Top PWHL players will have their own stage during NHL All-Star Week

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Alina Müller has already accomplished a lot in the ten years since she scored Switzerland’s bronze medal goal and became, at 15, the youngest women’s hockey player to win a medal at the Winter Olympics.

Another first will come Thursday when she plays in the Professional Women’s Hockey League 3-on-3 exhibition game as part of the NHL All-Star Weekend festivities in Toronto.

For Müller, who played for Boston in the PWHL’s inaugural season, it was her first time competing in an NHL arena.

“Super, super excited for this moment,” she said. “It’s another big step and, yeah, it’ll be really cool to be in the same place with the best in men’s hockey.”

Women have competed in NHL All-Star events before – Kendall Coyne Schofield’s dazzling effort in 2019’s fastest skating competition caught everyone’s attention – but that was previously limited to team players American and Canadian nationals. This week marks the first time the league can boast of bringing together the world’s best pros – men and women – under one roof.

NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer said the league likes to use All-Star weekend as a way to look at women’s hockey.

“Their interest in organizing events around our signature events, like our outdoor games and All-Star, became a no-brainer to do something about and make it the anchor of our Thursday night,” Mayer said . “It’s great, and we want to continue to do that and give them our sort of forum as well.”

This is a big and welcome milestone for the PWHL, a six-team league that is now a month into its inaugural season. There are an average of nearly 5,000 spectators per outing, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who attended Ottawa’s home game against Boston last week.

WATCH New York forward Abby Roque on the mic during warm-ups:

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The Canadian goalkeeper made 29 saves in New York’s 4-0 victory in Toronto.

Untapped talents

Müller, who spent her college career at Northeastern, is the only non-North American PWHL player participating in the two-team, 24-player event. It’s an accolade that highlights how much more the PWHL has to grow and the untapped talent available in Europe and Asia.

“I’m trying to represent Europe and Switzerland as best as I can,” said Mueller, who entered the week tied with American Alex Carpenter for the PWHL’s leading scorer with nine points. “And I’m very excited to see what five to 10 years can bring us and how much women’s hockey will improve all over the world.”

What is striking is the depth of talent available.

Müller is part of Team King — named after league co-founder Billie Jean King — which includes American stars Hilary Knight and Coyne Schofield, as well as Canadian national team captain Marie-Philip Poulin.

Team Kloss — named after King’s wife and PWHL advisory board member Ilana Kloss — includes Carpenter, No. 1 draft pick Taylor Heise and Canadian stars such as Sarah Nurse and Brianne Jenner.

“I looked at my list yesterday and I was like, ‘Is this karma? Like I must have done something good in life,'” said the Team King coach and former team player. Canadian national team Cassie Campbell-Pascall. “And then I look at the other list and I’m like, ‘Wow!’ … You look and there’s 24 players, and there’s probably five or six more left at home.”

Also important to Campbell-Pascall is the chance to coach against a former rival, U.S. national team star Meghan Duggan. It was she and Duggan’s generation who, in the early 2000s, sparked the vision of a professional league.

“I think all of us who have played this sport have always imagined this,” said Campbell-Pascall, who left broadcasting to become a special adviser to the PWHL.

“It’s just that we didn’t have a lot of people around us who believed in it,” she added. “I think we exceeded our expectations, but at the same time, those were the expectations we had all along.”

WATCH l Behind the scenes with PWHL Ottawa Equipment Manager:

PWHL Mic’d Up: “Did you see this sign?” New York’s Abby Roque warming up

Go behind the scenes of PWHL New York vs. PWHL Toronto, as CBC Sports presents Mic’d Up with American forward Abby Roque.

2nd star appearance for the Toronto Fast

Toronto’s Renata Fast will make her second NHL All-Star appearance after representing Canada in a 3-on-3 game against the United States in St. Louis in 2020. What Stands Out This Time for the 29-year-old, it’s her ability to consider herself a true professional.

“It’s unique because we’ve worked so hard collectively to build this league. And now we have an additional platform to showcase the work we’ve done,” Fast said. “We get to showcase our game to the NHL market on their biggest weekend of the season with all their stars. And we’re also in front of the home of hockey around the world, so there’s no better place. “

The 19,000 capacity of Scotiabank Arena represents a major step forward for Fast. His PWHL Toronto team plays at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the converted site of the former Maple Leaf Gardens, with a capacity of 2,500.

With Toronto’s home games sold out, the PWHL announced last week that Toronto’s home game against Montreal on February 16 would be played at Scotiabank.

Minnesota goalie Nicole Hensley and her teammates are enjoying the benefits of playing in the league’s only NHL facility, the Wild’s Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The team set a professional women’s hockey attendance record with 13,316 participants for its 3–0 home opener victory over Montreal. Attendance has dropped since then, although Minnesota still leads the league with a total attendance of 30,975 through four home games.

“It just shows what we’ve been saying all along, which is that there’s a market for this,” Hensley said. “And if we can build a sustainable league, people will want to come. People want to see it. I think this is just the beginning.”

The U.S. national team member is preparing for what lies ahead, knowing that 3-on-3 events typically emphasize a fast-paced, attacking style of play.

“It’s definitely not for goalies,” Hensley said with a laugh. “But I think at the end of the day, if the players and the goalies play, that’s what’s best for the game and for the fans.”

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