Training camps for all six teams in the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) have been underway since Nov. 15, when 185 athletes reported ahead of the inaugural season.
Since then, all six teams have trimmed down their rosters to 27 players. Now, a league-wide trip to Utica, N.Y., awaits the teams for a unique and important evaluation period.
From Dec. 3-7, the six PWHL teams will participate in a pre-season evaluation camp. The five-day event will feature scrimmages, a fan fest, practices and information sessions that are all geared towards preparation for the league’s first season.
This is the only opportunity teams will have to play one another before the start of the regular season, which is set to begin Jan. 1 with Toronto hosting New York at Mattamy Athletic Centre.
Utica is also hosting the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship next April. All 31 games in that tournament will be played at the Adirondack Bank Center, home of the AHL Utica Comets. The PWHL pre-season camp will take place at Utica University Nexus Center, a three-pad facility, next door.
“We believe it’s a unique opportunity to bring all the teams together,” said PWHL senior vice-president of hockey operations Jayna Hefford. “Certainly, in year one, it gives us a chance to work through a lot of things, whether that be various educational pieces, like talking to the players about concussions or doping. Many of those big issues that are important, we will have everyone in one place.”
For hockey operations, game experience, and marketing departments, the evaluation camp will serve as an opportunity to “try some things” so that when the league launches in January, “we are ready to go,” Hefford added.
Fan fest on Dec. 5 is free for fans. The event will feature giveaways, autograph signings and meet-and-greets with members of each team. A scrimmage between New York and Ottawa will follow, providing fans a glimpse of some of the league’s biggest stars, like former Olympic MVP Brianne Jenner of Team Ottawa and rising star of the U.S National Program Abby Roque of Team New York.
As for general managers and coaches, the centralized evaluation camp will be used as a measuring stick for teams and a pool to scout potential free agents. The last free agent signing window opens the day after camp ends, so Dec. 8-10 marks the last chance general managers can sign free agents ahead of the roster deadline on Dec. 11.
Final rosters must include a total of 23 players signed to a standard player agreements, plus two reserve player contracts. Drafted players who go unsigned or unclaimed will revert to their original team’s protected list.
Following the conclusion of the evaluation camp, a second waiver window will open. Teams will continue training in their respective cities until the holiday break, and several players will compete in the upcoming Canada – USA Rivalry Series in Kitchener and Sarnia, Ont., on Dec. 14 and Dec. 16.
After the holiday break, players will return to their cities to gear up for the inaugural season.
With puck drop less than a month away, not all, but most questions have been answered. Each team will be called their respective city name for the first season, the inaugural season jerseys have been released and the 72-game schedule and venues have been announced. Season tickets will be available for purchase the week of Dec. 4.