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As US Women’s Hockey battles Canada, PHF and PWHPA stay separated

The rivalry in women’s hockey between the U.S. and Canada, our maple-tapping neighbors to the north, is as intense as ever heading into the Beijing Olympics. The two nations have dominated the sport on the world stage since the International Ice Hockey Federation first started holding a women’s world championship in 1990 and the IOC followed suit in 1998 by adding the sport to the Olympic line up. 

Since then, the U.S. and Canada have faced each other in the gold medal game of every single World Championship and Olympic games but two (Sweden knocked the U.S. out in semis at the 2006 Olympics and Finland did the same to Canada at Worlds in 2019). Of all the great rivalries in recent sports history, perhaps none have been as consistent and relentless as this one. For these two teams, after every huge victory and every heart-breaking defeat, they awake the next day knowing their nemesis is still out there, coming for them again with everything they have.

At the PyeongChang 2018 Winter games, the U.S. finally won their second Olympic gold, ending Canada’s run of four consecutive Olympic golds. It came one year after the U.S. women threatened to boycott the IIFH World Championship in their fight for better pay and better treatment from USA Hockey. Proving their worth, the U.S. followed that victory up with a fifth consecutive World Championship in 2019.

But since resuming play after the cancellations of 2020, it appears momentum has shifted in favor of the north. At the World Championship this past August, Canada beat the U.S. both in the preliminary rounds and again in an overtime thriller, 3-2 for the title, winning their first Worlds title since 2012.

And in the latest installment of the saga, tensions boiled over as the final buzzer blew on a 3-2 Canadian victory in Game 2 of a nine-game pre-Olympic rivalry series between the two squads.

With Canada also winning Game 1 of the series a few days prior, and just a few months to prepare for what many are hoping will be a sixth Olympic gold showdown, it appears the U.S. has some work to do. The rivals face off again Nov. 21 and 23 in Ontario.

When not playing for their countries, most American and Canadian national team members, like USA stars Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne Schofield, and Amanda Kessel, play for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA). The group was formed in 2019 (after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League went under) partly in protest to existing leagues, including the NWHL, which elite players said had failed to provide a truly professional option for the best women’s hockey players in the world. 

Since its formation, the on-ice action of the PHWPA has been a series of annual showcase games between evenly divided teams, each with its own outside sponsor. Last season they moved to a “regional hub” structure, where each hub carries a 25-player pool from which they form each showcase roster, a baby step toward designating geographically-located teams. This season, the puck drops in Truro, Nova Scotia on November 12th for the first showcase with teams from Boston, Calgary, Montreal, and Toronto playing a two-day, best of four tourney.

This year, the PWHPA will also play in several All-Star games where hand-selected rosters (of mainly non-national teams players) will play against national teams prepping for the Olympics. In October, they played a series of closed-door scrimmages against Team USA and will take on Team Canada in Calgary on Dec. 9 and 11 before heading over to play Japan in a series of games Jan. 9-16.

Meanwhile, the Premier Hockey Federation (previously the National Women’s Hockey League) has recently kicked off its seventh season with a five-game opening weekend. The Boston Pride will be looking to defend their Isobel Cup title against the Minnesota Whitecaps, Buffalo Beauts, Metropolitan Riveters, Toronto Six, and Connecticut Whale. The PHF as a whole will be looking to move past a somewhat disastrous last season, in which a Covid outbreak burst the league’s rather porous hockey bubble and forced the league to suspend play.  

It was an eventful offseason for the PHF since teams were last on the ice. Shortly after last season ended, the league announced that the salary cap would be doubled, bringing it to $300K per team. Earlier this fall, following tough discussions prompted by one team owner’s previous involvement with an anti-trans organization, the league announced the name change and re-branding from the National Women’s Hockey League to the Premier Hockey Federation.

According to the league press release announcing the change, “The PHF name was inspired by empowerment, gender equity, and inclusivity with respect to differences in the gender identity of current athletes, prospective players, and league stakeholders.”

And just last week, the league announced it signed a new deal giving ESPN+ exclusive broadcast rights for the 2021-2022 season. The streaming service will offer all 60 regular season games plus playoffs.

Even though most U.S. and Canadian national team members don’t play in the PHF, the abundance of hockey talent being produced in north America is clear. And the end goal of a high caliber, financially sustainable, pro league where players can be full-time professional athletes and make a decent living is the common goal.

No doubt the PWHPA is hoping for a strong U.S. and Canadian showing in Beijing to get the Olympic boost that can move their dream forward, as has been the pattern for other successful women’s pro sports leagues. What remains to be seen is if the PHF will benefit from the same boost, and what that will mean for the two organizations down the line. The PHF has said it wants to mend the gap. For the PWHPA, it remains an unbridgeable gulf. 

Tessa Nichols is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports. 

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC unveiled its 2023 NWSL championship rings earlier this week.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

And on Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” he joked. “Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting him to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.” Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers enters

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5. But conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew that conference realignment could affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

“You have to understand that there’s something about you that makes you special” Haley Jones on her WNBA journey.

COLLEGE PARK, GEORGIA - JUNE 23: Haley Jones #13 of the Atlanta Dream dribbles against the New York Liberty during the first half at Gateway Center Arena on June 23, 2023 in College Park, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

No one understands what Caitlin Clark and the 2024 WNBA draft class has ahead of them better than Atlanta Dream guard Haley Jones.

Jones is a product of her own vaunted draft class, selected sixth overall in 2023 upon finishing a college career at Stanford that produced a 2021 national championship. Since joining the WNBA, Jones had steady output as a rookie, playing in all 40 of the team's games in her first season.

The transition wasn't always easy. Jones had to balance finishing her Stanford degree with the early months of her first professional season, competing against seasoned veterans while closing a chapter of her life as a student.

"In college, it's a job-ish. But now it's really your life, right? And not only are you competing for yourself, but the women that you're going against, this is their lives. They have kids to provide for, families, so it's a different mindset when you come in," she tells Just Women's Sports at the 2024 Final Four in Cleveland. "They're so smart, they're so efficient. And so you'd be doing the same things, but they get there quicker."

Only one year removed from her own college career, watching the upcoming 2024 draft class maneuver the same schedule has been somewhat surreal for Jones. She says she remains close with many of the players still competing for Stanford, including incoming WNBA rookie Cameron Brink, and with the NCAA tournament now behind them she knows just how quickly their lives are going to change.

"The whirlwind that it is when your season ends, you get like three days if you're going to declare for the draft or not," she says. "Then you figure it out, boom, the draft is next Monday. So no time, it's quick. And then they're gonna [have the] draft on the 15th, training camp starts the 26th or 27th, so you have 11 days to move your life to wherever you're going, figure out the new city, get your car there, do all these different little things that come along with it."

Once players arrive in training camp, their spots in the league are anything but guaranteed. With expansion still on future horizons, this year's draft class will be competing with established veterans (including, now, Jones) for limited roster spots. It's not unheard of for even WNBA lottery picks to struggle in establishing a foothold in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

"A lot of us get to the point of being in the W, you get there because you're hypercritical," Jones says. "That's why you've been able to be so good, your work ethic is insane. So you're watching everything that you do, you're correcting yourself, you're watching film, you're doing all these things."

"I think my biggest advice is really just like the present and understand that you're there for a reason. I think that there's impostor syndrome sometimes when you get to the league. But you have to understand that there's something about you that makes you special, to be where you are."

The rookie wall is real, Jones says, and her own hypercritical nature got the best of her at times during her first year in the WNBA. But she also feels that a player can find the balance beyond imposter syndrome and a busy schedule to get into a sense of rhythm, there's a simplicity to the life of a professional athlete that allows players to further expand their horizons.

Misconceptions about NIL opportunities continuing beyond women's college basketball careers have abounded in recent months, with current WNBA players having to correct the record. Jones is a product of the NIL era, and has only seen her professional opportunities expand since leaving Stanford. "Most of the deals I had in NIL I'm still with now," she says. "because those contracts [extended] or they just renewed now that you're in the W."

"Then you take what you were making [in college] and then you add in your W salary, so — thank you. Now I have my 401k system. I have health care, all these different things — so you kind of honestly add on when you get to the W, on top of better competition, all these different things."

Removing schoolwork from her daily schedule has also given Jones more time to pursue other projects, like her podcast "Sometimes I Hoop", in partnership with The Players' Tribune. As the WNBA continues to build its own ability to market and promote its players, Jones has relished the opportunity to not only meet players she admires through the podcast, but add to an increasingly vibrant media landscape following women's sports.

"There's a lot of men's basketball podcasts out there, a lot of player led ones," she says. "There's not a lot of women's basketball. There's some women's basketball focused pods, but not a lot of player-led ones."

"I think it's great for me to be able to give back to women’s basketball in my own way."

Jones's experience with the podcast has also given her a unique perspective on what possibly comes next for the WNBA, as the league looks to capitalize on a wave of popular young talent while still serving the players already on team rosters.

"Everybody in the league, they were All-Americans at one point in time. They were national champions, like we all have that resume," she says. "I think it's just the W expanding on their storytelling. I think doing a better job with that will do a lot, also like buying into what the players are doing." She notes the impressive personal brands that players like Clark, Brink, and Angel Reese have built on their own.

"The W has a fan base, but then each individual player has a fan base," she continues. "So by locking into those and making them not only Angel Reese fans, Caitlin Clark fans, Cam Brink fans, making them W fans as well will be big."

As Jones grows into her second year as a professional, her perspective of her own college career has also shifted with time. Winning a national championship is difficult, and Stanford's ability to come out on top in 2021 is an achievement she's appreciated even more in the years since winning the title.

"You don't really realize it until later on," she says. "As I look at it now, I realize how big of an accomplishment that that was."

"Talking to my parents, they're like hey, how many people can actually say they won one?" she continues. "How many people become college athletes? DI athletes? Win a natty? One team a year."

The ambitions for Jones in 2024 are even bigger, with the Dream looking to improve upon their fifth-place finish last season. But she also believes the key to growing the game of basketball can be found in connecting with the community, following in the footsteps of college titans like Dawn Staley at South Carolina.

"People buying into these programs because you see them in the community is huge. I feel like for the W to be continuing to do that, continue with community initiatives, all these different things that we're doing. I think that you'll get a lot bigger fan bases."

Chelsea reaches deal with Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor to succeed Emma Hayes

Sonia Bompastor. (Photo by Christian Hofer – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Chelsea is closing in on Emma Hayes’ replacement, reportedly having reached an agreement with Sonia Bompastor to succeed their longtime coach.

According to the Telegraph, Chelsea and Olympique Lyonnais have agreed on a deal for Bompastor, who will take over Chelsea upon the conclusion of the season.

Personal terms with Bompastor had already been agreed to, but compensation between the two teams still had to be figured out in order to release the coach from her contract a year early. 

Following Bompastor will be assistant coach Camille Abily. Bompastor takes over having won two Champions League titles as a player at Lyon, and one as coach during the 2021-22 campaign. The club also has won two straight league titles under Bompastor. 

The French coach has reportedly been Chelsea’s number one target when looking to replace Hayes. Hayes will depart Chelsea at the end of the season to take the helm of the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT). 

Hayes leaves big shoes to fill. Since taking charge in 2012, she’s led the team to six WSL titles and five FA Cups. The only trophy that eludes Hayes is the Champions League – which she still has hopes to win this year. 

They face Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League beginning on April 20. Should they advance, they could face Bompastor and Lyon in the final. 

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