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The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

‘It’s going to come to life’: Professional Women’s Hockey on the rise despite slow start

Kellyn Taylor
Illustration Kellyn Taylor

Despite a star-studded roster and well-formatted league, the Professional Women’s Hockey League’s (PWHL) Boston team is off to a slow start for the league’s inaugural season.

Boston is 2-2-0-2 on the season and ranked third out of the league’s six teams, trailing Minnesota and Montreal but ahead of Ottawa, New York, and Toronto. While top three may seem like a decent spot, the team was projected to have a stronger start. Captain Hilary Knight—named the International Ice Hockey Federation Female Player of the Year in 2023 and one of the most accomplished female American hockey players of all time—spearheads the talented roster. Boston’s team is also filled with Olympians and college hockey stars, including first-round draft pick Alina Muller out of Northeastern and Ohio State’s Sophie Jaques, ranked second and third preseason, respectively. 

Almost everyone predicted that Boston’s incredible fusion of depth and strength, youth, and experience would take the league by the reins. However, the beginnings of many of their periods have been slow, and they have consistently appeared in the middle of the leaderboard. 

The history of women’s hockey associations is rocky, with issues such as unstable leadership, lack of funding, and salary cuts causing several leagues to disband. 

Before the PWHL, women’s hockey was represented by the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) in 1999 and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) in 2007, both of which disbanded by 2019. 

Established in 2015, a new version of the NWHL began with only four teams, but after implementing drastic pay cuts, some teams gained independent ownership via purchasing by owners of NHL teams. The association then upped the participating number of teams to seven and rebranded as the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF). 

Many prominent players founded the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) after the CWHL folded, and boycotted existing leagues (like the PHF) in hopes of creating a singular, financially stable professional league.

The PHF lasted only eight seasons and was bought in 2023 by PWHPA financiers, Mark Walter—billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and part owner of Chelsea Football Club—and Billie Jean King—groundbreaking female tennis player—in an attempt to create a unified professional women’s hockey league in North America.

“This is what we’ve been waiting for as women,” Boston PWHL Head Coach Courtney Kessel said in an interview with CBSNews. “One professional league that’s supported. And here we are.”

The PWHL aims to solve all of the problems its predecessors couldn’t unite as one league. Player salaries are now livable wages, ranging from $35,000 to $80,000, with healthcare and other benefits. Unlike some other professional women’s sports leagues, PWHL players do not need second jobs to get by. They also have an eight-year collective bargaining agreement. 

The teams have actual training centers and professional facilities, with Boston practicing at the Boston Sports Institute in Wellesley. Most players agree that the organization and layout are on a whole different level than previous leagues.

“These players are getting full-time salaries where they show up and they’re just hockey players,” Kessel said in an interview with Audacy. “It’s all they have to worry about.”

The league jumped to provide a space for female athletes as soon as they received proper funding, so the teams don’t even have names or logos yet due to how quickly they got the games up and running. The teams are differentiated by color and the name of their home city, state, or province.

Boston PWHL plays at Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Mass., which only seats 6,000, but fans have brought up the possibility of female athletes on the ice at TD Garden. Other PWHL teams, like Minnesota, use their NHL counterparts’ arenas, like the Minnesota Wild’s Xcel Energy Center which seats 17,954. PWHL has the attendance to fill out a big-time arena as well, with 13,316 people who attended the Minnesota vs. Montreal game on Jan. 6.

In a city like Boston where sports are a major deal, the PWHL establishing itself among the same ranks as the Celtics, Bruins, Patriots and Red Sox will take an immense effort, but the popularity of the league is only growing. An estimated 630,000 fans watched games on YouTube, and surely more would attend in-person games if the team was located in central Boston at TD, rather than in Lowell.

“The more and more these fans watch the game, the more they’re going to buy into us being Boston,” said Kessel. “This is going to be something that they want to be a part of and they want to have their butts in the seats, because it is going to come to life.”

The PWHL is an incredible opportunity for professional female athletes, and Boston’s team needs to step it up in order to put this team on the map as the league commences.

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About the Contributor
Anna Knepley
Anna Knepley, Sports Editor
Anna Knepley (she/her) is a freshman journalism major from just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. She currently serves as the assistant sports editor. Outside of the Beacon, she can be found hanging out with friends, exploring the city and writing for the CPLA newsletter. 

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