Canadian hockey stars Spooner, Jenner excited for PWHL season despite remaining unknowns


It was a summer of waiting for women’s hockey players.

After a collective bargaining agreement was signed in July to form a new, unified league, many players were largely left out of the loop on the details of building it.

But all of a sudden, in a single call on Monday, details on the Professional Women’s Hockey League were unveiled to players, including the locations of six franchises.

By Friday, some may even be signed as a 10-day window opens for each of the six franchises to sign three players to three-year contracts worth as much as $80,000 US annually.

Three-time Canadian Olympian Natalie Spooner could be among those early signings.

“It all feels like it’s happening really quick, but at the same time it’s just so exciting,” she told CBC Sports on Thursday. “I think it’s more excitement over any other feeling and just to kind of get it underway. I think for women’s hockey it’s just amazing and the buzz it’s creating, it’s just going to help grow our game.”

WATCH | Jayna Hefford sits down with CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux:

Jayna Hefford on what will make the PWHL different than previous pro women’s leagues

CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux sits down with the PWHL’s SVP of Hockey Operations Jayna Hefford after their announcement of the founding six franchises.

There’s no doubting the palpable excitement among players. But there are still questions to be answered.

Asked what she is most excited for in the PWHL, Spooner put those unknowns into perspective.

“First of all to figure out what team I’m going to play for. Then figure out what the teams are going to be called. And then I think just to play like a regular season again and have that competitive spirit,” she said.

In between free agency and the draft, there’s an international window. Canada will hold training camp the entire week in St. Catharines, Ont. — an event that could become a tryout of sorts for players who don’t land those initial 18 contracts.

“I’m sure there’s gonna be a lot of people that are probably GMs in the league, probably coaches in the league too that are paying attention to that training camp … to kind of make their decisions for their roster,” Canadian forward Brianne Jenner told CBC Sports.

“So obviously I want to compete on the ice and put my best foot forward to be taken.”

WATCH | PWHL announces 6 franchise locations:

Women’s Professional Hockey League will launch with 3 Canadian teams

After years of back and forth, the Women’s Professional Hockey League has finally been established. Six teams in total — three of them in Canadian cities — will play a 24-game season expected to start in November.

Jenner, of Oakville, Ont., and Spooner, of Scarborough, Ont., both said they hope to be among the first wave of signings. However, there will be heavy competition if they’re set on staying in Toronto.

“Obviously there’s markets that I have closer ties to but I’d be excited to make a difference and compete for a championship on any team that wants me to be there,” Jenner said.

An added complication for the 32-year-old Spooner, if she doesn’t land in Toronto, would be having to relocate with eight-month-old son Rory.

“Hopefully I’d have the team support to help with that stuff if it came down to it,” she said.

WATCH | Hefford breaks down draft, free agency processes:

Professional Women’s Hockey League prepares for free agency and draft in September

Professional Women’s Hockey League Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Jayna Hefford spoke to the media as the PWHL announced its plans for an initial free agency period commencing September 1 and a draft on Sept. 18. The PWHL will have teams in Boston, Montreal, New York, Ottawa, Toronto and Minneapolis-St. Paul, and will play a 24-game regular season schedule.

Spooner told CBC Sports that she hadn’t had any contact with teams less than 12 hours before the day free agency was set to begin.

She added that she doesn’t know who the general managers are yet, either.

“I’m guessing when they look at the top three then they’ll eventually reach out to like whatever agent is representing us and then if not then you just kind of go in the draft and see? I don’t really know. I don’t know all the details yet about that even.”

But through the unknowns, players appear galvanized to just get back on the ice in a competitive professional atmosphere. 

Jenner, who was a union board member, is among them.

“I do appreciate the education I got in bill rights and all those things that you learn at the bargaining table. But I’m happy that we have teams of people now on it,” she said.

WATCH | Brian Burke discusses launch of new league:

PWHL Players’ Association executive director Brian Burke: ‘Most exciting day in history of women’s hockey’

Former NHL general manager Brian Burke spoke to the media after being named the Professional Women’s Hockey League Players’ Association executive director.

And even while Spooner admits things feel somewhat rushed right now, it’s also been four years since the CWHL ended.

Players would happily trade the great unknown of the future of the sport for the specific unknowns of the PWHL right now.

“It feels like all of our hard work, it paid off. And the waiting and not being able to play regular seasons and everything, it was all worth it because we get to have this amazing product now that we’re going to be able to actually display our game and really give our game what it deserves and how it deserves to be seen,” she said.

“So it was a tough four years, but I think it’s all worth it when we get to this point and it’s finally happening.”

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