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PWHPA eyes launching women's pro hockey league by end of year

The Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association is finalizing plans with corporate sponsors to launch what would be North America’s second women’s pro league by the end of this year, a key stakeholder said Thursday.

Jayna Hefford, who holds the title of PWHPA lead operations consultant, said it was premature to provide an exact date, but added: “We’re very much eyeing next hockey season.”

“You know, is that September? Is it November? December? That’s hard to predict,” Hefford told The Associated Press. “We don’t want to compromise on making sure we get it right this time.”

Hefford previously declined to provide any sort of timeline while spending the past four years overseeing the PWHPA and its vision of launching a league that would likely be filled with some of the top players in the world.

If established, it would rival the Premier Hockey Federation, which was founded in 2015 and currently features seven teams.

“We are focused on doing the work to continue moving the needle forward for our sport and proud of the established, sustainable, and thriving league that we have built over the last eight seasons,” PHF Commissioner Reagan Carey said in response to the PWHPA plans. "Our commitment to a record $1.5 million salary cap per team next season demonstrates our leadership and supports our athletes like never before.”

Hefford declined to reveal further details in regards to the number of teams and where they would be based.

The PWHPA has internally proposed several models, including a six-team league with players paid an average salary of $55,000.

“There’s been all kinds of reports on different things we’ve modeled, but we’ve always publicly stated that we believe less is more at this point,” she said. “So we believe it’s got to be tight, it’s got to be deep and you got to have the best players.”

Hefford did say the Philadelphia-based PWHPA has completed the steps in establishing itself as a union, which offers players protections and rights — including guaranteed contracts, workplace safety and maternity leave — under a yet-to-be finalized collective bargaining agreement with investors.

“It’s all about ensuring that things can’t just fall apart and go away or change because someone makes a decision that it’s not going to happen anymore,” Hefford said. “So I think it’s important that we have someone that’s looking out for the athletes.”

The PWHPA is made up of a majority U.S. and Canadian national team players, who have spent much of the past four years holding barn-storming events across North America while the PHF played its seasons.

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This season features two more stops for the four-team tour, starting in Washington, D.C., this weekend, and including the PWHPA’s first award’s ceremony. The season closes with a championship weekend in Southern California, running from March 10-12.

“I think we’ve come a long way,” Hefford said, noting the PWHPA has partnerships with a dozen NHL teams and the National Hockey League Players’ Association.

“But our eyes are still on that finish line,” said, referring to launching a league. “And I feel it’s closer than it’s ever been.”

The PWHPA was formed in May 2019, immediately after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded, with a vision to launch a player-led league with a sustainable economic model.

The PWHPA has balked at joining forces with the PHF, which was initially launched as an investor-led start-up model, and now features private ownership groups, with some controlling more than one team.

Based on the PHF’s board of governors’ commitment to spend $25 million over a three-year period, the league’s salary cap per team has jumped from $300,000 in 2021 to $750,000 this year to $1.5 million next season. The rise in the cap led to former Boston College and Wisconsin player Darryl Watts signing a league-record $150,000, two-year contract with the Toronto Six in January.

Hefford reiterated her feelings toward the PHF by saying she applauds anyone supporting women’s sports, before adding, “But at the end of the day, our vision is different. And I think that’s OK.”

The new league is taking shape some 10 months after the PWHPA reached a partnership agreement with tennis great Billie Jean King and Los Angeles Dodgers chairman Mark Walter.

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