Welcome to the first edition of my NWHL notebook! We’ve been wanting to increase our coverage of the NWHL for some time now, allowing our readers to get closer to the women’s professional game. The plan is for this to become a regular article series looking at the news and current affairs from around the league.

It may seem an unusual time to start such a series. However, the NWHL hasn’t let a global pandemic stop them from going about their business and planning for next season. Not only that, but they’re also actually expanding. Here are some of the main talking points from the last few months.

The NWHL Is Heading to Toronto

The big news so far this offseason is the NWHL’s expansion into Toronto. It was announced on April 22, that an expansion team will debut in Toronto for the 2020-21 season. The team name and logo were not initially announced, with the league giving fans the opportunity to submit suggestions for both. This was a fantastic opportunity to engage new and existing fans and shows the league really has its finger on the pulse when it comes to fan engagement.

The team will have an all-female ownership group led by Johanna Neilson Boynton. She will be joined by Tyler Tumminia, who will take the role of Chairman, and Digit Murphy, who will be the President. All three are vastly experienced in both the game of hockey and in business and will provide the organization with a great base from which they can grow. A general manager and head coach will be chosen at a later date and will be overseen by Murphy.

Toronto also announced the first five players to sign with the team: Kristen Barbara, Elaine Chuli, Shiann Darkangelo, Emma Greco, and Taylor Woods. All five players have previously spent time in either the NWHL or CWHL. It is also interesting to note that all five sat out last season as part of the PWHPA during their season-long boycott. Their return to league competition shows not only a desire to play competitive hockey again but also a confidence in the NWHL to keep growing the women’s game.

The Toronto Six

After asking fans to submit suggestions, it was announced on May 19, that the team would be called the Toronto Six. This is a clever choice and holds a dual meaning for Toronto. Firstly, the Six are the sixth team to join the NWHL and joined during the league’s sixth season. The Six also refers to a nickname for the city of Toronto itself. The logo and team colors were also released, with the main colors being gold and red. The uniforms are due to be released in the coming weeks.

NWHL Draft

The NWHL Draft took place on April 28-29. Rounds one and two were on the first night, followed by the remaining three rounds the following night. The draft selections were unveiled via Twitter but with an added twist. Selections were announced by a selection of athletes, executives, broadcasters and personalities from a range of sports and professional leagues. This was an innovative and entertaining way to run the draft and again highlights the NWHL’s commitment to growing its brand through social media.

The big news on the night was Boston and Toronto making a trade that saw the Pride pick first overall. They selected highly-touted Boston University forward Sammy Davis. She has since signed a contract with the Pride for the 2020-21 season. The other selections of the first round saw Kayla Friesen go second overall to the Whale, goalie Carly Jackson selected third overall by Buffalo, Saroya Tinker goes fourth to the Riveters, Alex Woken goes fifth to the Whitecaps and Jaycee Gebhard became Toronto’s first draft pick with the sixth overall selection.

Full details of the draft selections can be found here.

Signings Galore as Free Agency Opens

Offseason signing announcements started earlier this year than in the previous five seasons. With a long way still to go until the 2020-21 season begins, it will be interesting to watch how GMs go about filling their rosters. There are too many signings to cover them all individually but I wanted to touch on a few of my favorites.

Last season’s dominant team, the Boston Pride, has returned the core of that squad as they look to push towards an Isobel Cup. The COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended their season and they will be even more motivated to win in 2021. Re-signing all-time leading scorer Jillian Dempsey and star goalie Lovisa Selander, amongst others, is a great start for the Pride.

The biggest ‘new’ signing so far has been Kelly Babstock signing in Toronto. Babstock previously played in the NWHL with the Whale and Beauts but spent last season with the PWHPA. She is a talented and experienced player who will be a key addition to the new Toronto franchise, and arguably the face of that team.

My personal favorite signing of the off-season so far is Dominique Kremer signing with the Beauts. She spent last season in the SDHL with Djurgardens after a stand-out NCAA career with Merrimack. She will be a great addition to the Beauts’ blueline. Kremer is a defender who can make contributions at both ends of the ice and it would be no surprise to see her make a big impact next season.

It Is Not Just Players on the Move

This off-season has also provided us with a GM move. Mandy Cronin is leaving her position as GM of the Buffalo Beauts. She will now take on the GM role with the Toronto Six. Cronin lives in Toronto so this move provides a much better work/life balance for her.

Taking over as GM in Buffalo is a good friend of ABNT, Nate Oliver. Oliver previously served as the Beauts’ community manager and had great success in getting the team involved in the local community. Everyone here at ABNT is delighted for him and needless to say we’ll be following his progress throughout next season.

Stay tuned for more news from the NWHL throughout the summer.

Feature Image Credit: Michelle Jay/NWHL