The PWHL is more than just hockey. Here’s why.

by | Feb 26, 2024 | Sports

Just one month in, the PWHL is showing its dedication to success, breaking both records and glass ceilings. 

In June of 2023, the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) acquired the Professional Hockey Federation, unifying women’s hockey. Four years prior, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League had folded, leaving many players with nowhere to play. The acquisition of the PHF by the PWHPA gave many female hockey players worldwide a new hope.

There were two people hugely influential to the creation of the PWHL: Billie Jean King and Mark Walter. 

Billie Jean King was initally brought in by the PWHPA as a trailblazer. She was a professional tennis player who devoted her life to breaking barriers, both on the tennis court and off. This is why she was crucial to the development of the PWHL; King could be the advocate to break down the barriers female hockey players have faced for years. 

Now that they had the female advocate and sports expert they needed, they needed funding to back their vision. That is where Mark Walter and the Walters Group come in. Mark Walter is the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and is also a shareholder in the LA Lakers and the Chelsea Football Club of the Premier League. He brought the capital needed to create a new league entirely and the business experience from owning the Dodgers. PWHL hockey operations senior vice president Jayna Hefford describes him as “one of the most prominent sport owners in the world, he knows professionalism, he knows excellence. He comes with the capital that’s required, which is a big thing.”

Similar to the NHL, the PWHL was born with six teams, three in eastern Canada and three in the United States. Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Minnesota, Boston and New York make up the PWHL original six.

After a record-breaking first month, the PWHL is looking like everything female hockey players could have ever asked for and more. 

The PWHL played their inaugural game on January 1, and it was a matchup between PWHL New York and PWHL Toronto, in which New York won 4-0. Ella Shelton scored the first goal in PWHL history. The game was watched by 2.9 million people, even more than the number of people who tuned into the 2023 NHL Stanley Cup Final game, which was 2.6 million.

On January 2nd, the league set a record for the most attended professional women’s hockey game in Toronto, with 8,318 fans attending. Less than one week later, during the game in Minnesota vs Montreal, they would break their  record by having 13,316 people in attendance at the Xcel Energy Center. And they aren’t stopping there. They’ve already sold 18,800 tickets to the February 18 game in Toronto.

The NHL has also emphasized their support of the PWHL by inviting the PWHL All-Stars to the NHL’s own All-Star game. The NHL All-Star weekend will include a 3-on-3 All-Star showcase for the PWHL on the Thursday of the All-Star weekend. Hillary Knight said at the NHL All-Star weekend, “To have this stage of global hockey for the women’s side here at the NHL celebration is awesome. We know our value, we know the type of product we have, and this is awesome for visibility. It’s a fun way to do it, too.” Kendall Coyne-Schofield shared her gratitude for the PWHL and NHL’s All-Star Events, “It’s players across the world, and the best are playing under one umbrella. There are still some best players who aren’t in the PWHL yet, but I know they’ll be here soon.”

Many little boys grow up idolizing NHL players like Connor McDavid did with Sydney Crosby, and like many do with Connor McDavid right now. 

Until January 1, 2023, young girls had nothing like that. Sure, they had Hayley Wickenheiser, Cassie Campbell, Marie Phillip-Poulin and others of the sort, but they could never watch them night in and night out. The biggest stage to watch women’s hockey was the Olympics every four years. But now, in a league born out of hope, for women and by women, the PWHLhas given young girls something to strive and work towards. 

Cover photo via Twitter/X @thepwhlofficial

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