Low Scoring, High Definition: The PWHPA All Star Weekend

Goaltenders stood tall during a fast and fun-filled showcase

Outside the Canadian Tire Center in Ottawa, snow was falling. Inside, snow was flying as the players of the PWHPA met for the group’s first ever All Star Weekend.

The weekend consisted of four regular season games, two skills clinics for girls and women (both sold out), a skills competition, and a 3-on-3 tournament. Two of the regular season games and the 3-on-3 tournament were broadcast by TSN and RDS.

Regular season games

The regular season games saw more dominance from Team Harvey’s, who posted one regulation win and one overtime win to bring their record to 8-1-0. They were led by Lee Stecklein with a goal and an assist, Marie-Philip Poulin with two assists and a goal in the shootout, and Jessie Eldridge with a goal and a shootout goal.

Team adidas showed up with two regulation wins and a +5 goal differential over two games, led by Kristin O’Neill’s two goals and one assist, and Sarah Potomak’s three assists.

Teams Sonnet and Scotiabank both tallied two losses, with Sonnet losing one in the shootout. Both teams scored only two goals in two games. Megan Keller earned a goal and an assist for Team Scotiabank, while Abby Roque had a goal and a shootout goal for Team Sonnet.

After these games, Team Harvey’s and Team adidas have pulled away on the leaderboard, with 21 points and 16 points respectively. Team Scotiabank, with 9 points, and Team Sonnet with 8 points, are not entirely out of the running, but they will have to heat up significantly in the new year to remain competitive in the Tour’s cumulative standings.

Skills competition

Once the meaningful games were completed, the players got to loosen up and have a different kind of fun! The skills competition was not broadcast in its entirety, but the PWHPA has shared clips, so we can see that there was certainly both levity and skill on display at the Canadian Tire Center.

Team Harvey’s Ann-Renée Desbiens won the Save Streak competition, stopping 14 consecutive shots.

Veteran Brianne Jenner won the Accuracy Shooting competition with a time of 10.627 seconds. Team Sonnet’s Abby Roque was not far behind her, finishing in 11.341 seconds.

In the Fastest Skater competition, Kendall Coyne-Schofield’s time of 13.872 seconds narrowly edged out that of Renata Fast, who completed the lap in 13.902 seconds.

Marie-Philip Poulin was the winner of the Skills Challenge, completing the event in 37.881 seconds, well over the second place finisher.

It would have been nice to be able to watch the entire Skills Competition. From the highlights that were broadcast, this would have been a great event for fans to see. Sarah Nurse was mic’d up, and Mélodie Daoust’s son scored a goal in the Save Streak. Not to mention, these are elite athletes, and the All Star Weekend is supposed to be an exhibition of their skill in a way fans don’t normally get to see. While 3-on-3 hockey is great– and it was great! Getting to that in a minute!– Skills Competitions are cool and engaging and something that people can enjoy even if they don’t know hockey or don’t tune in regularly to watch games. It feels like a missed opportunity to not have this aspect of the All Star Weekend broadcast anywhere, or at least available after the fact. Hopefully, we will see more than the few clips that have been released in the upcoming days.

3-on-3 tournament

The fans voted, and the four captains for the All Star 3-on-3 Tournament were Marie-Philip Poulin, Hilary Knight, Sarah Nurse, and Megan Keller. Each team played three 10-minute run-time games for points, which decided the top two teams who would compete for the title. Round robin ties held up; a tie in the final would go to shootout.

The guest coaches for the All Star teams were Hockey Hall of Famer Kim St-Pierre for Team Poulin, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Vicky Sunohara for Team Keller, HHOFer Jayne Hefford for Team Nurse, and Ottawa Senators Head Coach DJ Smith for Team Knight.

Marie-Philip Poulin and Megan Keller took the opening faceoff for the first game. They laughed before the puck dropped, which was pretty cool to see both because it highlighted the relaxed, fun atmosphere despite the elite competition, and also because we could see them laughing. The camera set-up at the Canadian Tire Center is designed for NHL broadcasts, so we had crisp close-ups and a lot of angles throughout the tournament.

As one might expect, the 3-on-3 structure meant a lot of space and a lot of skating. Play was end-to-end with possession changing regularly. Since this wasn’t sudden death overtime 3-on-3, players seemed more willing to take shots rather than circle back and risk giving up a possession that could cost them the game. The running clocks also meant that the goalies were more inclined to play pucks than stop them.

Those factors led to some impressive goaltending performances that created lower-scoring games than one might expect from 3-on-3 games. With 14 goals across all seven games, there were only two goals for every ten minutes of 3-on-3 play. Ottawa native Erica Howe got a hometown shutout, saving all 4 of the shots she faced in her sole start. Nicole Hensley let in only one goal during her thirty minutes in net, though she would later allow the game-winning shootout goal.

On the scoring side, players were led by Alex Carpenter and Kristin O’Neill, who both had two goals and two primary assists. Carpenter put the cherry on top of the weekend with the game-winning shootout goal for Team Keller. Other stand-out performances came from Rebecca Johnston, who had three goals, and Rebecca Leslie, who had a goal and two primary assists.

But who cares about points! The All Star Tournament is about fun, and there was a lot of fun! Here are some of my favorite moments:

Team captain and defender Megan Keller appeared to make a try for a lacrosse goal in the first game, though the puck came off her stick.

Several players were mic’d up during the games and could be seen occasionally on a split camera, which added a great dimension to the games for the viewer. It let us catch some great moments, like Micah Zandee-Hart yelling encouragement to her teammates and then realizing– “Oo alright!”– that it was her turn to get on the ice.

Players looking to improve their game also benefited from Abby Roque’s in-game wisdom: “Step one get the puck, step two score.”

Team Poulin played in three games, and goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens made sure that her former student at the University of Wisconsin, Kristin Campbell, got some time in the third game as well.

Other special touches were the in-arena music– Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ played prior to the shootout; “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow”– and the design of the All Star jerseys, which were attractive and easily distinguishable.

What pulled the whole event together was, again, the quality and range of the cameras. My biggest take-away from the weekend was a happily renewed appreciation for the skill of the players and the personalities that are apparent even during the games, and the viewer gets the best access when they can see these things clearly. Take this clip, which slows down Abby Roque’s shootout stickhandling and displays it from multiple angles:

It’s so relatable as a viewer to see her face after her shot was saved. We’ve all been there, right? A high-quality visual product enhances the viewer’s enjoyment and connection to the players, which creates investment and attachment to teams. The PWHPA did an excellent job putting together an All Star Weekend that displayed everything the players and the Association have to offer. I hope to get many more opportunities to see these players compete in this kind of environment in the future.

The future

The PWHPA have announced three more stops on the Secret Dream Gap Tour in early 2023. They will play four games in Owen Sound and Collingwood, Ontario, on January 21 and 22, with one game being broadcast on Sportsnet as part of Hockey Day in Canada.

They will play four games in four different rinks in Kitchener, Barrie, Peterborough, and Niagara, Ontario, on February 10 and 11.

A third stop will be a repeat from last season’s tour, four games at the MedStar Capitals Iceplex in partnership with the Washington Capitals. There will be clinics for girls and women prior to these games.