Trailblazers: How the PWHL is Inspiring a New Generation of Girls in Hockey

Trailblazers: How the PWHL is Inspiring a New Generation of Girls in Hockey

By Mackenzie Westrick

May 1, 2024

The creation of the Professional Women’s Hockey League has had a generous impact on the sports world, allowing the world’s best female players a chance to play the game full time. What’s next?

The 2019 collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and the following strike against the National Women’s Hockey League introduced a period of little hope for a successful professional women’s hockey league. Citing extremely low salaries and lack of adequate healthcare as reasons for the strike, players began to call for a sustainable league providing equal opportunities for women in the sport.  

In August 2023, their demands were answered. Chair of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mark Walter, and his wife Kimbra Walter, founded the Professional Women’s Hockey League. The league aims to provide players with a stable and unified space to pursue professional hockey. In the first season, there are six teams across the United States and Canada, located in Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Each of these teams is made up of 23 active players, creating a 138 player league. For comparison, each NHL team also has 23 active players and the 32-team franchise contains 736 active roster players. 

The inaugural PWHL draft took place in September 2023, with the first game scheduled for January 1, 2024 between team Toronto and team New York. Come game day, a record was set. The game was held at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, which has a regular capacity of 18,800 people. The first PWHL game was completely sold out and had record-breaking attendance of 19,285 people.

This incredible game marked a turning point for women’s hockey. Young girls growing up with dreams to play professional hockey are actually able to chase them. They get to watch people who look like them be recognized on a national level, breaking the glass ceiling that held that dream down. 

Moving forward, the community hopes to continue to inspire. “Just being a positive role model, showing what it takes, how to get there, working hard, just being a good person, it’s so important,” Kalli Funk, director of fan experience and community engagement for PWHL Minnesota, said in an interview with KARE News. “Everyone in this league is doing that, which is awesome.” 

Aside from the players, the creation of the PWHL is also important to women in other aspects of the sport. Female support staff ensure player success directly, while female media staff get these games out to the rest of the world. While there is no mandate or requirement for women to fill these roles, the opportunity for increased visibility is evident. 

Other big names in the NHL have recognized the PWHL’s impact and have expressed interest in involvement. “We like the initial reports on the excitement and the attendance numbers,” Kevin Acklin, the president of business operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins, said to The Athletic. “We’ve expressed interest in hosting a club here in Pittsburgh for the future — that’s the ultimate goal.” 

Both players and viewers hope that the PWHL sticks around. Its impact is already immense, and is expected to continue to break records in the coming months. 

Mackenzie Westrick is a junior studying history and English, with a concentration in literary studies, focusing on translation and diversity. She is currently an editor at the Red Cedar Review, and hopes to eventually make waves in the publishing world. When she isn’t reading, she can be found hanging out with her cats or poking around a local bookstore.