Wanna blog? Start your own hockey blog with My HockeyBuzz. Register for free today!

Karine Hains on Toronto’s PWHL: What Sarah Nurse Said…

September 7, 2023, 2:49 PM ET [19 Comments]
Follow me @KarineHains for all updates about the Montreal Canadiens and women's hockey

It started like all other media availability with general manager Gina Kingsbury introducing her three signings, Renata Fast, Blair Turnbull and Sarah Nurse before the media could ask questions. As was to be expected, the three players said they were excited by the opportunity to play in Toronto and Turnbull also mentioned that growing up, her dream, which was impossible to attain, was to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, but now, little girls will be able to have an attainable dream with this franchise.

It was also interesting to learn how the signings went down, Sarah Nurse told the press that one morning, Blair texted her saying: “I signed with Toronto LOL” and at that point, Nurse already knew that Fast had also joined Toronto so she asked her agent to get a deal done with Kingsbury. Speaking of Kingsbury, according to Turnbull, her sales pitch was awesome. As candid as ever, the Nova Scotia native said that Toronto wasn’t even on her radar at first, but the general manager just sold it too well to her adding that she could be a used car saleswoman.

On the free agency process, Nurse also added that it was all new and exciting for her, that she wanted to lean into it and see how it went. After years of presenting a united front, the PWHPA players now had to think about themselves first to sign their deal. Fast said that even though she also wanted to take her time, everything happened so fast. For Nurse, it was a strange feeling, even more so considering that some of her national team teammates didn’t get the calls they wanted. I couldn’t help but think about Natalie Spooner there I’ll admit, the 32-year-old had a baby recently, but she can still play and would be a great addition to any team.

The controversial quote came when the players were asked how they felt about having to play in a market like Toronto which is flooded with sports teams with the Leafs, Raptors, Blues Jays. Nurse answered first saying: “There are obviously a lot of well-established franchises in Toronto, but it really does lack a women’s professional franchise and if there’s anything to be said about Toronto it’s that when the WNBA came to play here this past spring, they sold out games. There was a buzz the city was electric in the week leading up to that. If that says anything about where women’s sport is in Toronto, I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it and so, I definitely think we’re going to fill a void that desperately needs to be filled in this city.” As you may know, last season, the Toronto Six played in the PHL and won the league’s championship, the Isobel Cup.

Understandably, fans of the franchise were upset by Nurse’s comment and pointed out that the PWHL created the void when it bought the PHL and dissolved its teams. For them, PWHPA players are acting like the PHL never existed and that’s an insult to the former teams, their players and their fans. To be fair, I do not think that’s the case. For the PWHPA players, the PHL wasn’t a real professional league because it lacked a collective bargaining agreement and fair working conditions. Even the top earners in that league couldn’t focus exclusively on their craft, because there was no pension plan, no maternity leave, no working conditions comparable to those of professional male players.

The PWHPA players didn’t mean any disrespect there and nor did Nurse in that quote. In fact, the best players in the PWHPA probably didn’t need everything they got in the CBA, players like Nurse and Poulin have got sponsors and advertising deals, but the other players, the ones who don’t have all that needed a league with a CBA to protect themselves and have a real future. As for the PHL being shut down, the PWHPA athletes weren’t even aware that their investors planned to buy the league and shut it down. According to Liz Knox and Karell Émard on the Knoxy and Kax podcast, they genuinely believed that the PHL would keep going and that it could serve as a development league for the players who couldn’t get in the newly established league.

Hopefully, the former PHL fans can understand why there was a need for a new league which had better work conditions for these professional athletes. Obviously, it’s a shame that the new league will only have six teams with a 23-player roster as it will push some players out, but clearly, the investors want to put the best product possible on the ice to build on the fanbase that was already present in the former PHL markets and build a new one in the new locations. When the league prospers and is financially healthy, they’ll be looking at expansion and adding more teams.

For this new league to work though, the PWHL will need to find a way to get the former PHL fans onside and that will only be achieved by being transparent in explaining why the investors decided to shut down the former league. Today, Boston announced the signing of Aerin Franklin, Hilary Knight and Megan Keller and at 11:30, the PWHL Montreal will hold a press conference at the Centre 21.02 to introduce its first three signings. While it has got to be the worst kept secret since the fact that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father, it still has to be made official that Marie-Philip Poulin, Laura Stacey and Ann-Renée Desbiens are the team’s first three signings.

Join the Discussion: » 19 Comments » Post New Comment
More from Eklund
» What To Make Of The "Wright Exemption"
» Anaheim In Holding Pattern With Drysdale, Zegras. HBSL sign ups!
» Pinto Update, Boucher
» Where and When Will Patrick Kane Sign?
» Does the Babcock Situation Mean the End of “Old School Coaching?”