The first stop of the Professional Women’s Hockey Association (PWHPA) Dream Gap Tour is the Unifor Showcase taking place this weekend in Toronto. It’s a very hard tournament to preview—the rosters are new, they’re full of stars, and there’s not really a specific “Toronto” or “Canada” team to pick to cheer for. Which is what makes it so great!
Between them, the 82 players have won every trophy or medal it’s possible for a women’s hockey player to win, excluding league trophies outside of North America. There are Olympic and World champions, NCAA champions, U Sports champions, Universiade champions, Patty Kazmaier winners and MVPs of every stripe. These players are among the best that North America has to offer.
How to Watch
When: Saturday September 21 - Sunday, September 22
Where: Westwood Arena, Etobicoke
Tickets: Available online or at the door, for $15 a game. Weekend passes may still be available. Seating is general admission.
By this point Marie-Philip Poulin is a household name in Canada. She was the Olympic hero in both 2010 and 2014 and is currently captain of Team Canada. She won the scoring title in the CWHL every full season that she played in the league. After an injury during the 2019 Clarkson Cup playoffs, which she then re-aggravated at Worlds she’s finally back on the ice and it will be glorious to see her in action, leading a squad that closely resembles the 2018-19 Canadiennes.
Names you should already know: Erin Ambrose, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Mélodie Daoust, Hilary Knight, Geneviève Lacasse, Emerance Maschmeyer, Lauriane Rougeau, Jill Saulnier, Laura Stacey
Names to look out for: Genevieve Bannon, Kim Deschenes, Sarah Lefort
Another Canadian national team stalwart, Rebecca Johnston has three Olympic medals, two Clarkson Cups, and along with Brianna Decker, was the Inferno player who I least wanted to see with the puck on her stick when she was up against the Furies. Johnston’s a brilliant playmaker, clever and skilled, and a true pleasure to watch (if you’re cheering for her team). She was one of the four players who attended the NHL All-Star Game this year in San Jose—you might remember her demonstrating the puck control drill. A lot of the 2019 Clarkson Cup Champion Calgary Inferno team are on Team Johnston.
Names you should already know: Brianna Decker, Kacey Bellamy, Brigette Lacquette, Meaghan Mikkelson, Blayre Turnbull
Names to look out for: Hannah Miller, Marlène Boissonault, Hanna Bunton
Brianne Jenner wears an “A” with Team Canada and was a star alongside Johnston on the Inferno. Second all-time in scoring for the Inferno (Johnston tops that list), Jenner was a star at Cornell and made news this December with a speech at Olds College about issues with news coverage of women’s hockey—namely, that with the exception of her time at Cornell, the news media seemed uninterested in the actual hockey Jenner and her teammates played. She’ll be leading a team that bears a strong resemblance to last year’s Markham Thunder roster.
Names you should already know: Victoria Bach, Megan Bozek, Laura Fortino, Shea Tiley, Jess Jones, Jamie Lee Rattray, Jocelyne Larocque
Names to look out for: Jessie Eldridge, Katelyn Rae
Liz Knox is basically the shining example of the players the PWHPA are working for. She’s never been to the Olympics or the World Championships. She stayed in Canada for her college career, playing for Wilfrid Laurier University, and playing on a team of Canadian Interuniversity Sports (now U Sports) all stars at the 2011 Universiade. 2011 was also the only time she represented Canada at an IIHF tournament a one-off 12 Nations Tournament. In her rookie year she was the Brampton Thunder’s starter, but spent the rest of her CWHL career in a platoon role, first with Swiss legend Florence Schelling and then with Erica Howe. She played one season with the Melbourne Ice in the Australian Women’s Ice Hockey League (AWIHL) because really why not? But she won at every level. She’s a four-time OUA champion, 2010 U Sports Women’s Hockey Player of the Year and a member of WLU’s Hall of Fame. The 2011 Universiade team brought home gold and they beat a Finnish team full of Olympians to do it. She’s a Clarkson Cup champion and a CWHL All-Star. She’s made ten bell saves on superstar players. And she’s done all this while working sometimes multiple jobs and being active in the CWHLPA. Knoxy planned to retire at the end of this season but when the CWHL closure was announced she delayed the official announcement until just a few weeks ago. Could she have played longer, taken her level higher if she’d been able to play hockey full-time? We’ll never know. In the Canadian English language press she’s been the PWHPA’s representative of the “regular” players. (Some of you will have heard her this past week on the Steve Dangle Podcast.) She won’t be on the ice this weekend but if you see her around, buy her a beer, she deserves it. Despite her years on the Thunder, her team is mostly composed of former Toronto Furies.
Names you should already know: (Basically everyone, there are 17 Furies on the team!) Renata Fast, Loren Gabel, Sarah Nurse, Natalie Spooner
Names to look out for: Mellissa Channell, Elaine Chuli, Catherine Daoust, Brittany Howard, Josiane Pozzebon, Carolyne Prévost, Rachael Smith
Full rosters are available on the PWHPA site (scroll down).
So who should you root for? It really is dealer’s choice. There are hot snipers, puck-moving defenders, amazing goalies, talented “rookies” and accolade-laden veterans everywhere you look. The hockey is going to be fast and fun. The only stakes are pride—rosters will change for almost every stop of the Dream Gap Tour so there’s no way to really track a “winner” throughout the season.
Come out or tune in and cheer every goal or mind-blowing save you see.
It looks like I (nafio) am going to be the only one of the masthead present for the weekend. I’ll be at all four games but I have media credentials so I’m not entirely sure what my schedule will look like between games or where in the stands I’ll be. I’ll stick a PPP sticker on my purse so you can find me if you want to say hi and provide some updates via twitter. Westwood Arena does have the Penalty Box Sports Pub if people want somewhere to hang out and eat after a game.