So it's almost 2024, and puck drop for the Professional Women's Hockey League is looming. Rosters have been finalized, venues secured, schedules dropped, merchandise launched... and you're here sweating bullets, asking that all-important question:
What team should I root for?
Maybe you're not in a PWHL market, or you're in a market that lost a pro team back in June. Maybe you're newer to women's hockey altogether, lured in by the prospect of some of the best players in the world hitting the ice. Maybe you just love hockey and you hope all the teams have fun. Whatever the case, here's a guide to figuring out what each team has to offer you – and remember, whoever you choose, you'll most likely have a good time.
For the Newly Initiated: Boston
This is not a drag. I repeat: this is not a drag. Everyone starts somewhere, and if you happen to start with the team one of the most well-known American women's players happens to play on, that's not a fatal flaw. Hilary Knight is an icon for a reason, and it's just an added benefit that she's in league (heh) with some other awesome players like Shiann Darkangelo, Loren Gabel, Taylor Girard, Alina Muller, and Jamie Lee Rattray. You'll also get to see some budding talent like former Patty Kazmaier winning defender Sophie Jaques, Wisconsin grad Sophie Shirley, and Theresa Schafzahl out of the University of Vermont. They also have arguably some of the best goalies in the league in Aerin Frankel, Emma Soderberg, and Cami Kronish. Overall there's lots to like here, and you won't be disappointed.
For The Fan Who Likes a Hometown Feel: Minnesota
There's something so comforting about a team built in Minnesota. No matter who's running the team, no matter what league it's in, the State of Hockey's hand is all over it – and that always sets it apart from the pack. Natalie Darwitz as GM, Charlie Burggraf coaching, and a host of Minnesota-born players (including first-overall pick Taylor Heise and Team USA standouts Grace Zumwinkle, Kelly Pannek, and Lee Stecklein) on the roster? That's about as Minny as it gets, as is the fast, gritty style of play they're bound to execute. That, to me, is lovely. Stand in your truth, Minnesota.
For the Analytics Junkie: Montreal
I'm sorry to sound like a broken record, but there is such an exciting lineup here and it's so obvious that the front office in Montreal has done its homework and picked players that will deliver in spades. That forward corps alone has me salivating, and now that I've experienced a world in which Jillian Dempsey and Ann-Sophie Bettez play on the same line, let alone the same team, I don't want anything else. To say nothing of Marie-Philip Poulin, Kennedy Marchment, Leah Lum, Kati Tabin, and some of the other unbelievable skaters on this roster – let's just put it this way, I have my money on Montreal and I don't care who knows it.
For the Fan Who Likes Hockey With an Edge: New York
Don't get me wrong, all of these teams can provide some rough-and-tumble moments should the opportunity strike, but there's something incredibly fun about New York's roster specifically. Maybe it's the idea of having Alex Carpenter, Abby Roque, and Madison Packer all on the same team, sprinkled with Taylor Baker, Emma Woods, Jade Downie-Landry, and Olivia Zafuto. All of those players have an edge that is just this side of feral, usually, and that makes for a team that will probably hold true to that New York-centric "finesse with a side of grit" that started with teams like the PHF's New York/Metropolitan Riveters. Indeed, this roster feels like a step up from that idea, but I wouldn't put any of these players past leveling an opponent when necessary.
For the Oddball: Ottawa
Now, before you come at me with your pitchforks, let me explain that I mean this in the most endearing way possible. For a lot of us, the knee-jerk reaction to Ottawa getting an inaugural PWHL franchise was: "Really? Huh. Interesting." I honestly think GM Mike Hirshfeld heard all of this and took it personally, because he and his staff have created one of the most fun rosters in the league on paper. With players like Hayley Scamurra, Mikyla Grant-Mentis, and Brianne Jenner at the top of their game, Akane Shiga being one of the most exciting non-North American youngsters in the game, and a trio of goalies that is certainly eclectic, I can see Ottawa shocking some teams early, and I'm here for it.
For Those Who Like a Good Throwback: Toronto
Jess Jones, Natalie Spooner, Jocelyne Larocque, Blayre Turnbull, Erica Howe – these are names I remember from my days covering the CWHL, and it's a testament to their talent that they're still in the game now and able to play in a league they're comfortable with again. Toronto is fast, fun, overwhelming at times, and can give as good as they get physically. They also have a healthy dose of national team talent on the roster (many of the above names in fact overlap with former CWHL stardom), making it easier to keep track for those whose women's hockey knowledge is limited to once every four years. And again – not a drag! We all start somewhere. Refer to my graph on Boston for a refresher on that.
If you're still undecided, don't worry – you've got the whole season to make up your mind, and TIG will have information on where and how to watch coming soon. The first-ever regular season puck drop is at 12:30 p.m. Jan. 1 at downtown Toronto's Mattamy Athletic Centre, between host (you guessed it) Toronto and visiting New York.