T wenty years ago, the hockey world watched as a group of Canadian women stood on the ice at the E Center just outside Salt Lake City, sweaty and smiling and singing “O Canada” for all to hear. With gold medals hung proudly around their necks, the Canadian national team celebrated the country’s first-ever Olympic gold in women’s hockey. Four years earlier, at the inaugural Olympic women’s tournament in Nagano, it was Team USA that won it all, making the golden glow of this 3–2 Canadian victory — the first of many Olympic rematches to come — shine all the brighter. Those Canadian women set a new, gold standard for greatness in hockey and in doing so inspired a generation of young girls to grab a stick and join in the game themselves. Some of those girls just won gold of their own in Beijing.
We’re still feeling the impact of that first gold medal because of what came after. The women on that 2002 roster are now breaking down NHL and Olympic action in studios, broadcast booths and rinkside. They’re constructing Stanley Cup contenders at the helm of player development departments. They’re scouting and coaching, building entire organizations, sparking movements and advocating for the future of women’s hockey. Many are in the Hall of Fame. More will surely follow.
And that’s just on the Canadian side.
Today we find ourselves in the wake of another Games, another gold, and we’re all asking what comes next. We have questions about the fate of women’s hockey, who might be the next to hang up their skates and jump into an NHL job, and what the next steps are in the ongoing push to make hockey more diverse and inclusive. And we can look to the many women working in and around hockey for answers.
Here are the 25 most powerful women driving hockey forward — right now and in the year ahead.
THERE IS NO player more dominant than Marie-Philip Poulin, and the proof is in her performance at last month’s Olympic Games, where she scored yet another golden goal. Poulin makes sportswriters’ jobs both easy — her greatness practically follows a script — and increasingly difficult, because at some point we’re going to run out of ways to describe just how elite she is.
In the four gold-medal matchups since Poulin’s Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010, including last month’s in Beijing, No. 29 has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals. And all three of Canada’s gold-medal victories over that span (2010, 2014, 2022) have come courtesy of Poulin’s game-winners. That’s how reliably remarkable, how consistently clutch, how steadily sensational Canada’s humble captain has been.
Poulin’s power is in her play, and the fact the greatest player in the game today doesn’t belong to a formal league, doesn’t play in front of a packed house on a weekly basis, and isn’t hitting the ice for best-on-best competition on the regular is a grave loss for everyone who loves hockey. That she just reportedly turned down an offer to join the ECHL in favour of continuing to push for the betterment of women’s hockey speaks volumes about her determination to leave the sport better than she found it.
Some good news for hockey fans: We’ll soon see Poulin and the rest of the world’s best go head-to-head in a Canada vs. USA “rematch” presented by the PWHPA in partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins. And in August, we’ll be treated to another women’s world championship — the first time the IIHF has scheduled the tournament in an Olympic year. Poulin will be on the ice for both events. In fact, all signs point to the 30-year-old committing to another Olympic cycle as well.
Whenever she does eventually decide to call it a career, Montreal is reportedly ready to roll out the red carpet straight into le Centre Bell. “It sounds to me like the Canadiens have pretty much privately made that clear. … When, eventually, she decides to make her decision that she wants to work for a team, the Canadiens are going to do everything they can to bring her there,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said during a recent episode of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast.
“The Montreal Canadiens, as we now know it, are very interested in having a conversation with Marie-Philip Poulin — with the caveat being when she is ready,” reported co-host Jeff Marek during the same episode.
Let’s all hope, for the sake of our limitless appetite for golden goals, that time doesn’t come for a long while yet.
THE VANCOUVER CANUCKS have been making headlines all season, and in the early going that wasn’t a good thing. Scoring woes and snake-bitten stars brought a painful opening to 2021–22, and it soon became clear that the club needed a fresh start in the front office.
Enter Emilie Castonguay and Cammi Granato. Two of hockey’s brightest minds, they landed in Vancouver just two weeks apart and via two very different paths — Castonguay as a former player agent whose impressive client list included Marie-Philip Poulin and Alexis Lafrenière, and Granato as USA Hockey royalty who in 2019 became the first female full-time NHL scout with the Seattle Kraken.
Their respective arrivals in Vancouver this winter mark a new era for the Canucks as the direction of the cap-strapped franchise — will they rebuild? retool? revive? make a post-season run? — has quickly become one of the most intriguing stories in the NHL, especially as the trade deadline draws near.
In a league that didn’t feel anywhere close to having its first female GM before this season, the Canucks duo seems to have ushered in a new era for the entire sport.
SPEAKING TO SPORTSNET’S Luke Fox in November, Kim Davis, now in her fourth season as the league’s highest-ranking female executive, said: “I think the greatest challenge is taking these moments where we learn about something that is not a proud moment for us and turning it into a teachable moment.”
Over the past year alone, there have been many of those dark moments — the ones that force us to confront hockey culture’s ugly side, and acknowledge that, as it stands today, the game isn’t for everyone.
Here’s more from Davis, whose work will continue to be in the spotlight: “When you have stakeholder groups coming at you from every angle, it’s easy to be defensive, particularly because you know the work that is underway and the work that’s going on, often behind the scenes, to continue to improve culture. So, the hardest part is keeping everyone focused on staying the course.
“These moments are really about the bigger movement and staying focused on that and using these moments of despair, whether it’s around abuse or discrimination, as a moment for us to listen and to say, ‘What can we do to up our game even more?’ And my job is to quarterback that with the commissioner and the management team and the 32 clubs.”
It takes a sport-wide commitment to ensure everyone around hockey not only feels safe and empowered but also understands the importance of speaking up — even when those around them do not. Davis’s leadership is integral in the continued push for the betterment of the game.
THE LANDSCAPE OF women’s hockey is constantly changing, and over the past year much of that movement has been driven by Ty Tumminia. Her appointment to interim commissioner in October 2020 — just six months after first joining the league as chairman of the Toronto Six — coincided with the implementation of a new governance model for North America’s lone women’s professional hockey league.
Over the past year, Tumminia launched the league’s first full season since the arrival of COVID-19; ushered in a new and more inclusive chapter with the re-naming and rebranding of the league from National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) to the Premier Hockey Federation; negotiated a pair of national broadcast deals; secured a historic $25-million commitment from the league’s board of governors over the next three years (more than doubling the salary cap and providing full healthcare benefits to players); and gave the greenlight for teams to expand rosters and cap space.
She also announced that her tenure will end at the close of the 2021–22 season.
That last part came as a bit of a surprise considering the momentum she created during her short time in charge, but it was never Tumminia’s intention to stay. That she spent the first year on the job with the “interim” label firmly attached to her name was intentional, and spoke to her philosophy on leadership, which she shared during an interview with Sportsnet last year: “These types of roles, they’re all interim. … I would always do it as an interim role, even if I was asked to come on as the full-time commissioner. Because my role is really just to kind of get in here, try to get this going and streamline it for the next person that takes over.”
What’s next for the PHF, and who will be the one to propel it forward? That will be a major story in the weeks and months ahead.
ALL EYES WERE on women’s hockey last month. But after 2.7 million Canadian viewers took in the gold-medal game in Beijing, the athletes faced a harsh homecoming due to the lack of one unified league of best-on-best competition. Since the formation of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association in May 2019, Jayna Hefford has been making it her mission to change that. And reports that surfaced last week indicate that change could be coming soon:
But first, we’ve got a rematch on our hands.
In addition to the ongoing Dream Gap Tour, in its third season this year, Hefford and the PWHPA are heading to Pittsburgh for another Canada-USA showdown just a month after that much-watched gold-medal matchup. The game is the second NHL-backed showcase this season after last weekend’s event in Washington in collaboration with the Capitals.
As the women once again take their rightful place in hockey’s spotlight, Hefford’s behind-the-scenes work along with the rest of the PWHPA’s board members and support team will certainly play a leading role in what comes next.
FOUR YEARS AFTER making history in Pyeongchang as the first Black player to compete in an Olympic women’s hockey tournament, Sarah Nurse just became the first to win gold. She played a starring role throughout the Beijing Games — and not just in all those Olympic commercials — setting new Olympic records for assists (13) and points (18) in a single tournament. (The great Hayley Wickenheiser, who racked up 17 points in five games in 2006, previously held the record.)
Nurse put up at least one point in all seven games in Beijing, registering six multi-point outings, one hat trick, back-to-back four-assist games in the medal round, and the game-opening goal with gold on the line in the final. That she did so after being bumped up from her usual spot in Canada’s middle six to the top trio alongside Marie-Philip Poulin and Brianne Jenner following the injury to Mélodie Daoust speaks to Nurse’s versatility — not to mention the incredible lineup depth of this Canadian squad, far and away the best we’ve ever seen.
THAT’S DOCTOR HAYLEY WICKENHEISER, actually. The women’s hockey great officially earned the designation in May, adding “medical doctor” to her already lengthy list of accomplishments. Two days later, she was promoted to senior director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That she runs the player development department of the NHL’s biggest market, and one of its most powerful offences, is further proof of the impact women have on the game at every level. And though Wickenheiser doesn’t talk about her work with the Leafs too often, she does use her powerful platform to speak up on more global matters. Over the past two years, she’s worked to raise funds to equip front-line workers with personal protective equipment during the worst waves of COVID-19. And last month, in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she was one of the first in hockey to publicly pressure the IOC and FIFA to implement harsher sanctions against Russia.
This year also saw the Hall of Famer and four-time Olympian partner with Verbero to design the Wick Stick, meaning that even long after she hung up her skates, she can still assist on a goal.
HOW DO YOU fix a broken franchise?
The question hanging over the Chicago Blackhawks is one of the game’s biggest challenges as the ripple effect of devastating abuse allegations brought forward by Kyle Beach last spring continue to reverberate throughout the hockey world.
Jaime Faulkner joined the Blackhawks in December 2020 and was tasked with directing all consumer-facing and revenue-generating aspects of the Original Six organization. She’s now a major part of the solution in Chicago, a leading member of the committee mapping out a new way forward for the club — including finding its new general manager. Faulkner’s purview doesn’t include the product on the ice — that’s left to no-longer-interim GM Kyle Davidson, who will soon go about filling out his staff. Over the past year, though, the team has brought more women into the fold in hockey operations, recruiting former Boston Pride general manager Karilyn Pilch and Arcadia University head coach Kelsey Koelzer as scouts in the player personnel department, and 2018 Canadian Olympian Brigette Lacquette as a pro scout. (Lacquette’s hiring late last year made her the first Indigenous woman to scout for an NHL franchise.)
Meghan Hunter is also part of the club’s scouting department and with Davidson’s promotion could be in line for a bump of her own.
KIRSTEN STAPLE BECAME a hockey fan back in January 2020. She laughs as she explains that it was a photo of Tyler Seguin during All-Star Weekend that initially grabbed her attention and sent her down a path of learning more about the Dallas Stars forward, the team, and soon after, the game of hockey. Fascinated by the sport and its fandom, Staple found herself wanting to learn more. That’s when she came across Black Girl Hockey Club. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow. There’s a group of people who look very similar to how I do and they love this sport as well,’” says Staple.
Founded in 2018 by Renee Hess, the non-profit organization has grown exponentially, opening doors for women and young girls of colour to not just embrace the game, but feel its embrace in return. This past year, the organization grew its influence even more by introducing a new mentorship program, of which Staple became one of the first mentees.
The more Staple, a senior at the University of Texas at San Antonio, immersed herself in her newfound fandom, the more she wondered whether this new passion could one day be her career. Through BGHC’s mentorship program, she was paired up with San Jose Sharks VP of communications Scott Emmert. It was a fitting partnership, considering Staple’s aspirations are currently within the marketing, human resources, and personnel spheres. The two met via Zoom every few weeks. Staple could ask questions and chat with other Sharks employees and sit in on planning meetings to gain a better understanding of what a job in hockey looks like. Staple will graduate in May, and now has a whole team of connections and support in her corner.
That’s just one of the many examples of the impact Hess and her team are having on hockey as they work to make the game a more inclusive, inviting place through their ongoing Get Uncomfortable Campaign (which has seen more than 6,000 individuals and teams take the pledge), merchandise collaborations with NHL and PHF teams, digital and in-person meetups, a just-released partnership with Bauer Hockey, and by amplifying Black voices in the game. The mentorship’s second class is now newly underway, expanded from two mentor-mentee pairings to seven. And since starting up a scholarship program in the summer of 2020, BGHC has allocated $75,000 to 47 girls in Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom and Kenya to help them get into the game.
“The stuff that [Hess] is doing, how she kind of built it from the ground up, creating this safe space for Black women to enjoy the sport,” says Staple. “Because traditionally, you know, we’re very excluded from the sport. People tend to look at you kind of weird, like ‘Why are you here?’ Like, ‘You don’t belong here.’
“But yes, we do.”
THOUGH THEIR QUEST to defend Olympic gold was quashed by their Canadian rivals, few players can match the kind of reach these two superstars have in the game of hockey. Following in the footsteps of the great Cammi Granato, Hilary Knight’s name is synonymous with hockey south of the border and her brand has expanded far beyond the rink. Most recently, she was named to ESPN’s broadcast team as an analyst after the corporation secured U.S. rights to the NHL.
Her captain, Kendall Coyne Schofield, meanwhile, continues her work with the Chicago Blackhawks as the club’s player development coach and youth hockey growth specialist, and just published a memoir, As Fast As Her.
Both continue to be major voices for the PWHPA, and two of the biggest draws in hockey today:
They’ll have to wait four more years for Olympic revenge, but they’ll get that PWHPA rematch less than a week from now in Pittsburgh and another crack at Canada at August’s world championships.
AFTER THREE YEARS of work by Alexandra Mandrycky and the Kraken’s leadership team to slowly piece the organization together, the whole club instantly came to life at the drop of a puck on Oct. 12. It can’t be easy following Vegas’s act. The NHL’s 31st team went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in Year One; its 32nd team is, well, performing at a pace we tend to expect from expansion clubs.
The intrigue around last summer’s expansion draft and first foray into free agency, led by a clear prioritization of analytically sound selections and the preservation of cap space, now shifts to their actions ahead of the club’s first trade deadline.
As things stand now, the Kraken are among the richest in cap space, allowing for flexibility at the deadline — might we see them take on salary in exchange for assets? — and in the free-agency period to come.
Mandrycky has spent her NHL career to date behind the scenes, her analytical approach to the game evident in her hiring of an elite stats staff — including senior quantitative analyst Namita Nandakumar — and it’s worth wondering whether we’ll soon start seeing her in the spotlight a little more, possibly as an executive to watch in general manager searches to come.
“WHO IS THE BEST person that I know, or that is out there, that could fill this role?”
Tasked with recruiting a new member of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ player development department, that’s the question Dr. Wickenheiser asked herself last spring.
The answer, it turned out, was a familiar one: Danielle Goyette.
The two Canadian hockey legends share quite a history in the game, first as longtime linemates on the national team, collaborating on a trio of Olympic medals (silver in 1998; gold in 2002 and 2006). They were reunited in 2010 when Wickenheiser played for Goyette at the University of Calgary, where Goyette was head coach of the Dinos women’s team.
Now teammates once again in Toronto, the pair of Hall of Famers are tasked with overseeing the development of prospects and players in the NHL’s biggest market as it attempts to exorcise its playoff demons and make a post-season run beyond Round One.
Blake Bolden’s impact on the game is widespread. Since making history in 2020 with the Kings as the first Black woman hired as a pro NHL scout (and just the second woman behind Cammi Granato), Bolden has been the brain behind many of the Kings’ diversity initiatives, the muscle that inspired Verbero to manufacture a custom Be Bold hockey stick, the voice of empowerment for so many young BIPOC players through her mentorship program, and, most recently, the face of some of ESPN’s hockey coverage as a reporter.
A former NWHL star and current supporter of the PWHPA, she’s also occasionally lent her broadcast chops to breaking down games on the Dream Gap Tour and is a strong advocate for the women’s game.
FROM CAPTAINING CANADA to Olympic gold in 2002 and 2006 to establishing herself as one of the premier studio and colour analysts on Hockey Night in Canada, a lot of what Cassie Campbell-Pascall accomplishes takes place in the public eye. But just as important are the things we don’t necessarily see, like her role as a Hockey Canada consultant helping build the dominant 2022 women’s Olympic team, and her advocacy on behalf of the women’s game internationally — particularly in the wake of a string of tournament cancellations.
Jennifer Botterill, another leading member of those 2002 and 2006 teams who also won gold in 2010, joined the Hockey Night in Canada panel in 2020–21 and was an instant success, her insights adding a whole new dimension to conversations around the game.
TO HEAR LINDSAY ARTKIN talk about her work with the NHLCA’s female coaches development program, which first launched in 2020, is to hear a woman who’s truly passionate about changing the game and helping others grow communities within it.
To hear someone else talk about Artkin is to truly see that vision come to life. Here’s Lee-J Mirasolo, associate coach of Harvard’s women’s team and Day 1 member of the NHLCA’s program, on Artkin’s impact: “She has, through this program, helped build these networks where it’s up to us to do the work, but we’ve had opportunities to meet and listen in on different NHL camp meetings. We’ve had opportunities to talk with AHL and NHL coaches. And we’ve had also this tremendous opportunity to get to know about 50 other women who are in the program, too.
“Our networks have grown exponentially. … Relationships have really been cultivated between all sorts of different people from different walks of life and different levels, genders, all of that in hockey. Friendships and relationships have been built by this program.”
“I’LL COME BE your rinkside reporter, but I want a hybrid position and I want to call play-by-play.”
That’s how Leah Hextall called her own shot, as described during a recent appearance on The Kenny and Renny Show.
Shortly after last spring’s announcement of ESPN’s return to the rink, the network unveiled its roster of reporters and analysts, which included the historic hiring of Hextall as the first woman to do NHL play-by-play as part of a national television package. With her weekly game calls, Hextall is setting a new standard for what hockey sounds like.
This isn’t the first ‘first’ for Hextall, a longtime broadcaster and former host, when it comes to calling hockey games. In 2019, she was the first woman to call play-by-play for a men’s NCAA Division-I tournament. In 2020, she teamed up with colour analyst Cassie Campbell-Pascall and longtime host Christine Simpson to mark International Women’s Day with Canada’s first English-language all-female broadcast team on Sportsnet, supported by a production crew comprised mostly of women.
In her new role at ESPN, Hextall is joined by fellow female analysts Campbell-Pascall, A.J. Mleczko and Hilary Knight, host Linda Cohn, and reporters Emily Kaplan and Blake Bolden.
“I have tons of women who reach out to me who are coming up behind me, and they know they can do play-by-play. I didn’t know that [I could do it] — even when I was in the broadcast world, I didn’t know that, because no females were doing it,” Hextall told hosts Ken Wiebe and Sean Reynolds. “And now, [there’s] not only myself, but Kate Scott calling the Philadelphia 76ers, we’ve seen Beth Mowins call the NFL, we’ve seen Doris Burke [as an analyst in] the NBA. I mean, we’re coming.”
IN JULY 2018, Gina Kingsbury was handed the reins of a team fresh off Olympic heartbreak and four years into a silver streak at the world championships. No longer atop the hockey world, it felt like their American foes had finally caught up and had secured the upper hand in the sport’s fiercest rivalry. There was work to be done.
Four years later, Kingsbury — a Team Canada alum herself, who won gold in 2006 and 2010 — is at the helm of the strongest Team Canada we’ve ever seen, one that followed up a perfect outing at the women’s world championship last August with the most dominant Olympic outing yet. To watch this collection of skaters hit the ice was to see a cohesive unit play with equal parts machine-like precision and pure joy. (Even their pre-game warmups understood the assignment!)
The four-year road to redemption was certainly not without its bumps, however. Kingsbury’s first world championship as GM in 2019 saw Team Canada lose in the semi-final for the first time in the tournament’s three-decade history. The 2020 tournament was postponed, and then cancelled, as one of the first sporting casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time they hit the ice last August for the 2021 worlds (postponed at the 11th hour last spring), it had been 16 months since the world’s top players had suited up in a meaningful best-on-best competition.
As we saw in Beijing, Kingsbury assembled a high-powered offence that outscored its opponents by a combined total of 57–10, smartly turned to a pair of veteran rearguards to lead a group of dynamic rookies on the blue line, and put goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens back in the spotlight. Kingsbury swiftly answered any lingering questions about special teams after the world championships revealed a weakness on the power play. And she gave us a glimpse of Hockey Canada’s bright future — 10 of Canada’s players, including five defenders, made their Olympic debuts in Beijing.
So, what’s next for Kingsbury? This little nugget from a recent (pre-Olympic) edition of Elliotte Friedman’s 32 Thoughts could certainly be something to watch: “Post-Olympic name to watch for NHL front-office work: Hockey Canada director of operations Gina Kingsbury.”
WHY DO WE love hockey?
It’s the stories. The drama. The electrifying plays. And, somewhere in there, the personalities.
That last part may not exactly come naturally to NHLers, but with a steady influx of young talent entering the league and a drive to capture younger audiences, Heidi Browning is constantly on the lookout for ways to not just keep up but to set the standard when it comes to growing the game via marketing.
Last month, Browning and the NHL announced a new partnership with TikTok.
“TikTok is an extremely influential entertainment platform with a growing audience of Gen Z users,” Browning said in the press release. TikTok has 12.2 billion global viewers, and represents a largely untapped market for the league.
“While highlights are among our most engaging content, through this partnership, we hope to reach the broader TikTok community with exclusive content that captures the amazing fan experience at NHL games and tentpole events, player lifestyle videos, and concerts and global livestreams,” she said.
IN THE SPAN of about two weeks last June, the Toronto Six became a PHF powerhouse.
Between the historic hirings of head coach Mark Joslin and assistant Angela James, the re-signing of reigning MVP Mikyla Grant-Mentis and the naming of Krysti Clarke as the franchise’s general manager came the headline-making homecoming of Scarborough-born defender Saroya Tinker in free agency.
So swift and expansive has Tinker’s impact on the game been, it’s hard to believe the 2021–22 season is just her second as a professional hockey player. Alongside Grant-Mentis and captain Shiann Darkangelo, she’s already one of the faces of the Six, which has emerged as the best team in the league and a major success story — a strong template to follow for future expansion franchises in the PHF. Toronto is also a shining example of how a diverse organization — one that more fully reflects the market in which it is played — is not only the right thing but great in the standings, too. This week’s sale of the team to an ownership group that includes James, former NHLer Anthony Stewart, and coach Ted Nolan elevates that idea even more. Clarke’s business acumen also helped secure the franchise a lucrative sponsorship with women’s fitness gear brand Athleta, of which Tinker has become a leading face.
“Leading” is a word we see a lot when it comes to Tinker. A powerful advocate for and partner of Black Girl Hockey Club, she helped spark its mentorship program and has also raised funds for the scholarship initiative that helps get young girls of colour into the game.
Tinker also has a mentorship program of her own, Saroya Strong, which helps girls through guest speakers, zoom workouts, group calls and one-on-one advice for BIPOC youth. In the past year, Tinker has also partnered with brands — most recently, she helped design a shoe as part of Nike’s Black History Month Future Movement Project — to amplify her impact on the game and that of other Black voices in hockey.
IN THE SUMMER of 2020, Chanel Keenan wrote a personal blog post titled “Please, Remember Me,” describing her love of hockey and how it felt to know the sport didn’t always love her back. It didn’t take long for that post to capture the attention of Becca Elliott, director of digital & fan experience for the Kraken, or for the expansion club to hire Keenan as an intersectionality consultant — the first such role in the NHL. She has been taking the hockey world by storm ever since.
Keenan, who was born with a genetic bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta and uses a power wheelchair, works tirelessly to help make hockey a more inclusive place for women, people of colour, and those with disabilities. She played an integral role in Seattle’s arena experience strategies and has quickly become a leading voice for positive change — one of the most valuable in the game today.
YOU WON’T OFTEN see Mary-Kay Messier in hockey’s spotlight — it’s her job to put others centre-stage, equipping them (often literally) with the tools they need for success. Over the course of her decade-long career with Bauer Hockey, she’s worked to elevate women’s place in the game, and that’s evident in her campaigns where women are well-represented alongside men’s hockey players.
Last week, Messier and Bauer announced a partnership with Black Girl Hockey Club that will see the gear company donate $100,000 worth of equipment in support of its efforts to diversify hockey at the ground level.
Messier is also a staunch supporter and powerful voice within and around the PWHPA, working behind the scenes to help coordinate stops on the Dream Gap Tour and also sponsoring the Boston-based team.
“IT WAS THE BEST of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
That’s Charles Dickens, writing about Buffalo in January, probably.
Okay, in all seriousness, Buffalo’s men’s pro sports scene really did feel like a tale of two cities to open the new calendar year. While Kim and Terry Pegula’s Buffalo Bills gifted us with the greatest football game we’ve even seen in their Divisional Round thriller against Kansas City, their other team — over which Kim has presided as president since being appointed in 2018 — continued to find new ways to flounder and fall down the standings.
The Sabres’ struggles since the Pegulas purchased the franchise in 2011 are well-documented, and one was among the biggest sports stories of the past year: the long, drawn-out saga between Jack Eichel and the team that came to a boiling point last spring before simmering all summer.
Now, with Eichel in Vegas, a few more picks in their coffers in exchange, and another first-overall selection in their system after taking Owen Powers last July, another fresh start has been forced upon Sabres fans. Pegula is in a position to set a winning culture, at last, but she’ll have to earn back the trust of the Sabres first.
AT THE FOREFRONT of sport is where you’ll find Meghan Chayka, the co-founder and co-CEO of Toronto-based hockey analytics company Stathletes.
The sporting world is bracing for a boom in betting next month as Ontario officially legalizes single-game betting following the federal greenlight last August. That means more data is likely headed our way as part of a major shift in the landscape. The way we watch hockey could be changing soon with the addition of play-by-play statistical breakdowns and probabilities.
Despite their widespread use, data-driven analytics are still often met with resistance among a large part of the hockey fanbase, but Chayka’s ongoing work in making this information more accessible is opening doors for more people to view hockey through an analytical lens as a way to further their understanding of the game.
Her work with the PHF, providing stats for the league, is bringing more resources and more eyes to the women’s game.
ON OCT. 16 in Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza, home of the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, referee Katie Guay dropped the puck at centre ice to commence the Penguins’ season against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, and made history.
Guay’s assignment made her the first woman to officiate a regular-season AHL game. A few days earlier, the league released its roster of on-ice officials for the 2021–22 season, which included 10 women in the rotation. Referees Kelly Cooke, Samantha Hiller, Jacqueline Zee Howard, Elizabeth Mantha, Amanda Tassoni and Laura White have all since worked AHL games, as have linespersons Alexandra Clarke, Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh.
Back in 2020, in the wake of NHL All-Star history as one of four women to call an NHL All-Star event (alongside Cooke, Hanley, and Welsh), Guay mused about what it will take for female officials to break into the NHL: “Getting to the NHL is not an easy task — for players and officials. There are so many great players out there and so many great officials, and making it to the top is certainly difficult,” said Guay, who also officiates in the PHF and serves as the league’s director of compliance and safety. “So I think it’s just a matter of the first female having the experience and proving the ability to compete at that level.”
She and her peers are now one step closer.
Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Toronto Six Forward
In her first complete season with the PHF, Mikyla Grant-Mentis had just seven games of a COVID-shortened season to make her mark on the league, but that proved to be more than enough to declare her Newcomer Of The Year and MVP. Now, for her second act after re-signing with her hometown team in Toronto, the Brampton-born forward leads the league in points (28 in 16 games), assists (17) and game-winning goals (five). She’ll be one to watch as the league embarks on what should be a wild post-season weekend later this month.
Sarah Fillier, Team Canada Forward
Anyone who watched Team Canada’s dominant run at the women’s worlds last August and Olympic Games last month already knows what Fillier brings to the game. So veteran-like was her presence in the lineup, it’s easy to forget the 21-year-old is still in college. She has two years of NCAA eligibility left with Princeton after stepping away from the program to pursue a place on the Canadian national team, and this fall the captain will return with the Tigers – and likely bring a big new audience with her. With the momentum of the women’s game right now and reports of the PWHPA making strides in its mission to launch a league, it’s an interesting idea to think that Fillier might be part of the first group of players to step out of college upon graduation and into a professional league as envisioned by so many of her national team peers.
Kenzie Lalonde, Broadcaster
With a more-established pipeline in place for women to get into the broadcast booth, we’re also seeing more women ready to call the shots as play-by-play analysts. Lalonde is one of them. She made history in March 2021 when she became the first woman to call a televised QMJHL game on TV. Her versatility as a broadcaster was on full display in August as she called play-by-play for Group B games at the women’s worlds, and, last month, as she reported rinkside during the women’s Olympic hockey tournament.
Jade Iginla, Team Canada U-18 Forward
The cancellation of the 2022 IIHF Women’s World U-18 Championship, originally scheduled for January, exposed once again the inequalities that exist in the hockey world at various levels, especially as we saw men’s tournaments continue. (The 2022 men’s world juniors was allowed to start in December, but was cut short due to COVID outbreaks.) The rescheduling of the tournament for June means we’ll finally get a glimpse of some of the next generation’s brightest stars. That group includes Jade Iginla, who is about to forge her own path on the international stage while following in her father Jarome’s footprints as a dynamic winger. She’s committed to Brown University in the Fall.
Dayton O’Donoghue, Toronto Jr. Aeros Forward
She’s a Toronto Jr. Aeros star, a stick-handling phenom, a recent NHL All-Star attendee, a member of the NHL’s youth advisory board, and the new face of Bauer Hockey’s latest campaign. There’s no doubting that the 16-year-old is the future of the game. A mentee of Saroya Tinker and a Black Girl Hockey Club scholarship recipient, O’Donoghue is a star who’s clearly only just getting started.