On an overcast night in Toronto, it was all about the PWHPA as they held their first big fundraiser on Friday to raise awareness for women in sports. As such, the corporate event had a handful of athletes and professionals on hand, the list including Sarah Nurse and Laura Stacey as well as Renata Fast and Marie-Philip Poulin.

While these are big names for the sport, there are roughly 200 other women in the spotlight as the PWHPA was formed as a way to keep playing despite the shuttering back in May of the CWHL. The movement, jointly spearheaded, quickly caught on, getting national attention while players from the U.S. National Women’s Team and NWHL were very quick to step in. That would find Shannon Szabados as one of many to take a stand for equality while the starting goaltender was also joined by Kendall Coyne Schofield, an American forward.

It just so happens that on Friday night, ahead of the Secret Women’s Showcase in Toronto, that Kendall Coyne Schofield was amongst many members who found themselves invited to raise support for the women’s game and the players effected by it.

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A large chunk of the evening in Toronto mainly surrounded one unified idea on growing the game for the next generation while allowing all women to participate in sport. As such, this idea draws back to the 2018 NHL All-Star Game which saw Kendall Coyne take part as a speed skater while being joined by a pair of Canadians. That list included Rebecca Johnston, Brianna Decker and Renata Fast. When speaking as to the experience and what that says about the #ForTheGame movement, the left-winger said to the sold out crowd, “It’s really not about me beefing Clayton Keller, but about putting women’s hockey in the public eye.”

Coyne was not alone when stressing the importance of equality in sports as she was joined by a Maple Leafs legend who recently surfaced for his support in the movement. That would pave the way for Tie Domi to speak about where things are at as he recently said to Paul Bissonette, “What really needs a push is women’s hockey because we want girls growing up to have some kind of inspiration to say ‘Hey, I can play pro hockey.'”

In connection to what he said on the podcast, Tie Domi said of the unfortunate reality, “It made news, but I want to make it clear, I’m here to help all of ya.” While Domi was just one of many important individuals on hand, the PWHPA also welcomed Donald Fuhr, executive director of the NHLPA. As the industry experts panel continued, Tie Domi said of the NHL’s presence, “We are going to see a league and the NHL and NHLPA WILL be invloved. It is great that Don Fuhr is here tonight and I know that if Gary [Bettman] were here, he would say similar things.”

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This is an ongoing idea that stems right back to the end of October when Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.ca reported that there was word that the NHL is working on a women’s league if the time ever becomes necessary with six teams, maybe two in Canada. Further to that regard, Friedman continued on in his hit to suggest that “it sounds like there is a plan being worked on and put in place in case the NHL needs to step in.”

That was a huge next step after initial reports dating back to May when Katie Strang of The Athletic learned of a tentative plan for what a Women’s National Hockey League might look like if it came to the help being needed. With this in mind, however, as reported by The Athletic’s Hailey Salvian, the new league would not strictly be under the operating format of the Original six style, much like the NWHL.

All that to be said, Tie Domi closed the night’s first panel in saying that the Toronto Maple Leafs have to have a women’s team. As well, he added on that the Montreal Canadiens should have a women’s team. Tie Domi concluded his appearance in noting that the Vancouver Canucks should also have a women’s team if and when it comes to fruition.

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While there is still lots of work to be done, the PWHPA is in good hands for now as they are led by Jayna Hefford, former commissioner of the CWHL. As part of the six-game showcase, the weekend included a women’s skill competition which saw a number of the game’s best players, including Hilary Knight, partake in the event. Joint alongside the forward were Natalie Spooner and Emerance Maschmeyer who met with the media after finishing their races, discussing the partnership making Sunday a reality.

The skills competition of course comes on the hands of a busy Saturday where Team Larocque kicked things off in North York with a 5-4 victory in overtime over Team Kessel. The game to kick off the tournament was won by Ottawa native Jamie-Lee Rattray who scored the game-winning goal in extra time, this closing game one of the Secret Women’s Showcase. As well, for her heroics in overtime, Rattray was named the first star of the game.

Prior to the Toronto showcase, the PWHPA held a series of events, this including stops in Laval and Kingston as well as Worcester and Minnesota. Through these pitstops, the players were granted the chance to keep playing before sellout audiences. Speaking of which, despite sitting out the season until something viable for the game’s best is created, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey have agreed to step in to help these players keep training. As such, ice sheets have been opened all over Ontario for the players who need it.

Michelle Jay/NWHL

On the part of USA Hockey, select locations are now available as well. While it remains vital that these players keep playing, there’s more in mind for game’s governing body as they see this precaution as necessary to ensure their athletes will be ready for Halifax. While many have taken advantage of the camps they’ve offered in Montreal, the Toronto camps have yet to be open with dates to follow along with locations. However, the governing body has been a big booster when it comes to playing time as the group sent the national team to square off in Pittsburgh at the Penguins facility against USA Hockey. Over a four day period in Cranberry, it saw the game’s best come together for ice time at a time where it was crucial and remains to be today.

Prior to game six of the Secret Women’s Showcase at Ryerson, The Puck Authority caught up with Renata Fast and Sarah Nurse of the PWHPA where a viable league remained the dominant topic while discussing the series and the support that’s followed. As such, when asked at City Hall what the last eight months in this reality have been like, Renata Fast explained to The Puck Authority, “Yeah, we’ve had like tremendous amount of support and we continue to get more and more support. There’s been sponsors that have come on board and they’ve helped huge amounts to allow us to play games, to have these showcase events, so on top of the sponsors, we’ve also had a ton of support from our fans. I think you notice it when you hit different markets across North America and you see how many people are showing up to games and they’re really expressing how excited they are to be there and that they’re on board with what we’re trying to achieve.”

Because of the current state of women’s professional hockey in Canada, it has only made achieving this dream that much more difficult for Nurse, Fast and the many others of the PWHPA. To that regard, when asked about perfect ideals and what the takeaways are they are hoping for, Renata Fast concluded in saying, “I think at the end of the day, the biggest thing for us is that you don’t have to work a 9-5 job on top of playing hockey and that you can focus all your time and energy on becoming a better hockey player. That’s how we’ll grow the sport and we’ll have top end talent and players who will be getting better every single day, so I just think having the resources that we need to be able to, you know, just focus all our time on hockey.”

Michelle Jay/NWHL

As the clock starting inching towards puck drop, the energy and excitement could be felt in the building as players filtered in and started getting loose while fans filed in and started finding their seats. This included the Scarborough Sharks found in the lower bowl, sponsoring Team Spooner. If you ask any of the players, it’s the love that comes out in mass numbers that makes the Dream Gap Tour as special as it is.

Emerance Maschmeyer only confirmed this with her team supported by the Toronto Leaside Wildcats. When asked what it means to herself and her many PWHPA teammates what it means to see unwavering support across the country, the former Montreal goaltender told The Puck Authority, “Yeah, I think that, like you said, everywhere we go, there is support and I think it justifies what we’re doing is right and it’s the time to do it. You know, those little girls, this might be the first opportunity because we’re playing in different cities in the U.S. and in Canada that they’ve gotten to see us live, so you know, it’s kind of reassuring that we’re doing the right and yeah, it’s incredible to see the support.”

As part of the Toronto showcase weekend, the PWHPA, on Sunday morning, was scheduled to host their very first skills competition, this being the case until the event was rained out. While the cancellation outdoors was necessary, the value was shown by the staff of the Leafs who worked to reschedule the event for the players who have sat out the season in a drive for equality. As such, they have played exhibition games all over the country and in parts of the states, this only proving through sold out arenas how important it is for the next generation.

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When speaking to this effect just minutes prior to the Leafs alumni game, Sarah Nurse said of the importance of the partnership they have with Toronto’s NHL team, “Yeah I mean, unfortunately we got rained out these last two days, but it’s been pretty cool being a partner with the Leafs. You know, for the last couple years, they’ve been huge supporters of the CWHL and so we weren’t surprised when they wanted to jump onboard with the PWHPA and so obviously they have a huge market here in Toronto and it’s pretty special what they’ve done in this city, so we’re definitely happy to have them as partners.”

Had that not been enough, the rather large turnout at the game on Sunday only confirmed there is a market for the game with the help of their sponsors and the fans backed behind them. As such, the final number, as hosted by Ryerson, was over 1,000 as the Team Daoust Wildcats took the game 5-4 over Laura Fortino and the Team Spooner Sharks. Adding to the impressive turnout, the final number for the weekend in Toronto saw a final attendance of 4,300.

While the PWHPA’s inaugural Dream Gap Tour saw large crowds in cities like New Hampshire and Orangeville, they don’t compare to the Secret Women’s Showcase which saw a record breaking throng fill the stands. Obviously, the stunning success is largely credited to the players themselves, however, the sponsors play a huge chunk as well, this list being led by Unifor Canada. While Secret and Unifor made this tournament possible, the Kipling Group added to the mix on Sunday, donating $50, 000 to the PA in support of the movement to push the women’s game forward.

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However, behind the scenes finds a greater meaning as to exactly what makes these tours happen and when asked what it means to have Jayna Hefford leading this charge as a consultant and role model, Renata Fast, a Canadian defensemen and Hamilton native, explained to The Puck Authority, “Yeah, Jayna’s really our leader and she’s really, you know, stepped on board and stepped into a big role and we all believe in her and that she’s taking the right steps to help move us forward as a group and she’s a legend, she’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame and I think we all really respect her for not only what she’s done on the ice, but how she’s been giving back to the game and helping us out huge and I think she’s having tough conversations that needs to be had with people that need to move women’s hockey forward and that’s what’s making us successful right now.”

Because of what Jayna has done, the PWHPA had a weekend to dream about as the six teams involved played six games in two days which saw 43 goals and 403 shots. This success came from 120 players who took to the ice before 4,310 passionate fans of women’s hockey in Canada. Most recently, prior to Friday when a panel was held to support the women’s game, former NHL enforcer Tie Domi spoke out about his support for the movement as the fight carries on. While he’s not the first, it has caught many eyes and perhaps just enough as another development arose on Sunday.

With that being said, just hours following the women’s showcase at Ryerson, Emily Kaplan of ESPN reported that there will be a new event at NHL All-Star weekend: a three-on-three scrimmage between top American and Canadian women’s hockey players, all of which would be invited from the PWHPA. As far as growing the game goes, it certainly speaks out to the #ForTheGame movement as the NHL hosts the world’s best players who look to win big by selling their product. As such, when discussing the development that looks to help close the gap they are facing, Meghan Duggan said, “It is a men’s event, so to have us there and to put on a showcase of women is special.”

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Around this time last year, the same kind of deal was made with the league which saw the NHL host four National Team players, two from the U.S. and two from Canada. As such, this would make their mark as Rebecca Johnston, Renata Fast, Brianna Decker and Kendall Coyne Schofield all took part. By the end of the evening, much attention was raised as to the importance of equality in sports. Why you might ask? because Brianna Decker beat out Leon Draisaitl, being named victorious at the premier passing drill. While the NHL initially failed to recognize this, the former Inferno received her winnings with thanks to a generous donation from CCM. Additionally, Kendall Coyne Schofield took part in the NHL’s fastest skater event and as she did so, she stole the spotlight while also breaking a massive gender barrier.

Because of the massive success that was had in San Jose to expand the game, the NHL saw no other choice to welcome them back and in larger capacities. As such, the event will welcome nine skaters and one goaltender to both ends respectively, both rosters composed of National Team members who look to continue jointly closing the Dream Gap. As the players, many being Olympians, look to make their mark known on history, the event will be sponsored by Adidas Canada, another supporter of the women’s game.

Amongst the many players invited are Melodie Daoust and Sarah Nurse, meanwhile, for the U.S., they will see Amanda Kessel hit the ice in Missouri. Kessel, a gold medal-winning forward, is a former player in the NWHL, meanwhile, she works with the Rangers and is the younger sister of star forward Phil Kessel. Speaking of the game’s best players, there is no shortage on Team Canada’s end as they add Natalie Spooner and Blayre Turnbull to the mix while being guided by Marie-Philip Poulin. Poulin, 28-years-old, is a two-time Olympic gold medal goal scorer.

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On Monday, The Puck Authority learned that the NWHL would not be involved, meanwhile, indications from the NHL leaned towards wanting the world’s best players to take part. While it was unknown if the NHL and NWHL have conversed on the matter, it was confirmed that the National Hockey League had extended an invite to the “top women’s players.” For many of those involved, it’s an opportunity to display their product, though gathering support will remain at the forefront while seeking a league that is financially viable. Whether or not the league is NHL backed will stay a huge question, but that being said, the support is there should it be deemed necessary to step in for the right reasons. Further to that regard, Bill Daly said to The Athletic in November, “By contrast, we do (and will continue to) actively support women’s hockey. Both financially and by working cooperatively to raise profile and increase opportunity.”

For the third year in a row, the NHL will look to do just that with the three-on-three scrimmage being aired on national TV across the States and Canada. On the other end of this, we see exposure of these women differently as the Secret Women’s Showcase was broadcasted with streams on Youtube and CBC. According to Hailey Salvian, Senators writer for The Athletic Ottawa, there will be no PWHPA branding while the players also won’t be in their National team gear.

Everything being done for these women is to ensure they continue playing while being treated and looked at as professionals by all means necessary while maintaining their dream. When speaking to that regard in a statement to The Athletic about the upcoming All-Star Game, Steve Mayer, the NHL’s chief content officer and executive vice president of events and entertainment, said, “The intention here is to give these elite players the forum they’ve earned and they deserve. This is a meaningful event — it’s on national television, not only are they going to be performing and playing in front of 20,000 people in the arena, but they are also playing in front of 40 of the greatest players in the NHL. We’re so confident that they will put on a great display.”

Antti Aimo-Koivisto/The Associated Press

These women continue to exemplify what it means to be a professional athlete and as they look for a solution that shares that, they pave a path for the next generation. Since the CWHL folded in May, it’s been the main focus of all players involved. When discussing the major impact that events like this has on those who look up to them, Mayer would continue to go on in saying, “If you look at the youth level, there are so many young girls that are playing and an event like this is just another way to influence them, to show them that they can be on this stage someday. Whether it’s a woman or it’s a man, these are the greatest players in the world all on the greatest stage in the world, and you’ve got to know that young kids — boys, girls, it doesn’t matter — they’re all watching.”

Speaking of positive impacts, Kendall Coyne Schofield has led by example and after learning of the news on Wednesday, the American forward said of the game’s growth, “I was the individual that skated that lap. So to step on that ice alongside 19 other women just shows how we’ve earned this opportunity to have more women involved.”

Every inch of support has only helped to push the women’s game forward and with the Toronto Maple Leafs being a start, it was only time for the NHL to step up. As such, it was announced by the league ahead of the All-Star Game next week in St. Louis that it will donate $100,000 to certain charitable organizations in support of girls and women’s hockey.

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For Schofield, the NHL All-Star Game is only the start of a brighter future as she attends for the second time while being accompanied by Team USA. When reflecting with John Wawrow on Wednesday about her first opportunity last year, the 27-year-old native of Oak Lawn, Illinois said in a statement to the Associated Press, “The moment in San Jose was incredibly special. And to see how many people it impacted in such a positive way, I had an optimistic feeling something special was going to be done here.”

In a game that will represent history, there’s more to the record books than just the players as Hailey Salvian adds on in noting that the referees and linesman will also be women. Leading the crew on the ice are Katie Guay and Kelly Cooke as referees while Kendall Hanley and Kirsten Welsh are the linesmen, all with experience to officiate the game. After attending the NHL Exposure Combine, all crew members listed officiated 2019 NHL rookie tournaments.

At the end of the day, it comes down to making the sport fair and equal for all and with the goal of a women’s league in mind, the National Hockey League would close in saying, “Having the women in the mix at All-Star weekend just feels right. It’s what we want to do, it’s what we want to continue to do, and this is going to be some showcase.”

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For the PWHPA, the inaugural Dream Gap Tour hits the road with another display taking place on Saturday at Sunlife Financial Arena in Waterloo. This time, taking to the ice to battle it out is Team McIntosh and Team Gabel as the Toronto chapter looks for revenge with puck drop scheduled for 2:00pmET.

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