Following the closure of the Canadian Women’s Hockey league in March and the player’s boycott of the five-team National Women’s Hockey League due to lack of support and recognition of women’s professional hockey. Over 200 of the world’s best women’s hockey players announced the formation of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) to serve as a representative union of all women’s professional hockey players that is “dedicated to promoting and supporting the creation of a single, viable women’s professional league in North America.”

The press release of the PWHPA shared that the members include Olympic medalists and World Champions as well as athletes who’ve played professionally in the United States, Canada and Europe, including former CWHL transgender player Jessica Platt. In addition to promoting and advocating for representation of women’s hockey, the PWHPA also provides a voice for players to advocate for a sustainable professional women’s hockey league, to coordinate training needs and programming opportunities for players and to collaborate with like-minded organizations to make hockey more inclusive.

“We are fortunate to be ambassadors of this beautiful game, and it is our responsibility to make sure the next generation of players have more opportunities than we had,” said Kendall Coyne Schofield, who won an Olympic Gold Medal with Team USA in 2018. “It’s time to stand together and work to create a viable league that will allow us to enjoy the benefits of our hard work.”

Athletes and members of the PWHPA have previously advocated for better representation of women’s hockey players and recognition from the NHL which has always been seen as a male-only league. Hockey has traditionally been a hyper masculinized sport and many people are still unaware of the existence of professional hockey leagues for women. Of course, the PWHPA isn’t trying to garner support from the NHL so much it is working to create its own, female led organization. Acknowledging the NBA’s support of the WNBA and the success of the WNBA for promoting women’s basketball, in a phone interview with USA Today, Dee Spagnulo mentioned…

“We can’t speak for the NHL,” Spahr said. “The singular focus of the PWHPA is to create a sustainable league for professional women’s hockey in North America. It’s the NHL’s decision (whether to back the effort) and we don’t speak for them.”

In the past, the NHL has given women hockey players a platform, including player Kendall Coyne competing at the NHL’s All-Star Skills Competition, Brianna Decker taking part in the Premier Passer competition as an “unofficial” competitor where she still achieved the best score and won $25,000 from equipment manufacturer CCM.

The press release affirmed that the top women’s players are unified to boycott the NWHL or in another league for the next season. The NWHL does not offer health insurance for players and extremely low pay with some players being paid as low as $2,000 per season.

“We are prepared to stop playing for a year — which is crushing to even think about — because we know how important a sustainable league will be to the future of women’s sports,” Shannon Szabados, a two-time Olympic gold medalist from Team Canada, said in a statement. “We know we can make this work, and we want the chance to try.”

According to the PWHPA statement, “PWHPA members are looking for a professional league that will provide financial and infrastructure resources to players; protect and support their rights and talents; provide health insurance; and work with companies, business leaders, and sports professionals worldwide who already have voiced support for women’s hockey.

In a statement shared by the NHL last month stated that they would “consider starting a women’s professional league if there were no alternatives for women to play professionally in North America.”

“We can’t know what will happen next, but we move forward united, dedicated, and hopeful for our future and the future of this game we love so much,” said Liz Knox, the former co-chair of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League Players Association.

By Dirk Smith