2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

Graphic by Julieanne Acosta

The puck drops on the inaugural PWHL season 

By Maggie Hsu, February 9 2024—

At exactly 12:48 PM EST on New Year’s Day of 2024, the puck officially dropped in Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, also known as the Maple Leaf Gardens, as the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) New York faced off against Toronto. It was fitting for such a historic event to take place in a facility that has witnessed many great players and moments in hockey. It was only natural for the league that will showcase the greatest female players in the world to kick off its inaugural season here, marking the first game played under a unified women’s hockey league, leaving behind the tumultuous history of professional women’s hockey.

In the past, high-level women’s leagues have been strictly classified as amateur. Beyond that, there was no pay or other incentives for players of this high calibre. This wasn’t just an issue in hockey, the recognition of women’s professional sports has been an ongoing topic since the conception of spectator sports. But the key question over time has been: Why are sports media focused on men’s teams? The PWHL is the latest attempt to change that in the hockey world, trying to follow the increasing success of the WNBA and various NCAA events.

The PWHL is the brainchild of American businessman, Mark Walter, and professional tennis player and women’s equality advocate, Billie Jean King. Walter recently made headlines as part-owner of the MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers who signed a monumental deal with Japanese pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani. With the buying power of Walter and King’s prominence in social activism for gender equality, female empowerment, and access for women in sports, the PWHL aimed to be the answer to years of tension and volatility in establishing a professional women’s hockey league.

The PWHL started as the Professional Women’s Hockey Player Association (PWHPA), a non-profit that aimed to create a lasting professional league. The PWHPA was formed after the dissolutions of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL). The CWHL and NWHL were in competition with each other to be the only professional league but both faced problems when it came to compensating their players and operations as a whole. The CWHL was more akin to a women’s senior league as it did not pay players a salary, rather compensating players with a living allowance while the NWHL’s players complained about low-quality operations despite being the first women’s league to pay players a salary. The PWHL, on the other hand, aims to be the first unified women’s league which then creates the opportunity for the world’s elite to take stage and start establishing women’s hockey as a profession for aspiring youth.

The PWHL has made extensive efforts to set itself aside from the NHL. While prior renditions of women’s leagues have lobbied the men’s league to support and promote teams, the PWHL has the benefit of not needing to rely on NHL teams to help financially back their league. This is beneficial as teams have more autonomy to promote themselves and not get lost in the fray of a larger organization. Additionally, the league has established rules that differ from the rules that NHL fans are used to including the implementation of the 3-2-1 point system that puts more weight into teams winning games and hence, maintaining action and momentum in the latter moments of a game; and the introduction of a “jailbreak” which can encourage play during a penalty kill by encouraging defending teams to attempt short-handed goals that can end the opposition’s power play. On top of that, critics of the league often assume that there is no contact in women’s hockey however, the first weeks of play have proven that there is plenty of physical play involved, maintaining the essence of passion and drama that NHL fans are used to.

All of this is to say that the PWHL is as fun to watch, if not more fun to watch than the NHL so what can we do as fans to support the League and help gain notoriety in the greater landscape of mainstream sports? The League has made it easy for fans to watch games. Not only will games be broadcast on major TV channels like TSN, CBC, and Sportsnet, and their respective streaming apps, but every PWHL game can be watched live and on-demand on their YouTube channel. The open access of the platform allows fans from all over the world to watch games and when combined with the added option to view games asynchronously, fans can still keep up with every second of a game, even when they miss the broadcast. 

Viewership and access is vital in the world of sports, especially for a new and emerging league, and even more so in the digital age as fan engagement and thus, exposure to advertising is what can keep a brand afloat. A University of Kansas study on sports marketing strategies notes that streaming and recording broadcasts to be posted online later can “expand [a sports’ organizations] reach and engage with fans globally. For instance, using Facebook Live to stream sports events directly to an audience can help break down geographical barriers, reach a wider fan base, and foster a sense of excitement and immediacy via a popular platform.” 

And if you are not a fan of hockey or sports, in general, this is a great time to start. There is a part of TikTok that features users chronicling their first experiences with hockey and the PWHL as well. There are a number of emotional responses to the League that have inspired women to support the League even if they have not watched sports as supporting the PWHL means supporting the hopes and dreams of so many young players right now. And by sustaining and developing the League, we are providing the opportunity for these young players that did not exist prior to 2024. 

“It’s worth it. It’s really worth it. It’s worth it for each one of us who has fought so hard for this day. And it’s worth it for the generations of girls and women who will come behind us,” said King herself at the first PWHL draft.

So if you are interested in tuning into a PWHL game, what’s a better way than to pick a team to cheer for? Every team features Olympians, World Champions, and stars of the sport who deserve the recognition of the likes of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, and Marc Andre Fleury. Whether you choose a team by their team colours, loyalty to your city, or you recognize certain names like Marie-Philip Poulin, Sarah Nurse, Brianne Jenner, or Hillary Knight, you can’t really go wrong with any team you cheer for. And what can you really lose from supporting a team and league that was born out of providing equal opportunities to female athletes?

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet