, Kasten says, jerseys take about two years to produce. In the NHL, teams are sent a “uniform change form” every year in April asking for any changes in uniforms. From start to finish, that is an 18-month process.

So naturally, there wasn’t enough time to come up with an entire branding strategy, avoid name trademarks, and have jerseys to match in the time that the PWHL wanted to launch.

“In a normal team or league, this is a two-year process,” Scheer said. “Just getting the design is six to eight months. The actual manufacturing takes over a year.”

“Things would be prettier, more perfect if we had waited a year,” Kasten said. “But what was most important was getting a league up and running for all these women who had been waiting for this day for so long.”

The Professional Women’s Hockey League has its team names, according to a report from The Athletic.

The PWHL submitted trademark requests for six names: Toronto Torch, Montreal Echo, Ottawa Alert, Minnesota Superior, Boston Wicked and New York Sound.

Detroit Hockey reported first on the applications, which were filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Still, the league has yet to announce any team names, so these officially remain in limbo ahead of the inaugural season in 2024.

When the PWHL acquired assets from its predecessor, the Premier Hockey Federation, in June, it is unclear whether that included team names and logos. Based on the trademark filings, the new league is taking its names in a different direction, leaving behind the Toronto Six, Montreal Force, Minnesota Whitecaps, Boston Pride and New York Riveters.

The PWHL announced its logo on Tuesday, with a “stylized ‘W’ to highlight women, and crossed hockey sticks and a puck that nestle perfectly within the middle of the letterform.”

“We love the prominence of the ‘W’ used in a clean and strong design that celebrates PWHL trailblazers and their legacy across women’s sports,” PWHL Advisory Board member Stan Kasten said in a news release. “When people see the logo, they will recognize how it represents women and immediately know it’s about hockey. The ‘W’ symbol speaks for itself but offers versatility to fit nicely when used inside our PWHL lettering.”

The Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) has its first-ever draft pick, with Taylor Heise going to Minnesota with the first overall pick. 

Draft order was determined via lottery, with the Minnesota franchise receiving the first pick. The full first-round selections were as follows:

  1. Minnesota – Taylor Heise, F, United States
  2. Toronto – Jocelyne Larocque, D, Canada
  3. Boston – Alina Müller, F, Switzerland
  4. New York – Ella Shelton, D, Canada
  5. Ottawa – Savannah Harmon, D, United States
  6. Montreal – Erin Ambrose, D, Canada

A total of 268 players are eligible and have declared for the draft, with many believing that NCAA standout Heise would be the first overall pick. A Minnesota native who played for the Golden Gophers and was co-captain her senior year, it seems almost scripted for her to begin her professional career at home under the leadership of Minnesota legend and PWHL general manager Natalie Darwitz, who was her coach at Minnesota. 

“I’ve played in front of my Minnesota fans here for gosh, 15 years,” Heise told MPR News of the possibility of being drafted first overall to Minnesota. “Minnesota has the best fans in the nation. It’s the state of hockey for a reason. So it would mean a lot.”

And while Darwitz wouldn’t name names, she told the Associated Press that she already had a good idea of who she was going to select with the No. 1 overall pick. 

Heise is the winner of the 2022 Patty Kazmaier Award, which goes to the top player in women’s college hockey. She also stars for Team USA, helping them to gold at women’s world championships in April.

“Minnesota is my home. Everyone that I love is there and it’s the state of hockey,” Heise said on the broadcast. “I’m just really honored I am going to be able to play and be able to show the little girls that anything is possible if you keep working hard.”

While players aren’t automatically signed to teams as a result of the draft, Heise’s signing is all but a given. Teams will retain the rights of drafted players for two years. Players can then re-enter the draft, but they are only allowed to do so once. 

“Trailblazing is bold. It’s brave, and it can be very scary,” PWHL co-founder Billie Jean King said Monday before announcing Heise as the first PWHL pick. “It’s not about a single moment. It’s about a movement. Finally giving women professional hockey players the structure, the support and the platform they deserve. That hockey deserves.”

As the draft continues, Just Women’s Sports takes a look at who’s already signed with teams during the free agency period.

Minnesota

Heise rounds out what was a stout free agency period for Minnesota and Darwitz, which featured two of the team’s three signings hailing from the state. Kendall Coyne Schofield was the lone outsider, and even then she’s from Illinois. The USA Hockey star was joined by Kelly Pannek and Lee Stecklein, who both also captained the University of Minnesota.

Montreal

Having the final pick of the first round in the draft meant that Montreal and general manager Danielle Savageau needed to make a splash elsewhere, and they did. They signed Marie-Philip Poulin, arguably the top player in the women’s game and captain of Team Canada. She’ll be joined by Laura Stacey, whose versatility is overshadowed by Team Canada’s star power. In net, the team will have Ann-Renée Desbiens, automatically making them a contender in this league. 

Boston

Boston and general manager Danielle Marmer have the most balanced signings of any team, starting hot with Team USA captain and reigning world champion Hilary Knight at forward. Megan Keller, a three-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist at Boston College, backs her up on defense, while Northeastern star, 2021 Patty Kazmaier Award winner and world champion Aerin Frankel will star in net for the Boston team. There’s a lot riding on this team, as Boston were three-time champions and two-time reigning champions in the PHF. 

New York

Pascal Daoust brought the present and future to New York with his signings, bringing in young star Abby Roque while adding decorated veteran Alex Carpenter to help guide Roque. Carpenter has a wealth of professional experience, and had nine points at the world championships this year en route to winning a gold medal with Team USA. Team Canada defender Mica Zandee-Hart is the heart of the defense, and the lone player to not sign with a team in her home country as a native of British Columbia.

Toronto

Gina Kingsbury started her tenure as general manager by signing a pair of star forwards in Sarah Nurse and Blayre Turnbull. She also added Renata Fast, one of just four defenders signed in the initial free agency period.

Ottawa

Three Team Canada veterans joined general manager Michael Hirshfeld’s squad in free agency: forwards Emily Clark and Brianne Jenner and goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer.