Hockey

'This is years in the making': Training camp begins for members of Toronto's PWHL team

Gina Kingsbury and Troy Ryan guided Canada to back-to-back world women's hockey championships in 2021 and 2022 and Olympic gold last year in Beijing. They're hoping for the same level of success with Toronto's entry in the new Professional Women's Hockey League.

Natalie Spooner, Renata Fast highlight 'hard to play against' squad

A women's hockey player dressed in a 'Toronto' shirt stands at the boards, stepping onto the ice.
Natalie Spooner joins players and staff with Toronto’s new Professional Women’s Hockey League team at a media availability ahead of training camp on Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Gina Kingsbury and Troy Ryan guided Canada to back-to-back world women's hockey championships in 2021 and 2022 and Olympic gold last year in Beijing.

They're hoping for the same level of success with Toronto's entry in the new Professional Women's Hockey League.

Kingsbury oversees the national women's team and is general manager of the Toronto club. Ryan also holds dual jobs as head coach of both teams. Their focus Wednesday was on the opening day of the PWHL squad's training camp at the Ford Performance Centre.

"It's hard to put words to how we all are feeling right now," Kingsbury said. "Obviously we're a little overwhelmed because the start of the season is fast approaching. But I'm so excited. This is years in the making."

Players mingled near the quiet ice surface in between physical testing and orientation sessions at the west-end Toronto facility, which is also the practice rink for the NHL's Maple Leafs.

Things are a work in progress for both the PWHL and the Toronto franchise ahead of the planned January puck drop.

Signage for the unnamed team — currently featuring a white league logo with 'Toronto' in block letters underneath — went up a day earlier. Work on the club's dressing room was underway beside an adjacent rink in the venue.

Team officials sporting blue Toronto PWHL hoodies were milling about as players arrived to complete forms, pick up equipment and get acquainted. On-ice practice sessions were to begin Friday.

"It feels a little bit like the first day of school and maybe a little bit like Christmas because it's been such a long wait to get to this point," said veteran forward Natalie Spooner. "But I'm really just so excited to be here and get it all underway."

Jerseys for the original six PWHL teams were unveiled this week but without names and logos.

A busy month awaits for the new league. All six teams will gather Dec. 3-7 in Utica, N.Y., for pre-season scrimmages, training and information sessions.

"We're drinking out of a fire hose right now for sure," Kingsbury said.

Everyone is 'a piece of this journey'

Toronto had an initial list of 29 players on its camp roster along with 12 members of the hockey operations staff. Player rosters must be trimmed to 23, plus two reserves, by Dec. 11.

"Some people might be more nervous than others," Spooner said. "But I think the atmosphere that we're going to create is one that everyone belongs. Everyone is a piece of this team and a piece of this journey.

"Whether you make the team or not, you're making history by being at this camp and by being in Toronto at the first-ever PWHL camp."

The three-time Olympian is a headliner on a roster that includes names like Sarah Nurse, Blayre Turnbull, Renata Fast and Jocelyne Larocque.

A women's hockey player smiles in front of a 'PWHL Toronto' backdrop.
Renata Fast joins players and staff with Toronto’s new Professional Women’s Hockey League team at a media availability ahead of training camp on Wednesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"We've all been waiting for this for so long," Turnbull said. "For it to finally be here, it's obviously really exciting times but overwhelming at the same time.

"There's just so many different emotions involved, but all good."

Ryan said several players arrived in town on Tuesday and enjoyed a team dinner together. Once the athletes get familiar with each other on the ice, he expects a lineup that will put pressure on opponents at both ends of the rink.

"With this group, that's the way they want to play and that's the way I want to coach," he said. "So I think it's going to fit well for sure."

Camps in the league's other original six cities — Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Boston and Minneapolis-St. Paul — also opened Wednesday.

There's no word yet on when the puck will drop on the inaugural campaign or whether a television/broadcasting deal will be in place. The plan is for each club to play a 24-game regular season.

"From top to bottom, our team is skilled, we're fast, I think we're going to be really hard to play against," Spooner said. "We have so much talent on our team."

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