PWHL Minnesota season in review

Posted: June 19, 2024

From underdogs to champions, PWHL Minnesota had a whirlwind of a season

As the last buzzer sounded, Minnesota’s gloves and helmets went flying. Only this time, it was for real. 

Game four of the PWHL finals went into two overtime periods before Minnesota’s Sophie Jaques scored as Taylor Heise lost an edge and quickly dished the puck to her in front of the net.

It was only after Minnesota kicked off their celebrations that the goal was announced to be under review. The goal was ultimately overturned due to goalie interference

“I was really upset and thought that the call was uncalled for and dumb,” said Minnehaha junior Sophie VanDercook

A minute later, Boston’s Alina Müller scored, sending them to a game five that sold out the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell in less than 10 minutes.

The momentum shifted to Minnesota in game five as they ended the season with a 3-0 win, ultimately winning the Walter Cup.

“There’s no better feeling; it’s been a long season, and it feels so good to win it along with our teammates because we’ve been through so much together,” said Wayzata native Sophia Kunin.

“It felt poetic. When walking into the rink for the home opener with over 13,00 fans, having the first home victory, and being the state of hockey, I couldn’t imagine our season ending any other way,” said Minnehaha alum (’12)  and PWHL Minnesota skills and skating coach Johnny Seibel

The league has been in the works for more than five years, and Minnesota captain Kendall Coyne Schofield was the one to make the call to Billie Jean King and her wife, Ilana Kloss. Now, almost 10 months after giving birth to her first child, Coyne has etched her name into women’s hockey history once again as the first to lift the Walter Cup. 

“It’s been a lot of hard work and resilience over the last 5 years to get here,” Coyne said. “It’s taken all the players, a lot of players who aren’t here, and a lot of people who volunteered their time to fight for what we knew we deserved for a long time. It’s definitely very emotional and exciting, and I’m so happy we were the first team to win the Walter Cup.” Coyne said.

Many Minnesotans shared Coyne’s excitement as they gathered at Xcel Energy Center to celebrate the Walter Cup Champions. The celebration included speeches from head coach Ken Klee and general manager Natalie Darwitz, photo opportunities with the Walter Cup, and a DJ. Many Minnesota sports fans reveled in the win as it isn’t everyday that a Minnesota team wins a championship.

“I think it’s great for Minnesota sports as a whole that Minnesota won the PWHL title. It’s no secret that our state doesn’t win a lot,” said sophomore Dylan Lennick.

Going into the playoffs Minnesota was the number four-ranked team and was chosen by number one-ranked Toronto to play the first of two rounds in the PWHL playoffs.

“There’s a lot of people who counted us out when we had that seven-game slide coming into the playoffs, but we got in and never looked back,” Coyne said.

As the playoffs came to a close, it was only fitting that the first overall draft pick and first in playoff scoring, Taylor Heise won the first ever Ilana Kloss playoff MVP award. This award was an addition to the many trophies and medals she has won in her collegiate career.

Through 24 regular-season games plus an additional 10 playoff games, Minnesota held a record of 18-12-4. 

Many Minnesotans made the mark in the regular-season record books this year. In total, the team had 12 native Minnesotans, while many other players had connections to Minnesota.

Two former Gophers led the team in regular-season goals and assists. Grace Zumwinkle led the team with 11 goals, while assistant captain Kelly Pannek led in assists with 12. 

In their inaugural season, the PWHL broke many records. Regular season attendance saw a total of 392,259 thousand fans through 72 games throughout the league. This totals to an average attendance of 5,448 fans per game. Playoffs saw an uptick, with an average attendance of 6,473 fans per game.

Many games that drew large crowds were neutral site games. These games helped to expand the reach of women’s hockey and posed the possibility of expansion to new areas. Though it has been announced, there won’t be any expansions for next season.

Lastly, a big thing on fans’ minds: Will the teams have names? Before game four of the PWHL finals, advisory board member Stan Kasten announced during a press conference that it would be any day that team names were announced. During a live broadcast for game five, Amy Scheer, senior vice president of business operations, confirmed that team names and logos will be announced in August.

Since Minnesota placed 4th in the standings, they had the 3rd overall pick in the 2nd annual PWHL draft, which was hosted by Minnesota and held at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium located in the St. Paul River Center on June 10th.

Just a few days before the draft it was announced that general manager Natalie Darwitz would not be returning to PWHL Minnesota next season. This left head coach Ken Klee to make most of the decisions at the draft. Minnesota has yet to find a new GM before the upcoming season which is set to start after Thanksgiving.

Along with hosting the draft, Minnesota also hosted the first ever PWHL Awards. PWHL forward Grace Zumwinkle won the rookie of the year award and also was named to the All-Rookie Team along with PWHL Minnesota defender Sophie Jaques. Zumwinkle was also named to the Second All-Star Team.

For the inaugural season, it was a pretty successful one. 

“The inaugural season was an absolute blast, it was so exciting to be around so many records being broke, new bars being set, and watching women’s hockey evolve,” said Seibel. “It was an honor to be apart of the inaugural team and seeing the ladies pull together for an amazing playoff championship performance.”

PWHL Minnesota granted Sophia Blew a press pass to cover their inaugural season. See below for a selection of her photos from the season.

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