PWHL opens door for future female pros

PWHL providing hope for young girls

When my female hockey player takes the ice, I see the joy on her face. She’s happy to be there.

Happy to be with her friends, to enjoy her favorite sport.

But at 14, up until recently, there weren’t many opportunities to go on playing once she ages out of minor hockey. Now with the initiation of the PWHL, there is a glimpse of light.

The inaugural PWHL draft took place in September 2023. The soft glow of hope started to grow. The first game on January 1, 2024, between teams Toronto and New York set a record and not just as the first game played in the PWHL. The game played at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, sold out with a record-breaking attendance of 19,285 people.

This game marked a turning point for women’s hockey. To my daughter and her peers, league represents so many things.

The league holds a groundbreaking position to grow talent and elevate the overall appeal of women’s hockey. Young girls growing up with dreams of playing professional hockey can now chase them. They get to watch people who look like them be recognized on a national level. The glass ceiling that held that dream down has been broken.

In a survey conducted with 1,500 Canadian adults from January 4 to 9, 2024 by Abacus data, 35% of Canadians see the PWHL inspiring a new generation of female athletes, while 30% recognize its role in creating opportunities for young players, and 24% believe it can enhance the visibility and popularity of women’s hockey. 

For many Canadians the league allows them to see women playing the sport on a regular basis. Before now, chances to see the women’s game were limited to Olympics or the World Junior competitions.

To now be able to watch them on television or, even better, in person, gives so much more merit to the quality of the women’s game.  

But it’s not just about having more access to see the sport. The PWHL is a solid product. Its inaugural season has seen sellout crowds. The game is fast, exciting and gritty. If anyone ever tells you the girl’s game isn’t rough because it doesn’t have checking, then they need to see these ladies play.

They take to the ice in full make-up and then get in the corners and put pressure against the boards. They score with finesse. They play hard, they play to win, using stick handling skills built on years of practice honing their sport.

The PWHL also provides a chance for our girls to see additional sides of leadership from women that reflect the way women often lead in organizations. Every household leader (aka mom) knows that getting their team to the rink on time requires them picking up the small pieces such as checking bags for equipment and fueling their athlete with snacks.

In organizations, women don’t just lead from in front but rather by lifting others up. They succeed by getting the little things done, even when people aren’t watching. Have you noticed…the players of the PWHL pick up their own pucks after warm-up, something you would never see at an NHL game.

In all aspects of the league, women lead the charge. Most of the support staff ensuring player success are female. Media staff and on ice staff and officials are also predominately female. While there is no mandate or requirement for women to fill these roles, the opportunity for increased visibility is evident, and being fulfilled.  

While it is so positive to see the many smiling girls at these PWHL games watching women excel and broadening their view of the possible, I also have one big fear. As an overall demographic, women tend to watch hockey less than their male counterparts. Young boys grow up watching their hockey heroes.

Young girls who haven’t had the opportunity to watch much of their female hockey heroes until now, need to start watching.

Let’s face it, television viewership, fans and commercial sponsorship are what make the NHL so successful. Without a solid fan base and viewership, one must question if the league will be feasible in the long term. 

For now, though, the PWHL is on solid ice. Hockey fans love it. Next year with the excitement of the draft, team names and logos and the merchandise that follows we can see how the league’s popularity grows…and with it our daughters.