PWHL hopefuls eager to begin new chapter of women's game with first-of-its kind draft

The Professional Women's Hockey League draft could prove an important moment in the growth of the women's game, as many players have traditionally played in markets where they already had ties and second jobs.

Signees, draft prospects prepare to uproot their lives upon learning team destinations

Two female hockey players hug on the ice while celebrating a goal.
Toronto Six's Brittany Howard, left, celebrates with Daryl Watts after scoring a goal during a playoff game last season. Both have declared eligible for the upcoming inaugural PWHL draft. (@TheTorontoSix/Twitter)

When Brittany Howard decided to turn pro, there was little suspense around where she was going to play.

The St. Thomas, Ont., native was planning to start an education degree at York University, so it made sense for her to play close to school, with the Toronto Furies of the Canadian Women's Hockey League (CWHL).

"You had to continue your education or you had to get a job because you still had to work while you played," said Howard, who played one season with the Furies before the CWHL shut down in 2019.

On Monday, Howard could hear her name called by any of the six teams at the inaugural Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) draft.

The PWHL draft will take place on Monday in downtown Toronto at CBC headquarters. Live streaming coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. It will also be available on and the Radio-Canada info app, and for international audiences on CBC Sports' and Radio-Canada's YouTube pages.

It's a pivotal moment in the growth of women's hockey, where many players have traditionally played in markets where they already had ties and second jobs, because hockey didn't pay their bills.

Howard balances training with her summer hockey school and working as a teacher during the academic year.

"That's what's so exciting about this year is you can land anywhere and that's your full-time job," Howard said. "That's your focus. That's truly what the game needed to continue to elevate."

Earlier this year, Howard signed a two-year contract with the Premier Hockey Federation's Boston Pride after a great first PHF campaign with the Toronto Six. Howard displayed her skill, accumulating 26 points in 20 regular season games en route to the team's Isobel Cup win.

But her plans to play for the Pride changed in June, when she found out the PHF had been sold and would be shut down.

"There's been highs and lows throughout the last couple months," she said. "But I think all women's hockey players, past, current and upcoming, are excited for the growth in the game and the longevity that this league is going to have."

Minnesota to pick first

The PWHL officially launched last month with teams in six markets: Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Minnesota, New York and Boston. 

The six teams' general managers have had a busy first few weeks on the job. Each team was allowed to sign three free agents, taking high-profile players like Marie-Philip Poulin, Sarah Nurse and Hilary Knight off the market.

Two women hockey players shake hands at centre ice.
Team Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin and American Hilary Knight were among the first players signed during the PWHL's free-agency period. Poulin signed for Montreal and Knight joined Boston. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Now, their focus has shifted to the draft, where a pool of 268 players who declared will be eligible to be chosen. Each general manager will pick 15 players as they build out their rosters ahead of a scheduled January 2024 puck drop.

Knight, who signed to play in Boston, said it's been a transformative time for many players.

"Some people have to uproot and move and start new, who have been rooted somewhere for a handful of years," said Knight, who was one of the players who negotiated the collective bargaining agreement and was a board member with the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association (PWHPA).

"Some people are coming fresh out of college. Obviously the draft is a huge wrinkle on where people are going to end up and I think there's just a lot of excitement."

Minnesota will pick first, followed by Toronto, Boston, New York, Ottawa and Montreal. It will be a snake draft, meaning the order will reverse after each round, giving Montreal the first pick of round two.

Mechanics of PWHL draft

Unlike the NHL, there's no minimum age for a player to be drafted. The youngest player in the PWHL's draft pool is 16-year-old Lilly Legault from Peterborough, Ont.

But most players with college eligibility remaining, like Team Canada's Sarah Fillier or American Caroline Harvey, opted not to sacrifice the rest of their collegiate careers to rush into the league.

Speaking to reporters last month, the league's senior vice president of hockey operations Jayna Hefford said she didn't think it would be possible for someone like Fillier to be drafted in the PWHL and join a team in May or June after her college season has ended.

WATCH | Hefford discusses PWHL with CBC Sports' Devin Heroux:

Jayna Hefford on what will make the PWHL different than previous pro women’s leagues

1 month ago
Duration 6:23
Featured VideoCBC Sports’ Devin Heroux sits down with the PWHL’s SVP of Hockey Operations Jayna Hefford after their announcement of the founding six franchises.

Players who don't hear their names called on Monday may still play in the league. Undrafted players from the draft pool will become free agents and can negotiate a contract or a tryout with any market they'd like.

The collective bargaining agreement requires teams to have a minimum of 28 players at their training camps, which are expected to open in November. That means each team would have to invite at least 10 players to camp to try out.

For those who are drafted, teams will hold their rights for two years. They can re-enter the draft if they don't sign in that time, but will only be allowed to go into two drafts.

The draft process also included a compassionate circumstance waiver process for situations where players have circumstances out of their control that prevent them from relocating to another city. The league reviewed those applications, but it's not clear how many players were granted a waiver to play in a certain market. 

Uncertainty, excitement for players

For Tori Sullivan, the last few months have been filled with uncertainty.

Sullivan, who has played with the PHF's Boston Pride and Connecticut Whale, was in the process of negotiating a new contract in the league when it was shut down. Now, she's training with the hope of a spot in the PWHL, and has declared for the draft.

"A lot of us have just been kind of in this state of limbo, just not sure what's going to happen, where we're going to end up," she said.

Sullivan works remotely, advising young female hockey players. Her job won't be affected if she has to move from where she lives now, in Boston, to another city. But players will have to weigh whether to make major life changes.

There's a feeling of unknown, but also excitement. Sullivan said it would be an honour to play in the new league. She'll be following along with the draft on Monday from her family's home in Michigan.

"It's going to be all the best players in the world and being kind of under that umbrella would be really, really cool," she said.

Former CWHL commissioner Brenda Andress will also be following along, eager to see where all the draft hopefuls land.

When Andress watches the PWHL draft, she says she'll be thinking of all the people who helped forge a path to this point.

"I think it's amazing that young girls can now start to dream of growing up and being paid to play the game," she said.


Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to

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