Hockey

PWHL's Toronto, Ottawa teams lock up top draft picks with training camps on horizon

More than 70 players have signed contracts to play in the PWHL, as teams prepare to open training camps next Wednesday.

Defenders Larocque, Harmon among more than 70 players signed to play in league

Two female athletes battle for position in front of the net during a world championship hockey game.
Jocelyn Larocque, right, a mainstay on Team Canada's blueline, has signed with PWHL Toronto for three years. The veteran defender was drafted 2nd overall in September. (Kiyoshi Mio/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

With less than a week to go before training camps begin, rosters are starting to take shape for teams in the Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL).

The PWHL has announced more than 70 signings in the new league, with sights set on beginning play in January.

The biggest signings this week were a pair of first-round picks in Toronto defender Jocelyne Larocque (No. 2 overall) and Ottawa defender Savannah Harmon (No. 5), who both locked in for three years.

Larocque, 35, is one of the most decorated members of Canada's national women's team, with two Olympic gold medals, three world championship gold medals, two NCAA national championships and a Clarkson Cup under her belt.

From Ste. Anne, Man., Larocque was named Manitoba's Indigenous Female Athlete of the Decade in 2021.

The signing reunites Larocque with her national team defensive partner, Renata Fast, giving Toronto arguably the best shutdown defensive pair in the league.

WATCH | CBC Sports' Anastasia Bucsis speaks to Larocque after being drafted:

Jocelyne Larocque on being drafted 2nd overall by Toronto at PWHL draft

8 months ago
Duration 0:41
Anastasia Bucsis speaks to defender Jocelyne Larocque of Ste. Anne, Man., about being drafted in the first round of the inaugural PWHL draft.

"We're close friends, we obviously have played together for five-plus years now," Larocque said at the draft when asked about playing with Fast. "There's a comfort there and I'm excited that we'll be on the same professional team together."

"Jocelyne is one of the best defenders in the world and is a fierce competitor that leads by example on and off the ice," Toronto GM Gina Kingsbury said in a statement after Larocque's signing was announced. "She is a foundational player for us, and someone we are thrilled to build our franchise around."

Harmon, who is from Downers Grove, Illinois, won a world championship with Team USA this past spring, adding to a resume that includes two NCAA titles when she was captain of Clarkson University in 2017 and 2018.

Ottawa GM Mike Hirshfeld pointed to Harmon's leadership qualities when announcing her signing.

"She is a complete hockey player and will be an incredible asset for our team," Hirshfeld said in a statement.

The financial terms of the contracts haven't been released, but the collective bargaining agreement requires each team to sign no fewer than six players to three-year contracts worth at least $80,000 US per season.

As of Friday afternoon, Boston led the way with 19 signings announced. Teams must have a 23-player roster, plus two reserve players, set by Dec. 11.

Several undrafted free agents signed

Most of the contracts announced over the past few weeks have been for players who were taken in the PWHL's inaugural draft in September. But a few teams announced contracts for free agents this week.

The signings include veteran goalie Erica Howe, who secured a one-year deal to play in Toronto. She'll join goaltender Kristen Campbell, who's signed to play in Toronto for three years.

Howe, 31, has almost a decade of pro experience with the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association and in the now-defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League, where she won a league championship with Larocque as a member of the Markham Thunder in 2018. She will likely have some mentorship to offer 25-year-old Campbell.

A women's goalie, wearing a green and gold Clarkson University jersey, makes a save.
Erica Howe makes a save for Clarkson University in the women's NCAA Frozen Four in 2014, when Clarkson won the national title. She signed a one-year deal with PWHL Toronto. (Fred Beckham/The Associated Press)

Boston fans will see a familiar face in Kaleigh Fratkin, an undrafted free agent who signed a one-year contract after spending six seasons with the Boston Pride in the now-shuttered Premier Hockey Federation (PHF).

Fratkin, who is from Burnaby, B.C., was the highest scoring defender in PHF history, finishing with 86 points in 138 games. She won league titles with Boston in 2021 and 2022 and was twice named Defender of the Year. She also played at Boston University and for the Boston Blades in the Canadian Women's Hockey League, where she won a Clarkson Cup.

"She plays a punishing, shutdown defensive style that frustrates opponents while also showing an impressive ability to drive plays from the back end and contribute on offence," Boston GM Danielle Marmer said in a statement.

Teams announce coaching hires

The PWHL plans to begin play in January, but there are lots of questions to answer before then.

The 24-game schedule for each team hasn't been released yet, nor has the league publicly confirmed venues for all six teams. The PWHL also hasn't confirmed team names, though trademark applications filed last month in Canada and the United States offer a glimpse at a few possibilities.

PWHL advisory board member Stan Kasten told CBC Sports last month that the to-do list also included some things most people probably wouldn't think about: sorting out transportation plans, securing insurance and hiring more staff, to name a few items.

Teams announced several hires this week, including specialized coaches, something that's not always been a given in professional women's hockey.

Toronto has hired Stefanie Thomson as a video coach and Mike Ellis as a skills coach. Thomson recently won a gold medal with Canada's U18 women's team, while Ellis has worked in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

New York also announced it's hired two assistant coaches: former Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Colton Orr, who coached the PHF's Connecticut Whale for the last four years, and Mike Sommer, who leaves his role as an assistant coach with the University of British Columbia women's hockey program.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. You can reach her at karissa.donkin@cbc.ca.

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