Professional Women's Hockey League

Let the scrimmages begin: PWHL gathers in Upstate New York with final cuts on horizon

By the end of the pre-season evaluation camp, general managers will have to make some tough decisions, as they move toward the Dec. 11 deadline to finalize rosters.

League's 6 teams congregate in Utica, N.Y., for 5-day pre-season evaluation camp

A female hockey coach instructs on a whiteboard pinned to the glass, as several players watch her.
All six PWHL teams, including Boston, seen above, will be in Utica, N.Y., this week for a pre-season evaluation camp. (Charles Krupa/The Associated Press)

When the six teams in the new Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) take to the ice at the Utica University Nexus Center in Utica, N.Y., on Monday, it will be the first time coaches and general managers get to see how their teams stack up to the others.

For players, it will be a long-awaited return to the intensity of game action, a feeling some players haven't had since the spring.

The league will hold a five-day pre-season evaluation camp in the small New York city, which will also play host to the Women's World Championship next spring.

By the end of the camp, general managers will have to make some tough decisions, as they move toward the Dec. 11 deadline to finalize rosters.

It's all leading up to puck drop on Jan. 1, when Toronto will host New York at Mattamy Athletic Centre (12:30 pm ET) in what will be the first PWHL game.

The pre-season camp gives the league an opportunity to test things out when it comes to hockey operations and game presentation, according to Jayna Hefford, the PWHL's senior vice president of hockey operations.

"We have an opportunity to try some things and make sure that when we launch in January, we're ready to go," Hefford said last month.

"So it can be a little bit experimental for us in certain ways, but also it's going to provide a really great evaluation process for the GMs and the head coaches."

Scrimmages begin Monday

Teams will practice in Utica on Sunday afternoon and on Monday morning before three scrimmages later on Monday: Boston vs. Toronto, Minnesota vs. Ottawa and New York vs. Montreal.

On Tuesday, Toronto will face Minnesota before Montreal takes on Boston in what will be a preview of Montreal's Jan. 13 home opener at Verdun Auditorium.

Three female hockey players in black jerseys, with PWHL written on the front, are on the ice.
PWHL Montreal's Marie-Philip Poulin, centre, talks with teammates during training camp in Montreal in November. Her team will face New York, Boston and Minnesota in pre-season scrimmages this week. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The final scrimmage of the day (Ottawa vs. New York) will be open to the public in Utica, marking the first time members of the public can watch PWHL teams on the ice. There will also be a fan event where people can meet players on each team.

Players will be off the ice on Wednesday for several meetings, one of the benefits of having everyone in one place, Hefford said.

"I think we all believe it's a really unique opportunity to bring all of the teams together," Hefford said last month.

"And certainly in year one, it gives us a chance to work through a lot of things that we're working through, whether it be various educational pieces we want to talk to the players with around concussions or doping or many of those big issues that are really important."

The camp wraps up on Thursday with three more scrimmages, which includes Toronto taking on New York, a preview of what's to come on New Year's day.

A women's hockey player dressed in a 'Toronto' shirt stands at the boards, stepping onto the ice.
Natalie Spooner and her PWHL Toronto team will scrimmage against New York this week in Utica, N.Y. It will be a preview of the club's season-opening game on New Year's Day. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

While this week will be the first time teams get to face off against their competition, some teams have tried to mirror the feeling of a game day during training camp by having game simulations, complete with PA announcing and officiating.

Second waiver window opens Dec. 8

Final cuts will happen at the end of the week before a waiver period opens on Dec. 8 and runs through Dec. 10.

The final rosters that must be submitted on Dec. 11 must include 23 players under contract plus two reserve players.

In Ottawa, GM Mike Hirshfeld has already signed 17 players. That leaves six jobs up for grabs and 10 unsigned players in camp trying to win one.

Last month, after training camp opened, Hirshfeld said he didn't have a preference for how those 23 roster spots will be spread out across the lineup.

"I think we're going to try and keep the best players we can," Hirshfeld said.

"The mix itself, whether it's 12 forwards or 11 forwards or seven or eight [defenders], we'll just let it play out and see how people perform."

As of Friday afternoon, Montreal had announced 15 player signings while Toronto had announced 16 players under contract.

Toronto is one of only two teams still carrying four goaltenders, including Kristen Campbell (signed to a three-year contract), Erica Howe (signed to a one-year contract) and free agent invites Carly Jackson and Amanda Mäkelä.

The league will take a break for international play next week, which includes two Rivalry Series games between Team Canada and Team USA. They'll play in Kitchener, Ont. on Dec. 14 and Sarnia, Ont. on Dec. 16.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

now