PWHL draft will reintroduce feeling of year-long team camaraderie to women's hockey
Bulk of 6 original rosters to be filled out in 15-round selection process on Monday
For the last four years, many women's hockey players like Renata Fast missed one simple thing: teammates.
Yes, there was the national team. And for the Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL) members like the Canadian defender, there were Dream Gap Tour squads as well.
But the camaraderie of a professional team, with all of its members located in one city, was glaringly absent.
"I am so excited to be able to have that opportunity to represent the city, go on the journey with a team of players and staff that we get to build towards from the start of the season to the end of the season," Fast told CBC Sports.
"That sets us all up for success and also for the most amount of enjoyment."
Fast, of Burlington, Ont., was one of three initial signings to Toronto's Professional Women's Hockey League team, alongside Canadian teammates Sarah Nurse and Blayre Turnbull.
Fast said she'll be at the event at CBC headquarters in Toronto.
"I can't wait for it. It'll be an awesome day, an awesome opportunity to meet your teammates that are there, that get drafted. So it'll be really, really fun, but also very interesting," Fast said.
Intriguing new mixes of players
Though many of the best players have already signed, the draft represents a momentous occasion as the first of its kind in women's hockey.
It is also rare to have so many elite players available — including the likes of rising American star Taylor Heise and two-time Canadian Olympic gold medallist Natalie Spooner — at one time in any sport. In total, 268 players declared for the draft.
"It's going to be a pretty special, full circle moment just reflective of everything the women's game has gone through," Fast said. "And it didn't matter the path that these players have taken that will be drafted, whether it's PHF [Premier Hockey Federation], international leagues, everyone was involved in getting the game to this point."
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While those drafted will have the honour of hearing their name called during the draft, the downside is a lack of choice and potential relocation to a new city.
Fast said the ideas already bubbling in her mind about team-bonding activities in Toronto will help make that transition seamless for out-of-towners.
The draft should also provide some intriguing groupings of players who've never been on the same team before.
Imagine Spooner hunting pucks on a line with Hilary Knight in Boston, or Canadian Claire Thompson forming a top defensive pairing with American Caroline Harvey for years to come.
And that's without even mentioning top PHF players like Loren Gabel and Brittany Howard, or European stars like Switzerland's Alina Müller.
"If you can earn a spot on a roster, then you deserve it and it's important that you're here," Fast said. "But I do want to make it clear that it's like everyone was involved in getting us this point. It wasn't just the players, it was everyone for generations before us. Everyone is included in this."
Players consulted on draft process
Still, Fast said she, Nurse and Turnbull were being consulted by general manager Gina Kingsbury on the players that may join them in Toronto through the draft.
"They're going to build out the players they envision depending on how the draft goes," Fast said. "But [Kingsbury has] definitely passed by some names to the three of us to get our thoughts, to see if [they're] good fits."
Ottawa general manager Michael Hirshfeld said he also was collaborating with his initial three players.
After the draft, those who aren't selected will be able to sign with teams and compete for spots in training camp on the six 23-player rosters.
But as the PWHL continues its buildup, the draft should make everything feel more real.
"It's going to be one of the most exciting drafts in history. I'm just looking at the talent that's still on the table and the depth, the amount of players that need to be drafted into markets," Fast said.
"And it's crazy."