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In Hainsight: Toronto and Minnesota Announce their Signings

September 6, 2023, 6:54 PM ET [6 Comments]
Karine Hains
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Follow me @KarineHains for all updates about the Montreal Canadiens and women's hockey

A day after Ottawa announced its three signings, pretty much all of the signings have been leaked but there is still the matter of the official announcement. Bright and early this morning, the PWHL issued a press release officializing Toronto’s three signings.

Just like Ottawa, the Toronto franchise went for a trio of Canadian Olympians. Unsurprisingly, Toronto has inked the face of EA’s NHL 23 Sarah Nurse to a three-year deal. The 28-year-old Hamilton, Ontario native has been instrumental to Canada’s latest successes on the international scene. At the latest games, she set two records for the most points in a single tourney with 18 and the most assists with 13. Her medal collection includes a Gold and a Silver from the last two Olympic games and two Gold, a Silver and a Bronze from the World Championships. This is a great signing for Toronto, since Nurse has proven to be a highly marketable athlete in the last few years, as she saw her own Barbie Doll sold in Canada’s Tim Hortons on top of being one for EA's NHL cover athlete. Furthermore, she’s younger than other core players like Marie-Philip Poulin, Brianne Jenner and Hilary Knight for instance.

Next, Toronto also inked lightning-fast Canadian Team leading defenseman, Renata Fast. Just like Nurse, Fast is 28 years old and was also born in Hamilton, Ontario. She was also part of the Canadian Team for the last two Olympics, claiming Gold in Bejiing and Silver in Pyeongchang. She’s also won five medals at World Championships over the years, two Gold, two Silver and a Bronze. In the defunct CWHL, she also lined-up for Toronto as she was drafted 2nd overall by the Furies. Fast becomes the first defenseman to be signed by a PWHL team and will anchor Toronto’s blue line for the next three years at least.

Finally, Toronto signed 30-year-old Stellarton, Nova Scotia native Blair Turnbull to a three-year pact. Just like her teammates, she took part in the last two Olympic games with Team Canada, but she played in more World Championships as she first participated in 2016, from those tournaments she’s got 2 Gold medals, 3 Silver medals and one Bronze. Turnbull might have less of a scoring touch than Nurse, but her role with this Toronto team will definitely be bonified compared to what it was on Team Canada.

In early afternoon, the Minnesota signings were revealed and just like its Canadians counterpart Minnesota general manager Natalie Darwitz opted for a trio of Olympians from her own country. Kendall Coyne Schofield, Kelly Pannek and Lee Stecklein will be Minnesota’s building blocks to get its franchise off the ground.

It was obvious that the American captain would be signed during the free agency period, but the question was where? Which team would be lucky enough to capture the speedster? Coyne Schofield played one season in the PHF with the Minnesota Withecaps before joining the PWHPA and it looks like the state made a good impression on her as she decided to return there. She’s worn the “C” for Team USA and at 31-years-old, she’s definitely one of the faces of Women Hockey south of the border. She made the headlines when she took part in the NHL fastest skater competition at the 2019 All-Star Weekend and she won three Olympic medals (one Gold and two Silver) on top of winning six Gold medals at the World Championships and three Silver. After joining the PWHPA, Coyne Schofield was the leader of the group of players who negotiated the CBA, according to Liz Knox, she was a rock for the players’ side and gave birth to her baby the very next day after the signing of the historic deal, she held on just long enough.

Minnesota’s second signing was Kelly Pannek, a 27-year-old Plymouth, Minnesota native has been a fixture on the Team USA roster since 2017 winning two Olympic medals in the process and five World Championships medals. In the NCAA she played for the Minnesota Golden Gophers putting up 186 points in 157 games, won the national championship twice and captained the team in her senior year. She was the Minnesota Whitecaps first round pick and fourth overall in the 2018 NWHL draft, but once she graduated, she decided to join the PWHPA to join the fight for a real professional league for Women’s Hockey.

Finally, just like Toronto, Minnesota opted to use its third free agency signing to get its first blue liner in Lee Stecklein. Just like Pannek, she’s also a Minnesota native who played with the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the NCAA and just like Coyne Schofield, she spent one season playing with the Minnesota Whitecaps. The 29-year-old has got three Olympic medals to her name (one Gold, two Silver) and eight World Championships medals (six Gold and two Silver). With the Golden Gophers, Stecklein captured three national championships and served as team captain for two years. In her sole season with the PHF’s Whitecaps, she scored the overtime goal which gave them the Isobel Cup. She then joined the ranks of the PWHPA and was named its top defender for the 2022-2023 season.

On top of signing three very good players, Darwitz went for three players who know each other very well and that should give Minnesota a very strong leadership group. Come September 18th, they'll be the first team to take the podium as they hold the first overall, it will be interesting to see if they opt for a goaltender or for a young promising forward like Taylor Heise, who's yet another Minnesota native and is only 23-years-old. Expect another couple of press releases tomorrow probably revealing the New York and Boston signings, since I still believe that Montreal's signings will be the last to be unveiled as they've reportedly signed Marie-Philip Poulin.
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