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Future promising for women’s pro hockey North American league expands, more than doubles salary cap

Progress toward the development of a viable professional women’s hockey league in North America has been agonizingly slow in recent years.

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Progress toward the development of a viable professional women’s hockey league in North America has been agonizingly slow in recent years.

In the fall of 2022, however, the future looks a lot more promising. The Premier Hockey Federation, a rebranded version of the original National Women’s Hockey League, is preparing for 2022-23 with an expansion team in Montreal to bring the league’s complement to seven franchises.

More importantly, the league has more than doubled its salary cap to US$750,000 from US$300,000 in 2021-22 and more top pros are considering the PHF as a legitimate destination.

At least six players come from Manitoba.

One of those is 25-year-old blue-liner Kati Tabin, a Winnipegger who has signed with the Toronto Six after a stint with the Connecticut Whale last season.

MICHELLE JAY PHOTO

Taylor Woods

In Toronto, she is joined on the ice by fellow Manitobans Alexis Woloschuk and Taylor Woods. Off the ice, former Olympian Sami Jo Small is the newly installed team president.

Finnish international Venla Hovi, formerly of the University of Manitoba Bisons, is the head coach of the East Rutherford, N.J.-based Metropolitan Riveters.

“We’re all kind of focusing on a bigger and brighter future for all of us,” said Tabin earlier this week. “And that, hopefully, in next couple years, none of us have to have a second job or another full-time job.

“There’s a lot of girls in the PHF who have full-time jobs, whether that’s nursing or accounting or marketing, whatever it is, and they show up to practice at the end of the day. I give props to them because I couldn’t do that myself.”

“We’re all kind of focusing on a bigger and brighter future for all of us.”–Kati Tabin

Tabin, who graduated from Quinnipiac University in 2020 with an MBA, supplements her income as a skill instructor at a Toronto-area hockey academy. She gave up a full-time position overseeing the female hockey department at Winnipeg’s Rink Hockey Academy to pursue a pro-playing career.

“(RHA is) a great company, a great place to work and kind of the career path I’d love to take in the future,” said Tabin. “But I’m only getting older and I can’t keep playing hockey that much longer. I just figured, ‘You know what, I’d rather play my final year and be able to look back and say I kind of gave it my all.’ And I don’t think I’ve done that yet. So, I’m really excited to keep going.”

PHF wages currently range from approximately US$25,000 to US$80,000 for a five-month season that opens Nov. 5. The upgrades are not insignificant.

SUPPLIED

Goaltender Corinne Schroeder of Elm Creek plays for the Boston Pride of the Premier Hockey Federation.

“It’s a really good first step,” said goaltender Corinne Schroeder, an Elm Creek product who plays for the Boston Pride. “I think they do have plans in the next two years to increase the salary cap even more, so those are some options. I’m not sure anyone’s gonna get super rich right away but I think it’s a great starting point.”

In the off-season, the PHF’s Buffalo Beauts made waves by signing league MVP Mikyla Grant-Mentis away from Toronto with a record payday.

“I think she signed a deal (with Buffalo) for about $80,000, so it’s a very wide range,” said Schroeder, who graduated with an MBA from Quinnipiac last spring. “It’s just up to each coach to allocate the resources the way they see fit… but it’s pretty amazing that she can be making that (much). It’s a great thing for women in sports in general and a good precedent that we have now.”

“I think they do have plans in the next two years to increase the salary cap even more, so those are some options.”–Corinne Schroeder

Small, who ended her playing career in 2018, is a professional speaker with about 50 and 70 speaking engagements per year while also serving as a TSN women’s hockey analyst. She added the Toronto Six post to her portfolio last month, more than three years after witnessing the painful demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

“This is really the first time in women’s hockey, unless you played it on the national team, that you could make a living in the game and so I think it’s driving a lot of excitement,” said Small. “But it also means the level of players is increasing significantly every year. I think we have nine new players this year, and so more and more people are wanting to make this a career choice.”

The PHF is in competition for players with the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which has paid players for participating in showcase weekends although it has not staged a league season. The PHF has an agreement with ESPN to stream all of its games for television, including TSN Direct. Small said an undetermined number of games will be shown on traditional TSN channels.

“This is really the first time in women’s hockey, unless you played it on the national team, that you could make a living in the game and so I think it’s driving a lot of excitement.”–Sami Jo Small

“The PHF has done everything in its power to build the league that players want to play in and we’re seeing more and more players wanting to play here,” said Small. “I think that the PHF and what (commissioner) Reagan (Carey) has really instilled is the value of it’s no longer us versus now — let’s build the best product we can.

“And here in the Toronto Six that’s really what we’re doing. I was really impressed when I walked into (the facility to) see all the amenities that these girls had, and that we as a team have nearly $1 million in payroll salaries. It’s absolutely incredible.”

Tabin’s hope is that the PHF and PWHPA will join forces and share resources.

“The light at the end of the tunnel for all of us is that one day we’re going to make one league,” she said.

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

PREMIER HOCKEY FEDERATION PRIMER
Salary cap: US$750,000
Teams (7): Toronto Six; Montreal Force; Boston Pride; Buffalo Beauts; Minnesota Whitecaps; Metropolitan Riveters; Connecticut Whale.
Manitobans: D Kati Tabin, Winnipeg (Toronto Six); D Taylor Woods, Morden (Toronto Six); D Alexis Woloschuk, Winnipeg (Toronto Six); F Ashley Brykaliuk, Brandon (Minnesota Whitecaps); G Corinne Schroeder, Elm Creek (Boston Pride); F Kayla Friesen, Winnipeg (Boston Pride).
Sami Jo Small says: “It’s always been my dream to eventually have a team based in Winnipeg… There’s a lot of people that have gone through the game and believe in it in Winnipeg and I think it would do well there. It’s just finding that person that has the bank roll and an ownership group that can afford to have a team.”

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