By Jim den Hollander
While desperately trying to catch up from a semi-busy weekend of hockey, I had a youtube live feed of the Professional Women’s Hockey League innaugural draft held at the CBC Studios in Toronto Monday (Sept. 18).
Over the course of a few hours, I was able to feel the excitement, pride and relief of the 90 players drafted, joining 18 others selected pre-draft by their respective teams.
It was a historical evening for women’s hockey. Not the first pro league but with the backing of the NHL and NHLPA and some big names like Billie Jean King and Brian Burke involved with the league it’s easy to say this is the start of something big.
The league starts with six teams, ironically the same number that made up the NHL for most of its first 50 seasons. Three teams will call America home in Boston, New York and Minnesota with the other three operating out of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
The venue was small but the atmosphere was amazing. Many years ago I was lucky enough to work at the Ontario Provincial Women’s Championship tournament and to see former players like Cassie Campbell, Vicki Sunohara and Jayna Hefford taking part in the draft brought back some great memories.
Each team was able to select three players as free agents before the draft. The Minnesota franchise selected American legend, Kendall Coyne Schofield, a 31 year-old veteran forward who likely will be the team’s first captain along with Kelly Pannek, a 27-year-old vet from Plymouth, MN who played with the Minnesota Gophers (2014-18) and Lee Stecklein a 29 year old defender from Roseville, MN, also a former Gopher.
All three have a long list of appearances at World Championships and Olympics representing USA. They will be the leaders on this team.
Monday 15 more players were added including first overall selection Taylor Heise from Lake City, MN, 2022 winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award. The 23-year-old forward followed up consecutive gold medals at the World U18 Womens Chamoionships in 2016. 17 and 18 with a silver at the 2022 Worlds and a goals at the most recent World tournament.
Those four players began a trend as Minnesota General Manager Natalie Darwitz did her best to bring Minnesota players under her team’s umbrella. In all,
Coyne Schofield is from Palos Hills, IL but the other two free agents along with seven of the 15 players drafted on Monday call the State of Hockey home. She also selected two Finnish players, one from Czech Republic, three Americans from Colorado, New York and Alaska and two Canadians.
Announcers credited Coyne Schofield as one of the hardest working players getting this league started. After helping form the players union, she worked hard for four years to get things started. She is the one who reached out to Billie Jean King, a former tennis player and the worlds greatest champion for women’s sports.
The process of getting things started as the Phoenix rising from the ashes of at least one former pro league has been long but once the PWHL hit the ground in the late spring, there has been movement to get the teams on ice for the 2023-24 season.
So the paint is still wet in some areas. The six teams are currently known simply as the cities they represent. The excitement will build as teams are named, logos are created and players get to work drumming up interest and support in their new homes over the next few weeks.
Charlie Burggraf, Minnesota’s innagural coach will begin preparations in November and the first of 24 league games for each team will be played in January. During the draft announcers said NHL cities will be used as neutral sites for games, likely played with all six teams in attendance, over the course of the first season.
I was unable to find a specific schedule, but there will likely be at least one slate of games played in the Twin Cities.
Good luck to all of 108 players selected so far. With just 18 on each team’s roster, including two goaltenders for Minnesota, I exped a few more free agents will be added in the weeks ahead as well.
Listed below are the 18 players that make up the Minnesota side so far
Kendall Coyne Schofield 31, Palos Heights IL F
Kelly Pannek 27, Plymouth, MN F
Lee Stecklein 29, Roseville, MN D
1st Round (1st OVerall) Taylor Heise 23, Lace City, MN F
2nd Round (12th Overall) Nicole Hensley 29, Littleton, CO G
3rd Round (13th Overall) Grace Zumwinkle 24, Excelsior, MN F
4th Round (24th Overall) Maggie Flaherty 23, Lakeville, MN D
5th Round (25th Overall) Susanna Tapani 30, Laitila Finland F
6th Round (36th Overall) Clair DeGeorge 24, Anchorage, AK F
7th Round (37th Overall) Natalie Buchbinder 24, Fairport, NY D
8th Round (48th Overall) Denisa Krizova 28, Horni Cerekov, Czech Republic F
9th Round (49th Overall) Sidney Morin 28, Minnetonka, MN D
10th Round (60th Overall) Sophia Shaver 26, Wayzata, MN F
11th Round (61st Overall) Amanda Leveille 29, Kingston, ON G
12th Round (72nd Overall) Michelle Cava 29, Thunder Bay, ON F
13th Round (73rd Overall) Liz Schepers 24, Mound, MN F
14th Round (84th Overall) Minttu Tuominen 33, Helsinki, Finland D
15th Round (85th Overall) Sidney Brodt 25, North Oaks, MN F