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3 PHF players who thrived in 2021

Who had the most immaculate vibes this past year?

Toronto Six defender Saroya Tinker during a PHF game on Dec. 4, 2021 in Boston.
Michelle Jay

This was a transformative year for the Premier Hockey Federation. Like, the league literally changed its name to Premier Hockey Federation this year, that’s how transformative it was.

But the changes are not limited to a fresh new name on the letterhead. New stars burst onto the scene in 2021, changing the entire landscape of the league. Those stars are visible on a new streaming deal with ESPN+ and TSN. The Toronto Six finally got to play their first game in January and their first home game in November.

With all this in mind, it’s worth examining who 2021 was kindest to in the PHF.

Presenting, 2021’s Three Stars, as determined by stats and vibes (but mostly vibes).

Mikyla Grant-Mentis (TOR)

Mikyla Grant-Mentis had the most meteoric rise of anyone in the Premier Hockey Federation- maybe the entire sport of hockey- this calendar year. On Jan. 1, 2021, Grant-Mentis was a highly regarded rookie on a Toronto Six roster that was very hard to predict given their expansion status and the condensed schedule. She had a couple of games under her belt with the Buffalo Beauts and she looked like a dynamic player, but she wasn’t exactly heralded as a superstar.

By Jan. 1, 2022, she’s the reigning MVP with the most regular season goals, assists and points-per-game over the last calendar year in the whole league.

Per TIG’s Resident Stat Guru Mike Murphy, MGM’s career points-per-game average including both regular season and playoffs (1.72) puts her third all-time in league history, just behind Hilary Knight (1.78). She registered points in 14 of 18 total games in 2021, with three games filled with points back in 2020 to boot. We’re seeing all-time great production from her.

The most impressive thing about her? How easy it all looks. The way she can turn on her speed like a faucet, stickhandle through a defense and snap a quick-release shot is ludicrous. There’s not a single sign that her point production isn’t sustainable. If anything, she seems to be getting better, as she ended 2021 with three consecutive multi-point performances.

As if her offensive gifts weren’t enough, she’s a highly responsible defensive forward with an active stick. She currently ranks third in the PHF in takeaways for the 2021-22 season with 16 through nine games.

It’s watching a video game player at work. She’s the PHF equivalent of NES Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson- there’s not really a definitive way to stop her.

Carly Jackson (BUF)

Carly Jackson’s rookie season in Buffalo turned a lot of heads. She showed great game-stealing ability in Lake Placid- mostly because the Beauts were not a particularly potent offensive team, so if they were going to win at all, it was going to be because Carly Jackson stood on her head.

And she did. And she is.

Jackson earned her first career win in January by stopping 36 of 37 shots against Boston, of all teams. Her second career win came this November, accumulating 34 saves on 37 shots against Metropolitan. Though she sports just a 2-7-1 record over two seasons to this point, she has a .907 save percentage in her 10 career appearances. She’s faced over 30 shots nine times, and over 40 shots three times.

At times in January when the Beauts were not terribly pleasant to watch, be it their paltry offensive output (seven goals in six games) or spotty defensive coverage (-17 goal differential), Jackson gave fans a reason to believe they had a shot. Or at the very least, the constant allowance of high-danger scoring chances would give her the opportunity to make some jaw-dropping desperation saves.

It’s sort of sadistic to root for a goaltender to be constantly under duress, but Jackson just did it so well. How could you not want to see what she’d pull off next?

Plus, the mullet has become a phenomenon. She seems to be leaning into the Buffalo tradition of entertaining goaltenders harkening back to the McLevMan era.

Between the incredible performance on the ice and her electric personality off it, Jackson is quickly becoming one of the brightest stars in the PHF.

A note for the Beauts: make your New Year’s Resolution to give her some goal support.

Saroya Tinker (TOR)

Tinker’s rise to PHF stardom speaks to a recurring motif in women’s hockey fandom: appreciating the defensive side of the game.

Tinker is not likely to light up the stat sheet. Through 12 career games, she has two assists and 13 shots on goal. Her game is more conservative, being the kind of tough-on-pucks, shot-suppressing blueliners that endears her to both the analytics crowd and the old-timey-grit crowd. Case in point, she currently ranks second in the league in blocked shots this season (16, only one behind Shot Block Queen Shannon Turner) and is tied for eighth in takeaways (12) through nine games. As a +6, she ranked fourth amongst all PHF defenders behind teammates Taylor Woods and Lindsay Eastwood, as well as Turner.

Her style of play is very similar to that of former Riveters defender Shelly Picard. Forcing play to the perimeter is the mission, and any offensive contribution beyond that is gravy.

Of course, what truly propelled Tinker to the spotlight in 2021 was less her play (which remains excellent) and more her off-ice activity. The recipient of the 2021 Denna Laing Award for perseverance, Tinker has dedicated so much of her life away from the rink to the elevation of BIPOC voices in hockey and advocating for institutional change within the game. Her eloquence in confronting the various racial issues that persist in the sport coupled with her natural charisma has deservedly made her one of the most popular players in the league.

Tinker has seized the moment in all of the best ways, bringing about positive change in the face of brutal conditions both in terms of the world’s general sociopolitical climate and targeted online harassment, especially during the league’s (still-somewhat-ongoing) Barstool debacle.

In essentially every aspect, Saroya Tinker is the face the PHF needs right now.