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The New North American Women's Professional League: Crazy About Ice Hockey

The New North American Women's Professional League: Crazy About Ice Hockey

The new professional league, funded by a billionaire, is well received in the United States and Canada. Minnesota and Boston play the first champion.

Swiss Alina Mueller scores a goal for Boston in the third game of the final series Image: imago

Swiss forward Alina Mueller, who plays hockey for Boston, was the hero of Sunday's playoff drama. In front of 13,000 spectators, the 26-year-old scored her team's winning goal to make it 1-0 in Game 4 of the final series against Minnesota – in the second overtime, after a goal that would have been the game-winner for the opponent. The title was canceled due to goalkeeper interference.

So the score is 2-2, and there will be a playoff for the first championship on Thursday night in Minnesota. Women's Professional Hockey League, PHWL for short. It couldn't be more exciting, but that's not the only reason why the newly founded women's professional league is celebrating its first season as a huge success.

It has long been known that women play attractive, fast, physical and technical ice hockey, especially in North America. After all, Canada and the United States traditionally share all World Cup titles and Olympic gold medals between them. However, attempts to create a professional league that would provide female athletes with a financially secure life in competitive sports have always failed. And on the money.

Unlike previous attempts, the PWHL, which has been around since Jan. 1, now has significant financial backing, offering Social Security, a collective bargaining agreement and salaries ranging between $35,000 and $80,000 per season. Similar to the men in the NHL, it was only reduced by about 2 to 3 zeros. At least players can make a living from their sport. This is unique in the sport of ice hockey worldwide.

This was made possible thanks to a 64-year-old billionaire named Mark Walter, who owns the women's league and its six teams. In addition to Boston and Minnesota, there are New York, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. The approximately 16kg trophy that this week's winners will lift is called the 'Walter Cup'. Tennis legend and women's rights activist Billie Jean King encouraged him to get into women's ice hockey. For Walter, this is likely a relatively small investment in professional sports; He is also the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball club and a co-owner of the Chelsea Football Club of the English Premier League.

More than 5,000 spectators on average

It appears that money is well spent in the PWHL because the league is well received by the public. “We're still excited and surprised,” former Canadian international Jayna Hefford, the PWHL's director of hockey operations, told the BBC. The number of spectators in the main round reached 219,856 spectators, an average of 5,235 spectators per match. And there was a world record for women's ice hockey: in April, 21,105 visitors watched a league game against Toronto in Montreal.

Hefford attributes the good attendance not only to the quality of the games, but also to the “welcoming environment” in the arenas that particularly attracts women. “We are also meeting an older generation of women who never had the opportunity to see something like this before and are now big fans of the league,” she said.

The league is also satisfied with the digital reach of the games. YouTube channel, on which all games can be watched for free, has nearly 110,000 subscribers. From 88 countries, as they say. The league's talent draft lottery will also be broadcast there on June 10. The young female figure skating athletes who are traded the most up front mostly come from Canada and the USA. The list of ten candidates also includes two Finns and one Czech.

Overall, the new league opens new horizons for female ice hockey players around the world. Like their male colleagues, they can now dream of reaching the big North American ice hockey stage and making a living from the sport. Like German goalkeeper Sandra Abstreiter, who is contracted with Ottawa. Or Aargau's Alina Mueller, whom Boston drafted third overall in 2023. She recently said she doesn't regret leaving her homeland: “Everyone here, including the women's team, is so obsessed with ice hockey. This exceeded my expectations. I can't help but I would recommend everyone to do it and come here.”