New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

The PWHL: Paving the way forward for women’s ice hockey

In its inaugural season, the Professional Women’s Hockey League is proving to be the future of the sport.
Saylor Caruso
(Saylor Caruso for WSN)

The American Collegiate Hockey Association Division I league is made up of 72 universities, and 41 of them do not have a women’s team — including NYU. But with the rising popularity of professional women’s sports, women’s ice hockey has also been gaining traction in the media and public’s hearts. The Professional Women’s Hockey League game, held between Toronto and Montreal on April 20, now holds the world record for the highest attendance in women’s ice hockey history — a crowd of 21,105 demonstrating the increasing prevalence of the sport.

The PWHL was launched in January 2024, featuring three teams from the United States — Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York City — and three Canadian teams, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa. 

From 2015 to 2023, the Premier Hockey Federation was the only professional women’s ice hockey league in North America, before it was sold to Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises in 2023, who ceased PHF operations and launched the PWHL.

“I think women’s sports are up-and-coming right now in so many ways,” said Lexie Adzija, a forward for the Boston PWHL team in a post-game conference to WSN. “You have basketball, soccer and now you have us here in hockey. And now it’s just the beginning.”

NYU Grossman School of Medicine student Claire Thompson is a former Canadian national team member who is a world and olympic champion. She now sits on the New York PWHL team’s reserve, practices with NYU men’s ice hockey team and announced her entry into the PWHL draft on April 19 for the 2024 PWHL Draft.

This league is a significant step forward in equality for women in sports and has brought in many prominent figures in women’s rights. A study conducted by a Canadian market research firm, Abacus Data, found that 70% of Canadians who are aware of the PWHL believe it to be a positive step for women’s sports.

Billie Jean King, a 39-time grand-slam winner who has an array of records under her belt as one of the best female tennis players in history, was in attendance for the Boston at New York PWHL game on April 20 in Newark. As an owner of the league and an icon in women’s sports, her presence was celebrated. But King was not the only trailblazing woman in the arena.

Malala Yousafzai, who campaigned for the right for girls to go to school in Pakistan and is the youngest U.N. Messenger of Peace, was present at the game, and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup winner and NWSL champion Ali Krieger dropped the puck. 

Alongside the impressive list of influential women at the game, there were also many young hockey players excited to watch the women on the ice.

“It’s cool to see women [playing hockey]. It’s not just boys, anyone can do anything they want to,” said Avery, age 9. “Girls rule.”

A Canadian Women and Sport study says that the dropout rate for girls who play sports is 1 in 3 by their late teens, while the rate is 1 in 10 for boys the same ages. The girls who attended the PWHL games hope that seeing themselves reflected on the ice will slow this down.

“The league means a lot because we get to look up to people that are just like us,” said Samantha, age 14. “We can compare ourselves to them.”

For parents of girls who continue to play their sports into college, the PWHL allows for a vision of a future in ice hockey, usually a male-dominated sport. 

“We’ve followed the careers of female players like Alina Müller before, so it’s nice to see their careers continue past college,” said Paul Acomb, the father of 14-year-old ice hockey player Emma. 

Emma fell in love with the sport after the father-daughter duo attended New Jersey Devils’ games when she was young. 

“I just loved it. I kept asking to go, and eventually to start playing,” Emma said.

For the PWHL players, seeing young girls looking up to them has been a rewarding experience. With growing fan bases and PWHL players becoming household names, the women have a lot of advice for their young fans.

“I would say just keep going and keep working hard,” said Nicole Kosta, a forward for Boston. “We’re only going up from here, it’s only gonna get better. It’s going to get more exciting. There’s a ton of momentum right now around women’s sports. So just keep going and enjoy the ride.”

“I didn’t think I could achieve my dream and here I am living it. So it doesn’t matter where you come from,” Adzija added. “If you dream it you can really do it and set your mind to it.”

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Contact Sidney Snider at [email protected].

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