PWHL To Feature in Exhibition Game

  • Emily Townley
  • Sports
  • January 27, 2024

The first Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) will team up with the National Hockey League (NHL) at this year’s NHL All-Star Game, which is set to take place on February 1 in Toronto, Canada. The PWHL hopes to host its own All-Star Game as the league expands next year. Until then, it will showcase the players’ talent in 3-on-3 games in the NHL All-Star event, with 24 players chosen across the league. Six teams comprise the PWHL, with organizations in Boston, Minnesota, Montréal, New York, Ottawa, and Toronto. Unlike the NHL, these teams don’t have a name other than the city they represent. Players will play for either Team King or Team Kloss, named after tennis legends Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss, who are members of the PWHL’s advisory board. 

Formed in 2023, the PWHL is not the first women’s professional hockey organization. Semblances of a professional league occurred throughout the 20th century in Canada, such as the Ladies Ontario Hockey Organization, formed in 1922, or the 1915 Ottowa Alerts. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) first came into fruition in 2007, featuring Les Canadiennes de Montréal and other teams in the US, Canada, and China. It dissolved in 2019. To that effect, another National Women’s Hockey League existed from 2015 to 2023. The new PWHL was formed to “create a league for the best players in the world, with the resources, infrastructure, and wages that befit professional athletes.” The mission makes sense when the athletes in question are either gold or silver-medal Olympians.

Those who follow either Team USA or Team Canada in the Winter Olympics are bound to recognize names on the roster; Hilary Knight, forward for Team USA, will play for Team King, and Jocelyne Larocque, defender on Team Canada, will join Team Kloss. Alina Müller, forward from Switzerland, is the only one on the roster who has not played on Canada or America’s national team. Many players also either played for the CWHL or NWHL. Abby Roque, the first indigenous woman to play hockey for Team USA, also joins the line-up.

This opportunity is a chance to showcase women’s hockey to a broader audience. These games are broadcast through regional sports networks, like NESN or Bally Sports in the United States. Despite the NHL All-Star Game airing on ABC/ESPN, this exhibition game will air on ESPN+, which is only open to subscribers.

A long-running problem in women’s sports is the lack of exposure. When comparing viewing figures between men’s sports and women’s sports, figures are dismal. The WNBA final, for example, “averaged 889,000 viewers” and became the “most-watched WNBA Games 4 Finals on record.” This is growth from the previous year. However, when comparing these figures to the least-watched NFL game during Wild Card Weekend, 23 million, the WNBA figures are dwarfed. Whether in person, where stadiums are not as full as they should be, or where no major networks broadcast women’s professional sports regularly, women’s sports do not get the same airtime as men’s. Is it due to a lack of corporate sponsorship? The alleged lack of interest? Whatever the reason, the PWHL hopes to create a space where women’s hockey can get the exposure that men’s hockey already has.