Return of PWHPA's Dream Gap Tour shifts women's hockey focus back on sport's future

The Dream Gap Tour, a barnstorming series of weekend-long stops across North America, returns for its fourth consecutive season. Live coverage of every game will be available worldwide across CBC Sports platforms.

Every game during 2022-23 season to be available live across CBC Sports platforms

Canada's Brianne Jenner (19) shoots the puck as American defenceman Lee Stecklein defends during the gold-medal game at the Beijing Olympics. Both players will be participating in the 2022-23 Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association Dream Gap Tour. (Elsa/Getty Images)

It would be tough to top Brianne Jenner's last 14 months of hockey.

In that time, the Canadian forward won Olympic gold and two world championships. In Beijing, she tied an Olympic record with nine goals to earn MVP honours.

Her next game will come on Saturday in Montreal as part of the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association's Dream Gap Tour. Jenner will wear the same colours as American star Hilary Knight on Team Sonnet.

"I think everyone's really excited to play for the PWHPA and what we represent," Jenner said. "It's different than any other logo that that we've worn on our jersey in the past. It represents something much bigger than ourselves, much bigger than a hockey team."

The Dream Gap Tour, a barnstorming series of weekend-long stops across North America, returns for its fourth consecutive season. The PWHPA, which rose from the ashes of the defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League, has still not established a formal pro league as it seeks sustainability.

Live coverage of every PWHPA game this season will be available worldwide on, the CBC Sports app, CBC Gem and CBC Sports' YouTube channel. Coverage of the Montreal series begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET, when Jenner's Team Sonnet faces Mélodie Daoust's Team Scotiabank.

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Host Signa Butler explains the landscape of women's sports leagues in Canada, as some of the country's best athletes are without a league in their own backyard.

Jenner, a 31-year-old three-time Olympian from Oakville, Ont., said she's excited to team up with her American foes after so many months of battle.

"I think it's becoming glaringly obvious how much of an opportunity there is in women's hockey and in women's sport in general. And I think, with our work with the PWHPA, we've really taken our support the next level."

In 2022, the Dream Gap Tour will feature more continuity. No longer are titles up for grabs at each stop; instead, each game will count toward season-long standings.

A reduction in teams from five to four means every squad will be in action at every stop. Rosters, featuring more concentrated talent, will stay consistent throughout season.

Along with Jenner, the likes of Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin, Ann-Renée Desbiens and Sarah Nurse and Americans Abby Roque, Amanda Kessel and Kendall Coyne Schofield will all be back on PWHPA ice.

Nearly every North American Olympian will play on the Dream Gap Tour after missing last season while centralized at national pre-Olympic training camps.

Differences remain between PWHPA, PHF

But for the first time, injured U.S. star Brianna Decker won't be part of the PWHPA. The 31-year-old jumped ship in August to the Premier Hockey Federation, a PWHPA competitor running a professional league. Decker will serve in a player advisory role.

"I felt like the PWHPA hit a bit of a standstill — there's obviously been talk behind the scenes, but I kind of felt like a lot of us were in the dark a lot," Decker told Sportsnet.

The PHF recently saw Buffalo Beauts forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis become the highest paid women's hockey player ever with an $80,000 US salary.

The sides attempted to collaborate on a unified league, but talks fizzled in April. Soon after, reports emerged that a PWHPA pro league would be starting in January. But PWHPA operations consultant Jayna Hefford told Sportsnet recently that was an "ambitious goal" that won't be achieved in that time frame.

Jenner acknowledged a gap remains between the two factions.

"I think our vision with the PWHPA has remained the same since we were founded and that is to build a league that is professional in all aspects, not just in salary but in the way that players are supported — the facilities, healthcare, all avenues of that," Jenner said.

"We still don't feel that there is that professional league out there that has everything that we feel makes a league professional."

Coyne Schofield celebrates a goal scored on the Dream Gap Tour in February 2021. (Jared Silber/MSG Photos/Submitted by the PWHPA)

No 'definitive timeline' for pro league 

So how close is the PWHPA to making that professional league a reality?

"I don't know if I can say the definitive timeline, but I can say that those that work for the PWHPA and our members are working daily [toward] that goal and [are] really confident about how far we've come," Jenner said.

For now, Jenner's focus is on the Dream Gap Tour and a pair of games in Montreal this weekend. The PWHPA's next stop will be early November in Truro, N.S., followed by a trip to Pittsburgh later in the month.

WATCH | Canada beats U.S. for 2022 world championship gold:

Canada edges United States for world championship gold medal

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Oakville, Ont.'s Brianne Jenner scored both of Canada's goals en route to a 2-1 victory over their international rivals in the tournament final.

Jenner said the last year with Team Canada was "special," calling it "probably the most fun season of hockey that I've played."

But the upcoming year presents a new challenge. No longer is it about Canada vs. the U.S. — it's now a united front battling to secure the future of women's hockey, one competitive game at a time.

"When you have games on the schedule to look forward to, a professional training environment like we've set up for our place this year and teams you play with throughout the year and teammates you get to develop chemistry with, all of those things are just really exciting and I can't wait to be a part of it."

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