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The Rise of Women’s Hockey: A Look at the Pioneers and Current Stars

One of the few occasions when women’s hockey is watched as fanatically as men’s is the Winter Olympics. And every time, the world is reminded of how amazing these athletes truly are!

Women have always struggled to earn the same recognition as men. But that has never been a reflection of their abilities.

Read on for a look into the history of women’s hockey and the continued rise in their future, from the women that made it happen to the current stars who deserve our recognition.

Best hockey jersey. Women's hockey.

How did Women’s Hockey Start?

Though there are likely hundreds of undocumented games on ponds and backyards before this, here are some events that brought women’s hockey into the limelight.

The First Woman

Lady Isobel Gathorne-Hardy was a pioneer of women’s hockey and hockey in general. Born Isobel Stanley, her father is responsible for buying and presenting the original Stanley Cup.

After the family attended Montreal’s winter festival and witnessed their first hockey game, they all fell in love with the sport. Both as spectators and as players. Upon their return home, Lord Stanley even commissioned a rink to be made on their estate so they could host games all winter for both men and women.

On this rink, the first recorded photo of Isobel and her friends playing hockey was taken in 1889.

The passion this family encouraged for the game had a massive impact on the community as a whole. Isobel and her siblings eventually convinced their father to host the first amateur men’s ice hockey tournament.

When the family moved to England, they brought the game with them. Spreading the game across countries and cultures.

The First Teams

As with most women’s sports, the records and facts are sometimes blurry and contradictory. Some say the first league was organized in Quebec. Others claim Ontario deserves the title.

Despite the confusion surrounding specifics, there is no doubting how quickly hockey swept through women’s hearts across Canada.

After Lady Isobel and her family left the country, universities and colleges quickly took up the gauntlet of amateur women’s hockey. The women at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, formed the first collegiate team in 1891. Aptly named the Love-me-littles for the lack of support they received from their community.

Followed by universities in Quebec and the Maritimes before spreading to the western parts of the country and the United States.

Olympic USA Women's Hockey Team in 2018

The First Associations

The Quebec Ladies Association instigated some amazing achievements for women’s hockey. With the support of avid sportswoman Lady Meredith, the association proudly awarded the first trophy in 1920. To a team of women clad in floor-length skirts.

But, the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association has had the biggest impact.

The OWHA has consistently fought for women’s rights in hockey since its beginning. They are the only association to take a completely separatist approach to their hockey leagues. Believing women should pave a path for themselves.

They are also the association responsible for bringing together the most countries and hosting some of the biggest world tournaments. Tournaments that have helped normalize women in sports.

The First Tournament

In 1990 the International Ice Hockey Federation sanctioned the first Women’s World Hockey Tournament.

For the first time, women were moving into a pro setting. But that didn’t mean the public accepted it.

Despite the skills portrayed by the players, all the public cared about was the decision to dress the team in pink. In the hopes of garnering more media coverage, the classic red and white was replaced, and you can’t deny its success.

It might be hard to say whether the decision did more good than bad. But the viewership from the tournament did play a key part in women’s hockey being added to the Olympics a few years later.

The First High School League

Minnesota was the first to sanction a girl’s varsity high school hockey league in 1994.

This might not seem as important as what you’ve read up until now. But fostering the love of sports in girls from a young age is crucial to long-term success. And Minnesota took the first step to make that happen.

It’s no surprise that the Minnesota Whitecaps are included in the founding six teams of the Premier Hockey Federation.

How has Women’s Hockey Evolved?

Women’s hockey today is still hidden in a male-dominated industry. But that just makes the current female stars that much more impressive!

Lacing up hockey skates in preparation for skating on synthetic ice.

Women in Hockey

As a recreational sport, women’s hockey has taken leaps and bounds since its beginning.

The vast majority of high schools, universities, and colleges in North America now have a women’s hockey team. And even European sports clubs have taken to offering the sport.

There is still a long way to go regarding pro careers. It is much harder for women to sustain themselves on a pro salary alone. And the average attendance for a pro women’s hockey game is only 5% of the stadium’s capacity.

But there is hope! In 2022 the women’s Olympic hockey games averaged about 3.54 million viewers. Way more than anyone ever predicted women’s sports could attain. And more than any NHL game has ever received!

Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association

The PWHPA is an association that organizes Dream Gap Tour tournaments throughout the year for professional women’s hockey players. It consists of four teams based in Toronto, Calgary, Boston, and Montreal. And the team’s names change each year depending on their sponsors.

For a long time, these PWHPA tours were the only North American events Olympians could attend that came close to a professional career. But the tournaments would only happen around five to six times a year. And the players only got paid if the team won.

But the Premier Hockey Federation is changing all of that. And its success has even pushed the PWHPA to try its hand at a pro women’s hockey league of its own!

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Premier Hockey Federation

The PHF is currently the only pro women’s hockey league in North America. Since its founding in 2015, it has slowly built a following. And it’s definitely paying off!

The PHF continues to acquire new funding and partnerships, which has allowed them to increase players’ wages and shift their infrastructure to something more resembling the NHL. So, instead of a single company funding the entire operation, each team will have a separate owner in order to promote competition.

But it all started with one company and six teams. NWHL owned and funded the Minnesota Whitecaps, the Toronto Six, the Buffalo Beauts, the Connecticut Whalers, the Metropolitan Riveters, and the Boston Pride.

And that list is already growing. With the creation of the Montreal Force, established in 2022.

Who Are the Best Women’s Hockey Players?

Over the years, there have been some amazing women’s hockey players. Too many to acknowledge in one small article. But here are some of the names you should never forget and some that could very well hold that title soon.

The Best Player of All Time

Hailey Wickenheiser has achieved enormous milestones throughout her career. She was the first woman to score a goal in a men’s pro hockey game, she won four Olympic gold medals, and she even won the last medal with a broken foot!

Over the past 23 years, she has also amassed more points than any other female hockey player. Completely changing the way that people view female athletes.

Hailey Wickenheiser broke through thick cultural barriers and became a household name. Even if you knew nothing about women’s hockey, it’s likely you knew her during the height of her career. And there are very few female athletes who can claim that.

All of which has earned her a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame!

PHF Star Players

In the PHF, there are three players that tend to shine above the rest.

In terms of goalies, there is no one better than Corinne Schroeder. Playing for the Boston Pride, she has the highest save percentage of any goalie in history! An amazing accomplishment for a new player on the PHF stage.

Brittany Howard, a forward for the Toronto Six, quickly made a name for herself during her first year in the PHF. After making the switch from the PWHPA, she gained the title of the most dangerous offensive threat in the league.

Lastly, Sidney Morin is a defensive player for the Minnesota Whitecaps. As an Olympian, she played on the team that brought gold to the USA in 2018. And her time in the Swedish Women’s Hockey League led to her scoring the most goals of any defensive player twice!

Olympic Star Players

The 2022 Winter Olympics had some phenomenal moments for women’s hockey. And some incredible players.

First on the list is Canada’s captain, Marie-Phillip Poulin. In her four Olympic appearances, she managed to earn three gold medals. And she is the first hockey player of any gender to score in four consecutive finals.

Next is Sarah Nurse. While playing forward for Canada in Beijing, she broke the points record for a single Olympic tournament, surpassing Hailey Wickenheiser! She was also named Toronto’s Most Inspirational Woman of 2022.

Finally, Brianne Jenner was named MVP at the Beijing Olympics, where she tied the record for the most goals scored at an Olympic tournament. And she continues to make a name for herself on the PWHA’s Toronto team.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do PHF players get paid?

In 2022, the average PHF player earned a salary of $34,000, with a pay range from $13,500 to $80,000. But that will increase to $150,000 in the 2023 to 2024 season! For comparison, the average NHL player earned 3.5 million, with a pay range from $750,000 to $12.5 million.

How do PHF player stats compare to NHL players?

When it comes to game statistics, PHF and NHL goalies tend to have similar stat percentages, while PHF forwards tend to score more goals. In terms of individual statistics, NHL players have harder and faster shots, but PHF players are faster skaters than NHL players.

The Rise of Women’s Hockey: Summed Up

Women’s hockey has come a long way since Isobel Stanley’s debut in 1888. From backyard games to pro stadiums, the women in this article have accomplished more than anyone thought possible.

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