BRUCE BENNETT

The NWHL is expanding to Toronto for the upcoming 2020-2021 season, the league announced on Wednesday.

This will be the first Canadian team to join what is currently the only professional women’s hockey league in North America following the discontinuation of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019. The as-yet-unnamed Toronto franchise will be the sixth in the league. The ownership group is led by Johanna Neilson Boynton, a former captain of the Harvard’s women’s hockey team. Margaret “Diget” Murphy, a longtime college and CWHL coach, is the team president, while Tyler Tumminia will serve as a chairman.

The NWHL was supposed to wrap up its fifth season in March, but had to postpone due to the coronavirus.

The league still has a few logistics it needs to sort out, including where the Toronto club will play and how the NWHL will handle salaries and insurance considering it’s a U.S.-based business. Nevertheless, league officials are thrilled to be expanding to what is a hotbed for the sport, with commissioner Dani Rylan calling the move “a pivotal and proud moment for the NWHL.”

The city of Toronto has likewise welcomed the expansion.

“Our city has a rich history with professional women’s hockey and we are excited to begin this next chapter with the NWHL,” said Toronto mayor John Tory in a statement. “I hope that this team achieves success and longevity in our city and that this team will serve as an inspiration for young girls to pursue careers in professional sports.”

Last year, a group of nearly 200 players, including many of the sport’s biggest names, chose not to play in the NWHL, instead creating the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association. The PWHPA has stated that it intends to boycott all professional leagues in North America in the hopes that a new one will emerge promising greater financial stability. As that has yet to happen, the PWHPA is planning to offer counterprogramming for the second straight year.

In a statement regarding the expansion, the PWHPA said “the opportunities that the NWHL will provide may be good some players, but it’s not the opportunities that we want for our players or for future generations of young girls who will play this game at the highest level.”

In our own interview with Hilary Knight, the de-facto face of the PWHPA, Knight likewise insisted there was no truth to the “us versus them” narrative pitting the PWHPA against the NWHL.

“I think there’s just a difference of opinion as to how to move the game forward,” said Knight. “I always want to be honest about what I believe is right for the sport, and how people receive it is entirely up to them. I am not on a personal mission to exploit or ‘destroy’ a league, but I will be critical of something that makes lofty claims and doesn’t measure up.”