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PWHL, international crossover extends beyond players at world championship

Gina Kingsbury Gina Kingsbury - Getty Images

UTICA, N.Y. — The pipeline between the new Professional Women's Hockey League and the women's world championship extends beyond players.

Three of six PWHL head coaches are behind Canada's bench in this year's event. Former Canadian team defender Carla MacLeod is head coach of both Czechia and PWHL Ottawa.

Canada's general manager Gina Kingsbury wears the same hat with PWHL Toronto.

Troy Ryan, of Spryfield, N.S., is head coach of both Canada and PWHL Toronto. Kori Cheverie (PWHL Montreal) and Courtney Kessel (PWHL Boston) are his Canadian team assistants.

They say they arrived at this year's world championship with a deeper knowledge of the Canadians and opposing players because they've spent so much more time around them since the PWHL opened Jan. 1.

"There's an advantage that we have a number of coaches in the league, Kori in Montreal, Courtney in Boston," Ryan said. "There's an advantage to that just because we're seeing players on a daily basis either with us or competing against us.

"You should always be looking at it from your club team, but you're constantly evaluating situations that are going to benefit the national team as well.

"It's still such a small league that you're still getting to see everybody five or six times. You've got a lot better data sample."

Canada (2-0) had Saturday off. It concludes Group A with back-to-back games Sunday against Czechia (1-1) and Monday versus defending champion U.S. (2-0).

Another assistant coach for Ryan in Utica is Hockey Hall of Famer Carolina Ouellette, who is an associate head coach of this year's national U Sports-champion Concordia Stingers.

PWHL players dominate Canada's roster with a dozen of the 19 coached by either Ryan, Cheverie or Kessel in that league.

Another 20 PWHLers are sprinkled across seven other countries here. Kessel coaches three U.S. players in Boston, including American star Hilary Knight.

Kessel, who is the sister-in-law of NHL player Phil Kessel, played in three world championships for Canada and won gold in 2012.

The 34-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., coached in the defunct CWHL and in the NCAA, and coached Canada's under-18 team before ascending to both the national team and the PWHL.

"It's been unbelievable," Kessel said. "These women are professionals, the way they carry themselves and the way they train. We talk about what's this three-week (international) break going to look like? They're going to get better during this three weeks, whether they're here at worlds or whether they're in Montreal or in Boston or Ottawa.

"It's been just really rewarding to walk in at a young age not too far removed from the game and to be able to have a lasting impact on the growth of our game."

Cheverie, of New Glasgow, N.S., helped navigate Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2022 as Ryan's assistant. The 36-year-old oversees a couple key pieces in Canada's lineup — captain Marie-Philip Poulin and goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens — with PWHL Montreal.

"The quick turnaround of the PWHL and just how fast you have to prepare for games, it's similar to a world championship because you've got to turn some important information around very quickly, so the speed at which things happen, it's very similar," Cheverie said.

"We're in a position where we've been doing it all year, so I think that's a benefit for sure."

Kingsbury, a two-time Olympic gold medallist before entering the managerial ranks, was about to leave Hockey Canada to be PWHL Toronto's GM when she opted to do both.

"There have been some parallels. You almost kill two birds with one stone," Kingsbury said. "The depth chart becomes even more accurate when you're really involved in the league from a scouting perspective and watching and being a part of it every day.

"Then there's the increased awareness of what hat am I wearing at what time? Toronto is my little baby now, but Canada as always been the most important thing in my sporting career. I believe I can separate the two when it's needed."

Kingsbury likes having her head coach Ryan in dual jobs too.

"To have him on a daily basis with some of our athletes, I think that has a huge advantage as well. We do have several athletes on the national team in Toronto," she said.

"Having his eyes and his expertise around the league and being able to watch players play in different markets, he'll have a better handle on what they need when they come to the national team."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2024.