State of hockey welcomes women’s team

Posted: April 9, 2024

Professional Women’s Hockey League debuts, drawing former & current players, inspiring girls

September 18th started a new era in women’s hockey as Minnesota native and former Gopher Taylor Hiese heard her name called as the 1st overall in the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) draft.

“It’s an exciting time for not only women’s hockey but for women’s sports in general,” said Natalie Darwitz, Eagan native and PWHL Minnesota’s general manager. “Females can now make a living playing the game they love.”

With past leagues, the newly formed PWHL brings more equality to the game of hockey, letting women play the game as their fulltime job, different from past leagues where players had to juggle a job while playing professional hockey.

Minnesota’s captain Kendall Coyne Schofield had a part in making this happen, helping to ratify the collective bargaining agreement which ensured that players had salaries and other resources to be able to play full time.

Minnesota is home to one of the six teams in the league, with the others in New York, Boston, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. The teams do not have nicknames and are currently known by their locations.

The team and coaching staff have many connections to Minnesota and even a connection to Minnehaha.

Johnny Seibel (‘12), who played hockey for the Redhawks, is the skills and skating coach. In a new league it may be a difficult task to coach a new group, but to Seibel it’s the opposite.

“It’s been an absolute blast,” Seibel said. “It’s just a surrounding of all passionate people that are super excited about the game.”

Although there have been challenges, Seibel says it’s all a part of the learning process.

As the season has gone on, Minnesota has stayed at the top of the league, with players like Grace Zumwinkle and Kendall Coyne scoring crucial goals along with Maddie Rooney and Nicole Hensley dominating in net.

So far in the inaugural season Minnesota has set numerous records with many coming in their home opener. Not only did they have the first home ice win, Minnesota native and Gopher alum Grace Zumwinkle had the league’s first hat trick.

Minnesota did all this in front of a record breaking crowd of 13,316 fans (this record was later broken). Overall, after 48 games, the league attendance average was more than 5,000 fans per game, totaling almost 250,000.

As Minnesota continues to dominate and playoffs draw near, there’s hope to be the inaugural PWHL Walter Cup Champions. The top four of six teams make it into a best of five semi-final game.

The Walter family, whom the trophy is named after, played a key rule in helping to develop the league.  

Other significant rule changes from NHL, college hockey, and past leagues include the point system, allowing more contact, draft rules and the removal of a draft lottery system.

With its success, the PWHL is already considering expansion, though no specific plans have been announced.

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