PWHPA solidifies leadership group, plans for future

Two board members talk about updates, challenges

Plans for the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association are coming together.

The group of nearly 200 players who are opting to sit out of any North American professional league this fall released their nine-player board, a more concrete number of players, plans for the future, and more through their website and in a recent interview published by espnW.

Chief among the updates was the naming of the PWHPA’s nine-person Board. They are Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, Hilary Knight, Kendall Coyne-Schofield, Noora Räty, Shannon Szabados, Brianne Jenner, Liz Knox, Kimberly Sass, and Alyssa Gagliardi.

“We wanted to make sure that all areas and aspects of women’s hockey were covered so that they had representation,” Szabados told The Ice Garden. “So that’s why you’ll see the National Team players, non-National Team players, some from Canada, some from the US, some from Europe, some goalies, some forwards.”

It was by no means a surprise when Knight, Coyne-Schofield, and Szabados were named as members of the board. Together, the trio were touted as the leaders of the initial For The Game movement back in May. Lamoureux-Davidson, the only player on the board who did not play in a professional league last season, and Jenner round out the US and Canadian national team members. Räty is the only non-North American voice, a Finnish National Team member with experience in a variety of leagues and team settings after playing in men’s leagues in Finland and for KRS in the CWHL. Knox, Sass, and Gagliardi fill out the group, representing the professional players who aren’t a part of the picture for their respective national teams.

When the opportunity to be on the Board presented itself to Gagliardi, she jumped at it, knowing how valuable her perspective as a player who wasn’t on a national team could be. “I think it was really important to have non-National Team members on the Board because the majority [of the PWHPA] is non-National Team members, and that comes with other factors like girls having full-time jobs,” Gagliardi said in an interview with The Ice Garden. “I think everyone just thought it was really important that those voices were equally represented.”

The Board is a fluid group as well. In creating the supporting legal documents with Ballard Spahr LLP — the same firm that supported the 2017 US National Team boycott as well as the US National Soccer team — the PWHPA Board was broken into three groups of three with different terms of service, according to Szabados.

“I think there’s a one-year, two-year, and three-year terms,” she explained. Players will elect and vote for Board members at the end of each term. “[That way] there’s a good turnover and a good mix every year,” Szabados explained.

The Board was also formed to ensure that each region would have a voice. Communication across such a large group of players from across the globe is something that Gagliardi identified as a challenge early on.

Each Board member represents an geographic region  — Gagliardi has Boston and Szabados has Buffalo — and is in charge of communicating with the players in those areas. The remaining areas are Minnesota, the tri-state New York/New Jersey/Connecticut region, Calgary, Markham, Montreal, Toronto, and “other.”

According to espnW, there are 173 “due-paying members.” Gaglairdi confirmed membership dues were $25, specifically meant to be low so as not to be a deterrent to players.

“The dues were to have a clear picture of which players are opting in to to be members,” the former Boston Pride defender explained. “Obviously, we respect everyone’s choice in the matter no matter which way they go. But [this] was a way to kind of make sure that people had to kind of buy-in to get into the group ... Players that paid the dues [will] have access to the resources and ice time and exhibitions.”

That money went to a PWHPA fund to help jump-start the group, but that isn’t how they’re planning on paying for ice time. Bryan Hicks, the PHWPA’s COO, told espnW the association has plans for training opportunities for members, exhibitions between regions and against colleges, and showcase events for youth players. The PWHPA is planning to secure the ice time for those events through “some partnerships and sponsorships and different areas of funding,” Gagliardi explained.

The group is realistic about the fact they are doing something brand new for themselves and for women’s hockey. Szabados identified that as one of the greatest challenges the PWHPA faces. “As a group, [we are] trying to get everything organized and get sponsors in and then trying to find out how to reallocate that,” she outlined. “This is brand new for women’s hockey, so we’re all trying to figure it out together and do it on the fly.”

To assist with that end, the association’s support team has an abundance of experience.

The PWHPA brought in Hicks, the director of officiating for ECAC’s women’s hockey teams, to serve as its COO. Hicks has also worked with Billie Jean King, a vocal supporter/advisor of the PWHPA, and her partner Ilana Kloss, who is listed on the support team as an advisor. Chelsea Purcell, former Markham Thunder general manager and former Head of Strategic Partnerships of the CWHL, is the corporate sponsorship consultant in Canada, while Sheryl Shade holds the same spot in the US. Steve Conforti, who also worked with the CHWLPA, rounds out the group as a marketing consultant.

As a whole, the group is extremely forward-thinking, as shown by the fact that the Board has plans for three-year terms.  “I think hopefully this is a lifelong thing for women’s professional hockey,” Szabados shared. “This is just kind of a long term goal regardless of where we’re playing or what we’re doing, we always want to have this association so that players are taken care of.”

They’re being slow and methodical though, and are being careful not to rush into anything. Both Szabados and Gagliardi were quiet on what’s coming for the fall, but they did share that the PWHPA should have announcements coming soon.

In the short term, they just want to make sure they’re still out there, making a difference. “The goal is to make sure that players are still playing and we’re in front of the young girls that are looking up to us,” Gagliardi said. She also stated that the PWHPA wants to prove that there is a market out there for watching the best players in the world play each other.

“It’s kind of crazy, but it hasn’t ever happened,” she explained to The Ice Garden. “There’s always been a divide or just no option to do that other than the US-Canada games. So it’s really exciting that there’ll be some opportunities to showcase that talent level and those groups facing off against one another.”