Burke: PWHL Draft 'the biggest day in the history of women's hockey'
The Professional Women’s Hockey League is holding its inaugural draft Monday in Toronto as the league’s six new franchises fill out their rosters.
It’s another big step in the formation of the first unified best-on-best women’s hockey league, and according to PWHL Players’ Association executive director Brian Burke, there’s never been a more important day in the sport.
“I think it’s the biggest day in the history of women’s hockey, I really do. Bigger than Nagano, bigger than any international competitions, all the medals. This is a chance for people to say, ‘We’re going to do this the right way,’” the former NHL executive told TSN’s Gino Reda Monday.
“I think it’s huge… it’s historically significant. For the first time, we’ve got one united league. Properly funded, properly staffed, properly backed up. It’s the best chance women have had. They’ve never had a fighting chance to get a league on this footing that we’re going to have, finally. It’s our best chance. It’s a wonderful day and I’m really excited about it.”
The PWHL was officially introduced on Aug. 29 with an announcement naming six markets for the 24-game season set to begin in January. Teams will be located in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, New York, Minneapolis and Boston.
The daft follows the league’s initial 10-day free agency period where 18 players – three per team – signed to contracts between Sept. 1 and Sept. 10. Unsigned players declared for the 15-round draft with a second free agency period to follow for teams to reach the training camp minimum of 28.
“This is one league. This is the future of our sport and we’re growing for years to come,” Toronto signee Renata Fast told TSN’s Kenzie Lalonde Monday.
“I don’t know how it doesn’t feel real yet, but it hasn’t sunk in quite yet,” Ottawa goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer said to Lalonde.
The PWHL was established independently from the National Hockey League. Burke said that while an official partnership between the NHL and PWHL could emerge down the line, the new league is looking for visibility support first.
“For example, putting women’s games on as part of the Winter Classic, as part of the Heritage Classic, as part of any of the outdoor games, as part of All-Star. They could play a significant role in elevating the role women get to play in these events and promoting our game,” Burke said.
“Women have never had a chance to be supported like that. The notion that people would buy tickets and go support women’s sports, they haven’t had a chance to do that. The only [time] they got a chance to watch women was internationally. And the sport’s been fantastic, but they’ve never had the chance to go watch games. And now, to me, this is our chance and it’s going to be amazing.”
Burke admitted that he became emotional when offered the job to be the players’ union head.
“I’ve been a fan and a supporter of women’s hockey for 25 years. And when I got a chance to work with these talented, brilliant women I jumped at it. And I was overcome by it, I was," he said.
The 68-year-old said the league is keeping it simple in terms of a goal for its first season.
"In my mind, let's build this up, get a good launch and build it up. Let's take it from there," he said.