NHL players and coaches say it’s ‘about time’ for PWHL

“I’ve been watching their games,” says Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki.

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Don Granato firmly believes in the talent of female hockey players: he has seen them up close for years.

“It’s pure entertainment if you love the sport of hockey,” Granato said.

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The head coach of the Buffalo Sabers, and brother of women’s hockey great Cammi Granato, has enjoyed following women’s soccer for decades.

With the inaugural season of the Professional Women’s Hockey League underway, Granato is happy that more people will finally be able to see what he already knows.

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“It’s awesome like you knew it was going to be from a talent and skill standpoint, hockey sense,” Granato said. “I congratulate all those who have made an effort and are making an effort to present this product in front of people so that they understand how talented these athletes are.

“It’s about time, really.”

The launch of the women’s hockey league is making fans believe. The PWHL has been setting records and grabbing headlines since the season began on January 1st.

In its first week, the league twice surpassed the attendance mark for a women’s professional hockey game: first with 8,318 fans at TD Place Arena in Ottawa on Jan. 2, then with 13,316 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul , Minnesota. last Saturday, both games against Montreal.

The league opener between New York and Toronto at the Mattamy Athletic Center on New Year’s Day reached 2.9 million Canadian viewers and was simulcast on CBC, Sportsnet and TSN.

Some of the fans tuning in are NHL players.

Scott Mayfield looks to the side while sitting in the stands of a stadium
Scott Mayfield of the New York Islanders watches the game between New York and Montreal during PWHL action at UBS Arena on January 10, 2024 in Elmont, New York. Photo by Bruce Bennett /fake images

“I’ve been watching their games,” Montreal Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki told reporters while sporting a PWHL-branded cap. “I’ve met a couple of them over the years, so it’s been fun to see them.”

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“It was great that it was on TV,” said Habs defenseman Mike Matheson, whose wife, Emily Pfalzer Matheson, won Olympic gold with the U.S. in 2018. “Last night after dinner we put it on.” and it was great to see. “

The Canadiens, who were at practice Tuesday wearing PWHL Montreal jerseys, are especially interested in supporting the league with Marie Philip-Poulin serving as the team’s player development consultant and captain of Montreal’s PWHL team.

“I think it’s important,” Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis told reporters. “It’s the Montreal team, it’s a new league. “I think the league is off to a great start on the support side, and that’s what we’re going to do in Montreal as well.”

On the ice, the game is physical. PWHL officials appear to be putting away the whistles as players throw their weight along the boards.

“It’s nice to see, I know they really fought for it,” Suzuki said. “The (players) are very strong and I think that definitely adds to the game.”

“It seems like they’re letting them play a little bit more, which is probably what everyone wants,” Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “When you play a physical game, sometimes you’ll run into others, I think it’ll be fun to see if that continues.”

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Two PWHL players collide on the ice
Ottawa’s Mikyla Grant-Mentis gets physical with Montreal’s Leah Lum during a game Jan. 2 at TD Place Arena in Ottawa. Photo by Tony Caldwell /postmedia news

The increased physicality is one of several rules the league is experimenting with.

The PWHL adopted a 3-2-1 point system: three points for a regulation win, two points for an overtime win, one point for an overtime loss, and zero for a regulation loss.

A team can also “kill” a penalty by scoring a shorthanded goal to end the opposing team’s power play.

Some NHL players are curious to see how these rules play out and believe there should be an open discussion about whether the NHL follows suit.

“The difficulty of winning in regulation time, especially in the final stretch. You think about playoff hockey, how hard it is to win in regulation… The fact that you can beat a team in regulation should have maybe a little more value,” McDonagh said.

When asked about the penalty, he added: “It might prompt teams to be a little more aggressive on the short side as well and produce more goals there. So it’s definitely something that never crossed my mind, but I could see it as a good thing to create more offense.”

New York Rangers center Vincent Trocheck, like McDonagh, has a daughter. They hope the league is here to stay so future generations can dream of women’s professional hockey.

Although there have been women’s leagues before, the PWHL is showing signs of staying power thanks to deep-pocketed investors and an eight-year collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union.

“The WNBA has its league and hopefully we can grow ours into something similar and just as big,” Trocheck said. “I have a daughter, I’m not sure if she’ll go down the hockey route, but if she does, I’d like her to have the chance to make a living if she really wanted to.”

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