Recent deals with Kevin Kiermaier and Isiah Kiner-Falefa made it abundantly clear they’re not waiting on Bellinger’s decision. It’s now hard to see him landing with the Blue Jays, who have turned their attention to one of his former teammates.
The PWHL is here, and it brings with it all the world’s best women’s hockey players in one single professional league.
It’s been a long time coming, to say the least, and as players prepare to hit the ice for the first time together in competition, we’re taking a closer look at the rosters and some of the many storylines within them.
From rookies fresh out of college and international stars getting their first starts in North America to veterans embarking on new beginnings, we’ve highlighted 10 intriguing players to watch as the PWHL gets underway.
Kristen Campbell, Goalie, Toronto
Campbell’s illustrious college career saw her backstop Wisconsin to a pair of WCHA titles and a national championship while earning several individual honours in the process — and got her the attention of Team Canada in 2020-21. Slotted third on the national squad’s depth chart behind Ann-Renee Desbiens (PWHL Montreal) and Emerance Maschmeyer (Ottawa), she hasn’t been able to crack the crease as a starter but now as the No. 1 option in Toronto, the crease is all hers. Can she make good on this opportunity to lead a team to victory once again?
Ann-Sophie Bettez, Forward, Montreal
Bettez has played her entire hockey career at home in Montreal, and it’s only fitting that she should start her PWHL career there, too. At 36, she’s one of the oldest players in this brand new league, but it’s not just her long and local resume that makes her an intriguing player to watch this season: Bettez and Team Canada captain Marie-Philip Poulin have a chance to reignite past chemistry from their days in the CWHL.
Akane Shiga, Forward, Ottawa
One of the best parts of having one unified women’s hockey league is seeing the influx of international talent land among the PWHL’s six markets, giving fans their first glimpses of some of the players we only get to see during international tournaments. Shiga, the brightest young star of Japan’s national team, is the league’s lone Japanese player and is garnering plenty of excitement already from teammates — just ask fellow forward Daryl Watts:
“She’s incredible. Hard shot, really smart, really crafty. She’s fun to watch,” Watts says of Shiga.
Emma Soderberg, Goalie, Boston
Boston hockey fans know a thing or two about elite goaltending tandems, so it’s only fitting that the market’s PWHL club should boast the best duo in the league. The team secured Team USA’s Aerin Frankel via the initial free agency period and then picked up perhaps the biggest steal of the draft in Soderberg — a tenth-round pick despite her elite resume as Sweden’s national team netminder. Frankel is the presumed starter here, but all eyes should be on Soderberg who will no doubt be making the most of every opportunity to challenge for the top spot.
Susanna Tapani, Forward, Minnesota
In a sea of Minnesotans, Finnish forward Susanna Tapani brings a unique resume to the State of Hockey. Tapani’s time playing in North America is limited to just a single college season at the University of North Dakota a decade ago, her illustrious career played out entirely overseas in Finland followed by a brief stint with the KRS Vanke Rays in Russia. Up until now, the only time most North American players and fans have seen her play has been on the international circuit, where she’s averaged nearly a point per game in three Olympic tournaments.
Madison Packer, Forward, New York
A fan favourite during her multiple seasons captaining the PHF’s Metropolitan Riveters, Packer made good on a PWHL camp invite by earning her roster spot in New York. The 32-year-old is known for her strong leadership, and her veteran presence should be invaluable on a squad with a young core.
Kali Flanagan, Defence, Toronto
Toronto’s blue line should be a major strength, and Flanagan is a big reason why. While the top pairing of Team Canada’s Renata Fast and Jocelyne Larocque is (presumably) locked in for Toronto, Flanagan’s presence gives head coach Troy Ryan a blue-chip puzzle piece who can make a big impact no matter her D partner. The former Team USA rearguard is used to playing against Canada’s stars, but as one of just two Americans on a roster stacked with Canadian talent, it’ll be fun to see her strike chemistry and drive plays from the blue line.
Jillian Dempsey, Forward, Montreal
You can’t tell the story of the PHF without Jillian Dempsey, the league’s all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, and points during her near-decade with her hometown Boston Pride. While she never expected to suit up anywhere but Boston, PWHL Montreal fans will be happy to have her — the 32-year-old has a nose for the net, and with an opportunity to play alongside some elite Quebec talent, it’ll be fun to see how the PHF’s best carves out a new place in a new-to-her market. Just, don’t expect her to shed her Boston roots any time soon with a trip to Tim Horton’s: “I’m not one of those obsessed, needs-to-have-it people, but definitely if I had the choice it’s Dunkin,” she says.
Daryl Watts, Forward, Ottawa
This time last year, Daryl Watts was pondering a return to hockey following a brief post-college retirement, in early talks with Toronto on a historic two-year deal that would make her the highest-paid player in women’s pro hockey and eying a championship with the Six. She won the trophy, but never got to play out that deal after the league was bought out. Now, the former Patty Kazmaier winner and college hockey champ with Wisconsin finds herself in the nation’s capital as a mid-round pick with plenty to prove if she’s to land back on top of the women’s hockey world.
“By signing a one-year, I’m hoping to prove myself in the league,” she says.
Sophie Jaques, Defence, Boston
It’s been quite a year for Jaques, who helped lead No. 1-ranked Ohio State all the way to the college hockey final last spring and earned the Patty Kazmaier award as the best college player in the process — only the second defender to ever win the award, and the first since the great Angela Ruggiero in 2004. Drafted 10th overall to Boston as the fourth college player off the board, Jaques brings elite skill and plenty of offence to a blue line brimming with young talent as she makes her jump into the pros.