Professional women’s hockey is set to make its return to Canada with the National Women’s Hockey League officially announcing it is expanding into Toronto.
The yet to be named franchise has an ownership group headed by former Harvard captain Johanna Boynton, features former Brown University coach Margaret “Digit” Murphy as its president, and already has five players under contract, the NWHL said in a three-page release Wednesday.
“Launching our first team in Canada is a pivotal and proud moment for the NWHL,” league founder and commissioner Dani Rylan said in statement. “Everyone in the Toronto hockey community can be sure that this first-class team of professionals will make bold strides for the women’s game.”
The Toronto team increases the U.S.-based NWHL’s number of franchises to six, and comes a year after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded after 12 seasons because of financial instability.
The NWHL was founded in 2015, becoming North America’s first pro women’s league to pay its players a salary. It currently has teams in Boston, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey; Danbury, Connecticut; Buffalo, New York; and Saint Paul, Minnesota.
The move north of the border comes a little over a week after The Associated Press first reported the NWHL’s plans.
Murphy has played a lead role for the expansion franchise by having spent the past month establishing contacts and recruiting players.
All five players signed previously played in the CWHL, with the most notable being Shiann Darkangelo, a member of the United States team that won the 2016 world championships. The four other players are Canadians: forward Taylor Woods, defencemen Kristen Barbara and Emma Greco, and goalie Elaine Chuli.
“I’m delighted to be part of the first NWHL franchise in Canada because it brings me back to my roots,” the 58-year-old Murphy told the AP in a phone interview.
“A year ago, when the CWHL shut down, they had one of the best hockey products on the market,” she said. “So I just see this as a continuation of that, and Toronto deserves a women’s franchise.”
The Canadian Women’s Hockey League ceased operations in April last year.
It’s unlikely the NWHL will be able to draw from the rosters of current U.S. or Canadian national teams after their members helped form the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association in the wake of the CWHL’s collapse.
🚨PWHPA statement on NWHL expansion <a href=”https://t.co/uCvuZYBc9h”>pic.twitter.com/uCvuZYBc9h</a>
The PWHPA members spent the past year holding a series of barn-storming weekend events across North America, and are already making plans to do so again next year.
Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin, the only player in women’s hockey history to score in three straight Olympic finals, brushed off the NWHL’s arrival in Canada.
“There’s not much to say,” she told CBC Sports’ Andi Petrillo on the CBC Olympics Instagram channel shortly after Wednesday’s news broke. “I don’t know if it’s professional. I think there’s a reason why many of us are not playing in that league.”
WATCH | Marie-Philip Poulin on NWHL expansion:
Poulin, 29, is among more than 200 of the world’s top players who vowed not to play professionally in North America in the wake of the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
They later formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which is pushing for the establishment of a single league capable of paying players a fair wage and with a financially stable long-term economic model.
“We believe in what we are doing. We want to create that viable league and we’re united,” said Poulin, a former member of the Les Canadiennes de Montreal who led the CWHL in scoring for three straight seasons before it folded. “We’re going to keep working together and that’s something that’s going to happen.”
Put simply, noted Poulin, the players are fighting for a league in which they could make a living.
“We’re not asking for millions like the NHL guys, just something [where] we can wake up every day and go to work. Just having that dream job,” Poulin said. “We work as hard [as the men].”
Former CWHL goalie and PWHPA member Liz Knox questioned the timing of the NWHL announcement by referring to the coronavirus pandemic and writing in a text message: “It’s difficult to imagine expansion being at the forefront of many business strategies.”
“Our vision has not changed as we move forward, but our priorities now lie on the health and safety of our players, staff, volunteers and fans,” Knox said. “We will see what the fall brings and I wish the best to any of the former PWHPA members who have signed.”
Last week, PWHPA executive member Jayna Hefford said she was aware of and welcomed the NWHL’s expansion bid, even though it doesn’t fit her association’s long-term objective.
“We think this is an opportunity that’s going to be provided for some women to play hockey at that level,” Hefford told the AP. “But it’s not the opportunity that we’re looking to provide and the professional league that we want to create.”
The NWHL does not reveal its financial numbers or all player salaries, with some making as much as $15,000 last season. The league also introduced a plan to share 50 per cent of revenue generated from sponsorship and media deals on top of player salaries.
Season scheduled to start in November
The NWHL was unable to complete its season after postponing its championship game due to the coronavirus pandemic. Boston was scheduled to host Minnesota in the Isobel Cup Final on March 13. The game is expected to be played before the league opens its 2020-21 season in mid-November.
Though U.S.-born, Murphy spent so much time recruiting Canadian players during her 22 seasons at Brown, she once joked about considering the possibility of retiring there.
After leaving Brown, where she won 318 games, she won two CWHL championships during three seasons coaching the Boston Blades. Murphy then spent the 2017-18 season coaching a CWHL expansion team in China, whose players included Darkangelo and Chuli.
Murphy said she has yet to secure a home rink, but doesn’t consider that to be an issue at this point. Saying she will stick to her role as president, Murphy is also in the process of hiring a coach and general manager.
She was brought on board by Boynton, whom she’s known for numerous years. Boynton runs a home-building construction company outside of Boston, and holds an ownership stake in the NWHL’s Boston Pride.
The Toronto team’s executive includes Tyler Tumminia, who has been named chairman. She serves as an executive at a firm which oversees numerous minor-league baseball teams.
Murphy envisions the potential of further NWHL expansion into Canada, particularly Montreal, but said she is focused solely on building the Toronto franchise.
Murphy said the challenges of establishing a team in Toronto will be what she called “a layup” as compared to China, which had little history in the sport.
“I’m going into the beautiful country of Canada that embraces hockey, and the greatest hockey city, and I’m like a kid in the candy store. This is fun,” she said.
And with nearly 8,000 adult females registered to play hockey in Ontario, Murphy is confident she can produce a competitive roster.
“I hope to not fail Toronto,” Murphy said. “I don’t’ want to get cocky and say, `We’re going to win the Cup,’ but I want to contend, baby.”
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)