At the start of the PWHL team training camps, Ottawa had more players signed than most other teams. Seventeen players had inked contracts, just shy of Boston’s 19. Ottawa general manager Michael Hirshfeld prioritized signing his players early. Weeks before training camp, he had 13 of his drafted players signed in addition to his three initial signings and Becca Gilmore – a free agent signed after the draft.
The general manager wanted to ease the transition of players heading into training camp. Players have the worry of moving to a new city while also practicing together for the first time. Hirshfeld’s philosophy was that players with contracts could focus on hockey. “We just didn’t want any distractions at camp,” he told The Ice Garden on the second day.
“We wanted to get those players under contract, so they get the housing stipend and the relocation expense. They only get that once they’re under contract, so it was important to me that they get access to that,” Hirshfeld said.
The team has done what they can to help players transition to Ottawa. All players across the league receive financial support to assist with the costs. “We’re supporting as much as we can,” Hirshfeld said. “All the players get a monthly housing stipend to help pay for rent – they get some money to help them fly in and relocate.”
The team’s administration gave logistical support to the players and connected them with real estate agents and other local support.
“We’re trying to do our best, but it’s also a pro league,” he said. “These are pro players, and it's different than University. These players are on their own a little because they’re making money to do this.”
The players appreciated the work the team has done to ease the transition. “There has been so much support from the team that has helped a lot of us move,” said forward Daryl Watts to The Ice Garden. “Personally, it’s nice to know I’m signed, and I’m going to be with this team moving forward,” she said.
But the pressure remains for the 13 players attending camp without contracts. Those players are competing for the six final roster spots. “There will be some tough decisions, but we have three and a half weeks of training camp to see it play out on the ice,” said Hirshfeld, talking to reporters on the first day of camp. “We’re looking for good teammates, highly skilled players, and how they fit in our mix.”
Eight unsigned forwards, three defenders, and two goalies are attending camp. The team’s leadership hasn’t indicated how they want to allocate their final six roster spots, but Hirshfeld did say that with a 24-game season, they could approach it differently than one might an 82-game NHL season.
“The commitment we made to all the free agents – you come here, you’re going to have a legitimate, fair chance to make this team,” Hirshfeld told The Ice Garden.
And these players haven’t been left out of team support. They’re all staying at a local hotel, being paid a stipend, and eating two meals a day at the rink – just like the signed players. There’s a lot of pressure at professional tryouts, but the unsigned players don’t feel like outsiders and have been practicing and participating in activities as a part of the team.
“Coming in to try out, you want to prove yourself,” said unsigned camp invite Liliane Perrault after a training camp session. “Obviously, there are some nerves there, but the coaching staff and the girls have made it so comfortable and fun,” she said following practice on Nov. 23.
Ottawa will make their first cuts by Nov. 29, after two weeks of cuts. The final round of cuts will bring the roster down to 23 players in December.