The promise of possibility: PWHL could transform landscape of international hockey


Dominika Lásková was still in shock a few minutes after she was drafted to play for Montreal in the new Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).

As she made her way to the stage to meet general manager Danièle Sauvageau, her Czech national teammates snapped photos of her, beaming with pride.

Selected in the fourth round of Monday’s inaugural draft, Lásková was the first of five Czech players to hear their names called. Players from eight different countries were selected.

“Being from Europe and being from Czech, I think it’s great for the little girls back home to see that there is a possibility for them to play [alongside] the best players in the world,” said Lásková, a right-handed defender who can also play forward.

Lásková won a championship last season with the Toronto Six of the Premier Hockey Federation, a now-defunct league that had players from at least 10 countries competing in 2022-23, per Elite Prospects.

But there’s never been a women’s professional hockey league with all the best players in the world, and that’s what the PWHL has set out to accomplish.

The league could open up the landscape of international women’s hockey, a field where Canada or the United States have won every Olympic gold medal and world championship so far.

American forward Hilary Knight was one of the players who negotiated a landmark collective bargaining agreement with the new league’s owners, securing benefits like a housing stipend and an average salary of $55,000 US.

They were things that didn’t exist when she first started playing professional hockey in 2012 and things that drove her to become a founding board member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA). One of the association’s goals was to make it possible for the best from across the world to play in a league together.

“I’m giddy about it just from a fan’s perspective as you’ve never seen the hockey minds meet from different countries on the women’s side,” Knight told reporters earlier this month.

“We see it day in and day out on the NHL side and the men’s side, but we’re just scratching the surface here of where we can take the game and development.”

‘It’s going to make it more competitive’

Swiss forward Alina Müller was the highest drafted European player on Monday. She was selected third overall in the PWHL’s draft by Boston, allowing her to stay in the city where she racked up points with Northeastern University over the last few years.

Müller believes the league is going to help close the gap between Canada, the United States and the rest of the world. She pointed to Finland, Czech Republic and Switzerland as some of the countries that are already on the rise and providing a challenge to traditional powerhouses.

“It’s going to make it more competitive for everybody,” Müller said. “The European hockey style is going to get closer and closer to how hockey is played here.”

WATCH | Alina Müller reacts after being picked by Boston in PWHL draft:

Alina Muller on being 3rd overall pick by Boston in PWHL draft

Anastasia Bucsis speaks to the Swiss forward about being drafted 3rd overall by Boston in the PWHL draft.

As Czech Republic’s longtime captain, Alena Mills helped orchestrate her country’s rise on the international stage, leading them to a spot at the Beijing Olympics in 2022.

After that, she noticed the team’s games started appearing on television. Kids in schools were learning about the women’s hockey team. The visibility created a shift.

“It’s like our whole country started caring about Czech women’s hockey after they saw us in the Olympics,” she said.

Mills retired from the Czech national program this past spring after leading the team to its first world championship medals: a bronze in 2022 and 2023.

One of the reasons she retired is to train her focus solely on club hockey, with the goal of playing in the PWHL. She didn’t hear her name called on Monday, but teams will have a number of free agent spots to fill ahead of the beginning of the season in January.

Mills has played professionally in Russia, Finland and Sweden, but is drawn to the idea of playing in a best-on-best North American league.

“You get to compare yourself with them,” Mills said. “You get motivated, and you will maybe learn how to take the puck away from them. You learn how to get better and how to beat them.”

It means a standout goaltender like Sweden’s Emma Söderberg, who took Canada to overtime in the quarterfinals of the 2023 world championship, will see shots from a player like Sarah Nurse more than just once a year.

Mills can imagine a world where players start questioning whether they’ll play for their countries because they don’t want to take time away from their professional teams.

A female hockey player in a red and white Czechia jersey holds up a trophy on the ice. She is flanked by a man and a woman.
Former Czech national team captain Alena Mills believes the new PWHL will help international hockey grow. Her country won its very first bronze medal at the 2022 world championships in Denmark. (Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

“For us female players, the Olympics and worlds, that’s the best we can do,” she said.

“That’s always been our priority, and it would be interesting and fun to see if it wasn’t just about international hockey, but the professional hockey became the thing to watch, the thing to play, the thing to participate in and that becomes the best hockey.”

Long centralization, a thing of the past?

In North America, the PWHL’s creation could also change how national teams are selected. The months-long residency or centralization period, where Canadian and American national team hopefuls move to one location to train together ahead of the Olympics, could be a thing of the past.

“There may be an opportunity to centralize a month or whatnot, but it won’t be the same structure at all,” Toronto GM Gina Kingsbury, a former vice-president of hockey operations at Hockey Canada who has been running the national women’s team program since 2018, said earlier this month.

Hockey players celebrate after scoring a goal.
The PWHL could change the way the Canadian national team prepares for tournaments like the Olympics, as extended centralization periods may become obsolete. (Nathan Denette/The Associated Press)

In a statement, a spokesperson with Hockey Canada said it’s too soon to know what centralization might look like for the women’s national team ahead of the 2026 Olympics.

“Our program will continue to operate within international breaks while we evaluate programming and scheduling in conjunction with the PWHL,” the statement says.

It’s also likely to change who goes to national team camps. More resources and development for players could lengthen their careers, Knight said, meaning more women will be able to make hockey their full-time job.

As a result, Knight expects more competition for roster spots. She sees that as a good thing.

“I think it’s exciting because you’re going to see players really come into their prime when they have never had the chance to before.”

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