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Around the PWHL: Record-breaking crowd welcomes women’s hockey back to Ottawa | CBC Sports

Hayley Scamurra had chills even before the puck dropped inside TD Place for PWHL Ottawa’s first game on Tuesday.

When the team went out for warm-ups, Scamurra said the crowd was cheering as if they’d just scored a goal.

“I just couldn’t believe the energy they were bringing, and you could just tell they were so excited to have us and to see us play hockey,” she told CBC Sports.

It’s been more than 13 years since Ottawa was home to a professional women’s hockey team, and Ottawa gave women’s hockey quite a welcome back.

The game set a record as the most-attended professional women’s hockey league game, with 8,318 fans at TD Place. It surpassed the 7,765 fans who attended a Swedish women’s hockey league game during the 2021-22 season.

To know how much it meant to the players, look no further than captain Brianne Jenner’s face when her name was announced to the crowd. You could see the emotion she felt in that moment, after being one of the players who worked to create the league.

The crowd gave her a standing ovation when she skated onto the ice, something Scamurra said made her team proud.

“In that moment, I was just so happy she was getting the recognition that she deserved and the community fully embraces her,” she said.

There were ups and downs for that crowd through the first part of the game. There was excitement and then disappointment when Ottawa forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis’ goal was called back. A review made it clear the net had been knocked off and the puck went under it, the first test for the PWHL’s video review process.

And there certainly would have been some nerves when Montreal captain Marie-Philip Poulin took a penalty shot, which was saved by Ottawa goalie Emerance Maschmeyer.

But it was pure joy later in the second period, when Scamurra scored Ottawa’s first franchise goal.

WATCH | Scamurra reflects on scoring first franchise goal for Ottawa:

Hayley Scamurra reflects on scoring 1st-ever goal for Ottawa

American forward Hayley Scamurra looks back playing and scoring in front of the largest crowd ever to watch a professional women’s hockey game.

“I’ve never experienced a crowd that loud,” Scamurra said.

“It was reverberating throughout the entire arena, and my teammates were just so excited. I don’t even know what took over my body at that point. It was just kind of blacked out a little bit. But it was really special and to be able to interact with the crowd the way we were able to, and feel that energy from them, was something I’ll never forget.”

Ottawa’s record may not hold up for long. As of Thursday afternoon, Minnesota had more than 8,000 tickets gone for its home opener against Montreal on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center, where the Minnesota Wild play.

More physicality, less time on special teams

Scamurra’s goal was also the first power-play goal in PWHL history.

It’s early, but so far officials seem to be putting their whistles away most of the time when players are at work along the boards. It has highlighted the physicality that’s always been present in the women’s game, which might come as a surprise to people who only watch women’s hockey at the international level.

It also means less time on the power play or penalty kill. There have been 19 penalties so far across three games, primarily for stick infractions like hooking and tripping.

Female hockey players in forest green jerseys greet young fans leaned over a railing at a rink.
PWHL Boston players greet fans at the team’s home opener on Wednesday. (Michael Riley/PWHL)

While there have been two power-play goals recorded so far, with Boston defender Megan Keller scoring another on Wednesday against Minnesota, no team has scored short-handed yet. 

Fans will have to wait a little longer to see a unique rule the PWHL has adopted, where a team that scores short-handed during a minor penalty will have their player freed from the box.

Solid goaltending in New York

Toronto goes into its second game against New York on Friday still looking for its first goal, after being shut out 4-0 in the PWHL’s inaugural game on New Year’s Day.

It was a stellar performance from New York goaltender Corinne Schroeder, who seems to be picking up where she left off last season in the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF).

Schroeder posted shutouts in her first three games with the Boston Pride last season, setting a league record for consecutive shutouts and save percentage, and winning rookie and goaltender of the year awards.

New York coach Howie Draper previously said he would use a rotation of Schroeder and rookie Abbey Levy this season, leaning on whoever runs hot. Each started a game in the pre-season, with Levy posting a shutout and Schroeder only yielding one regulation goal.

A hockey player in a blue jersey is in front of the net, as the opposing goalie tracks a puck to her right.
Toronto forward Jesse Compher takes a shot on New York goaltender Corinne Schroeder during the first PWHL game on New Year’s Day. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Schroeder was called up for Team Canada in the Rivalry Series last year, but has never played a game in the red and white. Now Toronto GM Gina Kingsbury, who’s also Team Canada’s GM, is getting a front-row seat to what Schroeder can do.

It’s one example of how this league could change the landscape of international hockey, giving different players a chance to shine.

Teams building chemistry

Through three pre-season games and part of Tuesday’s regular-season debut for Montreal, Poulin centred a top line with Czech forward Tereza Vanišová and rookie Maureen Murphy.

None of those three played together before this season, and throughout the pre-season the line just hadn’t seemed to click yet.

After a slow start for Montreal on Tuesday, head coach Kori Cheverie swapped Murphy for speedy Laura Stacey. The team played its best in the third period and with less than six minutes remaining, Stacey tied the game. Vanišová and Poulin both logged assists.

A female hockey player in a cream-coloured jersey with Montreal written across the front is positioned in front of the net.
Montreal forward Laura Stacey scored the game-tying goal for her team in its first game against Ottawa on Tuesday. (Arianne Bergeron/PWHL)

It’s a challenge all teams are facing now, with lots of players who are still relatively new to each other. Teams had long training camps and tried to simulate game play with intrasquad games, but it takes time to build chemistry in a game environment.

With each team having played a game now, Stacey is tied with Boston forward Loren Gabel for the league-lead in shots (six).

Heise scores 1st Minnesota goal

Montreal got its first goal from 23-year-old Claire Dalton, and won in overtime thanks to a goal from 36-year-old Ann-Sophie Bettez, who’s playing in her 12th professional season — all in Montreal.

“I’m closer to the end of my career and with each moment I can’t help but wonder if it’s my last or if there will be others, so I try to appreciate each one as if it were my last,” Bettez told The Canadian Press.

A female hockey player in a white and purple jersey skates on the ice with the puck.
Minnesota forward and first-overall pick in the inaugural PWHL draft, Taylor Heise, scored Minnesota’s first goal in her regular-season debut on Wednesday. (Adam Richins/PWHL)

Meanwhile in Boston, where Minnesota spoiled that team’s home opener with a 3-2 win, both sides got their first goals from rookies: first-overall pick Taylor Heise for Minnesota, and 7th-round pick Theresa Schafzahl for Boston.

The game also marked a return to action for Minnesota captain Kendall Coyne Schofield, who gave birth to her son in July, just after negotiating a collective bargaining agreement on behalf of the players’ union.

In September, after Minnesota announced her signing, Coyne Schofield told reporters she wasn’t sure teams would still value her because she hadn’t played since December 2022.

But there were no questions in Minnesota GM Natalie Darwitz’s mind. She believes Coyne Schofield is a great role model for her teammates, on top of being a special player.

“It’s a huge deal for all of her teammates,” Darwitz said in December about Coyne Schofield’s work to return. “It’s a huge deal for women’s hockey.

“It’s a huge deal for women’s sports.”



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