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Women’s hockey is heading to Philly area!

Ann-Sophie Bettez during a Dream Gap tour game in Hudson, NH.
Michelle Jay

The Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) recently announced a Dream Gap Tour stop at the Virtua Flyers Skate Zone at Voorhees, NJ on Feb. 28 through March 1.

The two-day showcase will have four games. Saturday will feature two games where the winners will move on to the championship game on Sunday and the other two teams will go to the consolation game.

The rosters feature a mix of Canadians and Americans with numerous Olympians as well. The teams are named for a player on the team, typically a high profile player from a National Team or a fan favorite.

Traditionally they’ve been built around the training groups, but this stop is a bit mixed up. For example, American Olympian Hilary Knight is currently based in Montreal after playing for the CWHL’s Les Canadiennes de Montreal and has been playing with other Les Canadiennes. However, the rosters in Philadelphia favor a more US v Canada split, so Knight is playing against her typical teammates.

Rosters

Team Turnbull Team Nurse Team Keller Team Decker
Team Turnbull Team Nurse Team Keller Team Decker
Genevieve Lacasse Emerance Maschmeyer Katie Burt Alex Rigsby Cavallini
Kassidy Sauve Erica Howe Nicole Hensley Katie Fitzgerald
Brigette Lacquette Meaghan Mikkelson Blake Bolden Kacey Bellamy
Renata Fast Erin Ambrose Savannah Harmon Emily Matheson
Jocelyne Larocque Halli Krzyzaniak Reagan Rust Lee Stecklein
Lauriane Rougeau Melissa Channell Kali Flanagan Alyssa Gagliardi
Lauren Williams Laura Fortino Megan Keller Melissa Samoskevich
Catherine Daoust Hayleigh Cudmore Rachael Ade Kelsey Koelzer
Iya Gavrilova Victoria Bach Hayley Scamurra Brianna Decker
Blayre Turnbull Brittany Howard Hannah Brandt Kendall Coyne Schofield
Loren Gabel Sarah Nurse Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson Annika Zalewski
Brianne Jenner Natalie Spooner Haley Skarupa Hilary Knight
Jamie Lee Rattray Emily Clark Amanda Pelkey Kelly Pannek
Ann-Sophie Bettez Marie-Philip Poulin Paige Voight Meghan Grieves
Melodie Daoust Jess Jones Amanda Kessel Nicole Anderson
Laura Stacey Jillian Saulnier Monique Lamoureux-Morando Reagan Haley
Jessie Vella Rebecca Johnston Alexa Gruschow Kelly Babstock

The schedule also lends to a US v Canada championship game.

Saturday

  • Team Turnbull v Team Nurse - 4 p.m.
  • Team Keller v Team Decker - 7 p.m.

Sunday

  • Consolation - 11 a.m.
  • Championships - 2 p.m.

Thus far, streaming details have yet to be announced. Though for the three 2019 stops, all but one game was streamed on the PWHPA’s YouTube.

What is the PWHPA? Is it a traveling league? An All-Star group of players from a league?

To answer this question we have to go back to March 2019. One week after the season ended, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) folded without warning. The six-team league was one of two professional women’s hockey leagues in North America and had just wrapped up its 12th season. That left the National Women’s Hockey League, a five-team league based in the US that is currently playing its 5th season.

Despite being considered professional hockey, neither league paid players enough to live off. Nearly every player worked full time jobs around their twice weekly practice schedules and weekend games.

That’s where the PWHPA comes in. Shortly after the folding of the CWHL, between 170 and 200 players announced they would be sitting out of professional hockey in North America. They are asking for better pay and more professional conditions. It is important to note that they are not asking for NHL-level money, but for livable wages instead of the stipends ranging from $3,000 to $15,000, depending on their service time. They are not a true union or players association, despite their name.

In order to keep playing and stay in front of fans, they have organized the Dream Gap Tour, named as such because they are trying to close to dream gap between what young girls can do and what young boys can do.

The PWHPA is made up of both former CWHL players and NWHL players who joined the movement. Every player from the Canadian and American National Teams is in the PWHPA as well. Players are grouped into training regions for practices and typically rosters for the Dream Gap Tours plus any exhibitions they may play in.

So to actually answer the other questions: No, it’s not a traveling league because the rosters change each stop. It’s a collection of showcases grouped under one name. Nor is it an All-Star group from one league because, again, it’s not a league.

Why didn’t they play in the NWHL?

The easy answer is that the PWHPA players don’t believe the NWHL’s model is the best way to a sustainable league, especially after the CWHL abruptly closed with literally no warning. There’s also a history of mistrust with NWHL leadership due to previous issues and the belief that right now is the time to ask for more, for what they deserve.

What’s the NHL’s role in all of this?

The NHL has made it fairly clear from a league-level that they are not interested in starting a league while a post-collegiate option remains. They don’t want to be seen as pushing a league out of existence. Gary Bettman and Bill Daly have held firm on that stance while also not saying that if the NWHL folds, that they will form a league. The latest out of the NHL is that they aren’t modeling out a league and, a source told The Athletic that most of the conversations have been lead by sponsors.

Where can I read more?

The Ice Garden, duh! There’s way more to this than I can ever go into detail here. So I’ll direct you to some readings.

Start here to go all the way back to the beginning when the CWHL folded and the PWHPA was formed.

Here’s a bit on how the PWHPA itself is structured, though about a month later Olympian Jayna Hefford was named Operations Consultant.

The PWHPA held three Dream Gap Tour stops in 2019 as well.