Historic pick: Minnesota drafts homegrown forward Taylor Heise 1st overall to PWHL
Toronto takes Larocque; Ottawa picks Harmon; Montreal adds Ambrose in 1st round
Former University of Minnesota star Taylor Heise is staying home to begin her professional hockey career.
The Lake City native, who topped the NCAA in scoring in each of her last two years with the Gophers, was selected first overall by Minnesota in the inaugural Professional Women's Hockey League draft on Monday at CBC headquarters in Toronto.
The historic selection was announced by tennis legend and women's equal rights advocate Billie Jean King, who is a board member of the start-up league.
"Everyone I love is there [in Minnesota]," Heise, 23, told CBC Sports' Anastasia Bucsis. "I'm honoured to be able to play and excited to get started."
Heise, considered the most skilled player available with a nose for the net, is familiar to Minnesota general manager Natalie Darwitz, a former Gophers assistant coach.
WATCH | Minnesota's Heise taken No. 1 in PWHL draft:
When considering her options after Minnesota won the draft lottery on Sept. 1, Darwitz focused on a player who could remain with the organization long-term.
"Not only that, [a player] who can grow the game and grow the market in Minnesota, who has great visibility," Darwitz, former captain of the U.S. women's team, said recently.
And who better than a homegrown player?
At a Monday news conference, Heise spoke of seeing girls lined up for autographs. During her childhood years, Heise once waited one hour for signatures from the U.S. and Canadian national teams.
"I want [girls] to know this is an opportunity for them, too," she said.
Added defender Erin Ambrose, who was chosen sixth to end the first round: "Your dream is just beginning. Dream big, and chase those dreams."
The 23-year-old Heise scored a combined 58 goals the past two seasons in college and in 2022 won the Patty Kazmaier Award as the best female player in NCAA Division 1.
Manitoba's Larocque 1st Canadian drafted
Last September, the smart five-foot-nine centre scored seven goals and 18 points to help the United States women win a world championship silver medal.
The 178 draft-eligible players not taken Monday can still play in the league. They will be deemed free agents and can negotiate a contract or tryout with any club.
Defenceman Jocelyne Larocque of Ste. Anne, Man., was the first drafted player to join one of the PWHL's three Canadian-based teams, going second to Toronto.
WATCH | No. 2 pick Larocque joining 3rd women's pro league:
The PWHL will be the third pro league for the 35-year-old, who previously played in the Western Women's Hockey League and Canadian Women's Hockey League.
"But this feels different and it is different because of the infrastructure behind it," said Larocque, who worried she would be retired by the time a day like Monday arrived. "The fact that I get to play, I'm ecstatic."
With Toronto, Larocque will be reunited with Renata Fast, her national team defence partner.
PWHL: Need to know
- The 2023-24 regular season will be 24 games from January through late May or early June.
- It'll be a 32-game campaign in 2024-25, slated to run November-May.
- Under the collective bargaining agreement, each team must have 28 players when training camp is expected to open in November.
- Teams will hold a player's rights for two years. If unsigned, the player could re-enter the draft, but are only eligible to enter a maximum two drafts.
- According to Fargo, N.D.-based The Rink Live, three players on each squad must make at least $80,000 US per season and the bottom nine must make at least $35,000.
- Final rosters will be 23 players with a salary cap of $1.265 million US, The Rink Live reports.
- The PWHL has said it would break in 2024 for the April 4-14 women's world championship in Utica, N.Y.
Boston chose Swiss forward Alina Müller with the third selection. The five-time Patty Kazmaier Award finalist has been on the Swiss national team for nearly a decade.
Müller returns to Massachusetts, where she starred at Northeastern University. The 25-year-old signed to play with the Boston Pride before the Premier Hockey Federation was sold and shut down.
"Unbelievable. It's pretty emotional," said Müller, fighting back tears. "I'm super happy. Boston does so much for women's sports."
At 15, she scored the winning goal in the bronze-medal game at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Four years later, Müller was named the tournament's top forward after posting 10 points in six games at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
New York GM Pascal Daoust picked defenceman Ella Shelton of Ingersoll, Ont., fourth overall out of Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y.
The 25-year-old has yet to make her professional debut but won a 2022 Olympic gold medal with Canada and world titles in 2021 and 2022.
Defender Savannah Harmon, the first American player, went fifth to Ottawa.
She had a great season last year with PWHPA Team Harvey's of the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association (PWHPA). Harmon was a member of the U.S. squad that defeated Canada 6-3 for world gold in April.
WATCH | PWHL executive Jayna Hefford talks with CBC Sports' Devin Heroux:
Ambrose, who made her Olympic debut for Canada at the 2022 Beijing Games, had her name announced by Montreal GM Danièle Sauvageau.
She played two seasons with Les Canadiennes de Montréal before the Canadian Women's Hockey League ceased operations in 2019.
"I am ecstatic. I couldn't be happier to be returning [to Montreal]," Ambrose told CBC Sports. "I can't wait to get started."
Ambrose, 29, also can't wait to join her new teammates, namely Canadian women's national team captain Marie-Philip Poulin, forward Laura Stacey and goalie Ann-Renée Desbiens.
"Those are three cornerstones," she said. "On the [defence] side of things that's big for me."
1st women's league to launch with CBA ratified
In March 2019, King and her wife, fellow tennis legend Ilana Kloss, received a phone call from Minnesota player Kendall Coyne Schofield, who asked if the part owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers could lend a hand in building a league.
"We said, 'Let's talk and let's listen' because we're always trying to help women's sports and men's sports," King told Andi Petrillo of CBC Sports before Monday's draft. "I asked if they had a [players'] union. That's the first thing to do."
The PWHL is the first women's league to launch with a collective bargaining agreement already ratified.
"The top players have stayed together through thick and thin, no matter how long this has taken," King said.
"We thought [a CBA] was vital to make sure that this league's going to make it big, so young girls can dream about being a pro."
WATCH | 'It's a dream come true today': Billie Jean King, PWHL advisory board member
With files from Karissa Donkin & Myles Dichter, CBC Sports