Olympic champion Micah Zandee-Hart of Saanichton will be in the vanguard as the recently announced Professional Women’s Hockey League hopes to do what the WNBA has done for basketball and European super clubs such as Barcelona, PSG, Man City and Chelsea for soccer by incorporating women’s pro teams into their organizations.
Blueliner Zandee-Hart, part of Canada’s gold-medal team at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, is among the first 17 players signed as free agents by the fledgling PWHL and will play for the New York franchise.
“Being a kid on Vancouver Island, I never thought I would play pro hockey,” said Zandee-Hart.
So much so that she played in the boys’ program in the Peninsula Eagles Minor Hockey Association at the Panorama Recreation Centre.
“It’s something I never would have dreamed of as a young girl. This will give young girls something they can look up to and aspire to,” said Zandee-Hart.
“That’s what I hope this league does for young girls. I’m excited to be building this.”
Women’s hockey has had an international component, dominated by Canada and the U.S., but world championships once a year, the Olympics once every four years, the odd Canada-U.S. rivalry series, and centralization camps simply can’t replicate night-in and night-out pro club play. “This will allow us to play games on a consistent basis and not just on the Canada-U.S. gold-medal stage,” Zandee-Hart said in a Zoom call Saturday with North American sports media.
Zandee-Hart is the first Canadian player to sign for a U.S.-based PWHL team. She played for Cornell University in the NCAA and is familiar with New York state.
“I went to university in the state and am excited to be headed this way again,” she said. “Although I will be far from family, I’ve spent time in this part of the world before. I’d like to thank my family for supporting another move across the continent.”
The pitch from the New York franchise was hard to resist: “It was a good fit for me as a person and a player, and that made the decision easier.”
The New York team is happy to land the Islander as the foundation piece to its defence. “I’m a defence-first kind of person,” said Zandee-Hart. “Consistency and reliability is what people know they are going to get from me.”
The original six PWHL franchises have been announced as New York, Boston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Each team will play 24 games, including at neutral sites, with the inaugural season beginning in January. Future seasons will run November to May. Team names and logos will be announced. Six players on each team must be paid a minimum of $80,000 US. The other 14 roster players can be signed for no less than $35,000 US.
>>> To comment on this article, write a letter to the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org