This past Saturday members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association from throughout the GTA and Buffalo gathered at Canlan Ice Sports at York University for the first in a series of games that form the Ontario portion of what the Association is calling “PWHPA Live”. While corresponding games in other regions will see PWHPA squads go up against local teams, there are enough players within or close to Ontario that fans get the full experience of elite women’s hockey players going up against each other. The Dream Gap Tour will resume with a six-team tournament in Toronto on January 11-12.

Saturday’s teams were Team Fortino and Team Larocque, named after former Thunder players and Canadian Olympians Laura Fortino and Jocelyne Larocque, who took to the ice with their respective teams. There was some crossover, but Team Fortino was largely composed of former Toronto Furies players, while the majority of Team Larocque came from the Markham Thunder, of whom Jocelyne Larocque was the  captain. Team Larocque won the day by a score of 5-2, with goals from Jenna McParland, Alexis Woloschuk, Victoria Bach, Nicole Kosta, and Katelyn Rae. The only Team Fortino players to beat goalie Shea Tiley were Emily Janiga and one that looked to have been Jenna Dingeldein but was called as Renata Fast. It was an exciting game, and both goalies (Amanda Makela took the net for Team Fortino) made some amazing saves.

Come support us! Most people, when they come to watch us, they want to come back. So I think it’s not just retweeting or sharing—actually physically come and watch us, I think that’s a big thing.

After the game, I talked with a few members of Team Fortino to see how they thought things were going for the PWHPA after the first round of the Dream Gap Tour and a few months of practice.

Carolyne Prévost, credited with assists on both of the Fortino goals, was a seven year veteran of the CWHL, six of them as a forward with the Toronto Furies, with whom she won the Clarkson Cup in 2014. She won two NCAA titles in her college years with the University of Wisconsin Badgers.  She’s also a teacher and a Cross-Fit athlete.

Emily Janiga scored the first goal for Team Fortino in the dying seconds of the first period. She finished her NCAA career as captain of the Mercyhurst Lakers before joining the Buffalo Beauts in 2016, going on to win the Isobel Cup. She spent the 2017-18 season with the CWHL’s second Chinese team, the Vanke Rays, and then returned to the Beauts last season.

Sarah Nurse has a silver Olympic medal, a bronze World Championships medal and a gold Under-18 medal with Team Canada. Another Badgers alumna, she made her debut with the Toronto Furies last season.

How are things going, is the season meeting your expectations, are there any challenges?

Carolyne Prévost: For me I didn’t have any expectations, I guess. Once the league folded last year, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, and then this got put together so fast that I’ve actually been really impressed with the support of everyone and how everyone really came together to create this organization that we have right now — the PWHPA — and that we’ve been able to do multiple showcases and to see that the fans are supporting us, and that we’re having corporate sponsors support us to kind of get this thing going has actually probably exceeded my expectations. Hopefully we can keep this Dream Gap Tour going and then eventually create a sustainable league.

Emily Janiga: Definitely exceeded my expectations, I didn’t know what to expect, especially with it happening so quick, but the few showcases that we’ve had so far have been good turn-outs, good support from the corporation that sponsored that specific event. Going there, they treated us like professional athletes, things that we maybe didn’t have in the past so that was awesome to see. Building off of that, let’s keep the momentum going for the second half of the season, for the last three showcases we have.

Sarah Nurse: I think the entire organization, everybody involved has done a really good job of keeping everything afloat. We had a lot of unknowns coming into this season, and between our GMs, our coaching staff and the higher-ups with the PWHPA, I think they’ve done a really good job of keeping the girls engaged and ready and willing to play.

Is there anything that, if it was not in a league proposal, would give you pause, or be a dealbreaker?

Prévost: I wouldn’t say I have a huge voice, but I think that collectively, no big decisions can be made by one person, so I think that whatever proposal is on the table, it’ll be well thought out from everyone that’s involved in this movement. I have a lot of faith in the people of the PWHPA that... we’re going to make the right call at the right moment

Janiga: I have a lot of faith in the people that are backing us on this.  I think having this year - year and a half to take time to figure out what’s working, what markets work, what area is a good avenue... When a proposal is finally made we took time and thought it out. I think it’s gonna come through and we’re putting faith in those people’s hands.

Nurse: There’s not really one thing but I would say that air of professionalism. A lot goes into that encompasses professionalism. If we are expected to be on a bus for 30 hours to wherever we have to go and then play that day, that’s not very professional... I think that when they propose to us different ideas and different structures and models there’s just a lot that does need to go into it.

What would be something that would be part of your dream hockey league, a shoot-for-the-moon sort of situation?

Prévost: The resources — we want to be able to make a living wage from playing hockey and feel the focus is on the sport versus having a full-time job and having to practice at nine o’clock at night, and then having to go back to work at your full-time job. We’re not putting our best effort at nine o’clock at night consistently, or even ten o’clock at night, so getting a league that could work for everyone, having a living wage, having the resources in place where we actually feel like it’s a professional league, I think that’s important.

Janiga: I think the resources is another huge part. When we’re travelling it’s the little things we don’t have to worry about, making sure our travel’s taken care of. That when we get there, our locker room’s set up, that we have proper fuel, the post-game, the pre-game, food in between periods, getting our proper equipment... [Not having that] takes our focus away from what we’re trying to achieve so I think that that’s a huge part that’s overlooked.

Nurse:  I think... have five, six teams throughout Canada and the United States, and we play 40 games. We aren’t getting off buses and playing games two hours later, we aren’t eating meals that have been sitting on a bus for a day and a half... I just think that we need to keep it simple.

It’s said that the NWHL is planning to come to Canada, what’s your reaction to that?

Janiga: Obviously that’s everyone’s thought that Toronto, it’s such a big area, a big hotbed for hockey, especially being so close to Buffalo, it’s kind of a no-brainer for anyone on the outside to think that “We should expand”. It’s just tough, we can say it, it’s implementing it and having those resources... If we’re now travelling to a different country, the travel expenses climb up and that’s a huge part. If we don’t have the means and the funds to make that happen, we can only say it.

Prévost: It’s something that’s easier said than done. You know you can talk about it all you want, but it’s different to actually implement it and put an actual market into Canada and have the insurance across the border and everything like that when you’re playing. Obviously,  the vision that we have doesn’t align with the vision that they have in terms of where we think that we should be going, so I think there’d have to be some stuff to figure out with that also and the players that would join, potentially, that league, if that were to happen. Right now with what has been put forward with that league um... it’s just not the option that we believe is the best one for women’s hockey right now, going forward if we’re looking at the future generations and where we want to go... I think we’re doing what we need to be doing right now with the PWHPA, and we’re just looking at creating something there.

Nurse:  Good for them, I mean if they plan to expand to Canada, I’m sure that they’ve done their research and have things figured out so, good for them.

Are the national federations, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, doing enough to support right now? Could they do more? What else would you like to see them do?

Nurse: I think I always want more,  but I think I can speak on behalf of Hockey Canada because I’m part of it... It’s not in their mandate to create a league or create anything like that. They have their talent pool and they have their depth charts and so they support their talent pool of athletes. From my standpoint, they’ve done an excellent job this year in supporting the girls who are in the talent pool and in contention for the World Championships and the Olympics in 2022, so I definitely think that they’ve done a fantastic job of getting the funding from our Board of Directors so I can’t say thank you enough to Hockey Canada.

Prévost: I know the Hockey Canada girls, and I’m assuming USA Hockey also [NB: if this is true for USA Hockey, no one involved has mentioned it on the record] they’re getting additional ice times also weekly.  They’re helping contribute to our ice times I believe, two times a week - there’s two in the [GTA] east and two in the west and some of them are open, so you could have three practices a week technically, if you wanted. I think this was unexpected for them too... but I think that they’ve done a really good job, taking over this quickly after our league folded so we’re very thankful for them for stepping in, because I don’t think we would have what we have right now if it wasn’t for them.  I mean would we want more? I think anyone wants more, but I think that they’re doing a great job supporting us and we’re very thankful.

Do you have any final thoughts, or things you want to say to some of the more casual women’s hockey fans who are PPP readers?

Prévost: Come support us! Most people, when they come to watch us, they want to come back. So I think it’s not just retweeting or sharing—actually physically come and watch us, I think that’s a big thing.

Janiga: Just give us a chance and come watch us live. I think a lot of people who haven’t seen women’s hockey are pretty excited and impressed after they leave a game. The crowd’s always fun and it’s a good environment and I think we put a good show out. So, definitely come out and keep supporting us and we’ll do what we can on our end.

Nurse:  Thank you, we know we have so much support out there, sometimes it’s pretty quiet and we may not hear about it but we know that it’s out there. I encourage them to just open up the conversation: if you’re talking hockey, slip in something about women’s hockey! A lot of times women’s hockey is out of sight, out of mind, and people don’t think about it because it’s not in their direct line, right? So I just encourage people to open up conversation.

If you are looking to come out and watch a PWHPA game there are several opportunities for Ontario fans, including a game in Orangeville on Saturday, followed by a newly-announced game on Saturday December 7th at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Arena, and another in Kingston, the first Saturday of 2020. (I asked Janiga about Buffalo area events and she confirmed they’re trying to work on something but Buffalo has a smaller player pool so that’s been a challenge.) For more details you can go to the PWHPA  Events page or check out the 2019-20 women’s hockey calendar here on Pension Plan Puppets.