When members of the first National Women’s Hockey League step on the ice in November, they will no longer represent the same league they have known for the past six seasons.
The NWHL announced on Tuesday a drastic renaming, changed to a nickname “Premier Hockey Federation” and removed the word “women” from their name. In the press release it was still referred to as the women’s league and women’s hockey several times.
When asked to comment, several league players declined to comment on the record.
Commissioner Tyler Tumminia, who took on the role last fall and replaced league founder Dani Rylan, said the shift should remove gender from the conversation.
“The Premier Hockey Federation is home to some of the best professional athletes in the world who deserve to be recognized for their skills and qualified as equals in the sport,” Tumminia said in a statement. “This league has come a long way since it was founded in 2015 and we believe this is the right time and message to reinforce our commitment to the growth of football and the inspiration of youth.”
Founded in 2015 with franchises in Boston, Connecticut, Buffalo and New Jersey / New York, the league added Minnesota and Toronto and is slated to introduce Montreal after this season. It was the first women’s hockey league that paid players a salary.
In addition to Rylan’s departure this off-season, the league also lost former deputy commissioner and Boston President Hayley Moore, deputy commissioner Michelle Picard, and several other employees after the sixth season.
Just before the 7th year, the league was embroiled in controversy over the President of Toronto and former coach Digit Murphy. associated with a transphobic organization. It sparked a conversation within the league about gender inclusion, even though Murphy is currently still involved with the league. Nevertheless, the removal of “women” from the league name was justified by not recognizing the gender at all.
“It’s huge from a odds perspective,” Metropolitan Riveters captain Madison Packer said in the league’s statement. “I understand and appreciate the fact that I no longer have to define ourselves as athletes. Now let’s define players based on their skill level and what they bring to the game. It’s about realizing that athletes are talented regardless of gender. “
Despite the removal of gender in the league name, the press release still quoted a “w” in the logo to represent women. The league’s publication also states that it was the first to remove the gendered term from its name, despite the fact that National Pro Fastpitch was renamed from the Women’s Pro Softball League and Pro Softball now exists as part of Athletes Unlimited.
“We look forward to building on all of our momentum from last year, ‘Raise the W’ and entering this new era with our athletes, teams, partners and fans,” said Tumminia in the league statement. “No labels, no limits.”
The harrowing change received mixed reviews. Minnesota goalkeeper Amanda Leveille said, “Excited to play. Nothing but love for the game and the PHF. “
Others expressed frustration, with one responding, “There haven’t been many messages for the direction in which this is going.”
It remains unanswered how much player input was taken into account during the renaming. The league had previously split sponsorship deals with the players 50-50 after breaking break even. The NWHL Players Association, which campaigned for this stake, has been headless since Anya Packer, who is married to Madison Packer, left the role of President of Metropolitan Riveters in April.
Several players contacted on Tuesday said they had not heard any progress on a new head for the association, so the branding change was made without representation from the players’ association.
“There were no updates,” said one player. “At least they didn’t tell us about it.”
A source mentioned that the PHF was still working to find a “good candidate” for the role but did not elaborate on who was leading the process.
The NWHL became the only professional women’s hockey league in North America when the Canadian women’s hockey league ceased operations in March 2019. A few months later, many CWHL players announced the debut of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, with players vowing not to play in the NWHL, citing professionalism concerns.
Since then, the NWHL has played two seasons – one canceled due to COVID-19 the day before the Isobel Cup, the other a COVID-infiltrated bladder in Lake Placid, New York – and the PWHPA has hosted two North American tours.
The PWHPA has often advocated involvement in the NHL, which the NHL said it would avoid as long as there were other hockey leagues for women. When the NHL arrived Tuesday about the PHF’s name change, it said it was “not appropriate for us to comment on any other league’s decisions”.
The PHF’s seventh season, and the first under its new name, begins November 6th as Boston tries to defend its second Isobel Cup title. It is not clear whether the trophy name will be the same as it has been for the past six seasons; What is clear is that the league that will hit the ice in November, apart from the players on the ice, will be significantly different from the one that opened its doors in 2015.