'Day 1 of the dream job': PWHL opens training camps in all 6 markets

PWHL Ottawa forward Brianne Jenner says Wednesday was the first day of her dream job as the upstart league kicked off training camps across all six of its markets. (Pierre-Paul Couture/Radio-Canada - image credit)
PWHL Ottawa forward Brianne Jenner says Wednesday was the first day of her dream job as the upstart league kicked off training camps across all six of its markets. (Pierre-Paul Couture/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Brianne Jenner felt emotional when she walked through the doors of the arena at TD Place in Ottawa on Wednesday morning.

This arena was home to a major turning point in the growth of women's hockey more than 30 years ago, when the first Women's World Championship took place.

Wednesday marked another milestone in the sport at this rink, a day Jenner has been dreaming about for a long time: the first day of training camp in the Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL).

Jenner has won Olympic gold medals and world championships, but ranks the start of her PWHL career toward the top of her career accomplishments.

"This might be probably the most impactful thing that our generation of hockey players will do," said Jenner, who was on the board of players that pushed to create the PWHL and negotiated a collective bargaining agreement with the league's owners.

"I think this may be the greatest legacy that we leave. This is day one of the dream job."

Wednesday was the first time players in all six of the league's markets got together for the first time. They spent much of the day meeting their new teammates and doing off-ice testing before hitting the ice for the first time later this week.

New dressing room built in Ottawa

In Ottawa, the players were greeted with a breakfast spread and a brand new dressing room built for their team, something professional female hockey players haven't always had.

"It's been a while since I've had a stall dedicated to my gear and not hanging up in my garage on a hockey tree," forward Hayley Scamurra said.

Scamurra, who has played on the American national team for several years, said the idea of playing in the new league really sunk in when she was finalizing her paperwork to cross the border.

Hayley Scamurra says it's been a long time since she's had a dressing stall of her own to keep her gear.
Hayley Scamurra says it's been a long time since she's had a dressing stall of her own to keep her gear.

Hayley Scamurra says it's been a long time since she's had a dressing stall of her own to keep her gear. (Pierre-Paul Couture/Radio-Canada)

The players in Ottawa will practice together for the first time on Friday.

But as important as the Xs and Os will be, general manager Mike Hirshfeld said the biggest goal in the camp will be trying to build a team from scratch. The players will do several team building exercises throughout the week.

"I really believe it's about caring about your teammates as people and getting to know them," Jenner said. "That translates into on-ice performance and those types of things."

Rosters to be set by Dec. 11

Camps across all six markets will run for six weeks, culminating in 23-player rosters, plus two reserve players, that have to be named by Dec. 11.

The first round of cuts must come by Nov. 29, when teams have to trim rosters down to 27 players. That will happen a few days before the teams will head to Utica, New York, for pre-season scrimmages and a fan event.

Ottawa is beginning camp with 29 players, meaning several cuts will need to happen before the December deadline.

As Hirshfeld and head coach Carla MacLeod evaluate the players in camp, they're prioritizing skilled players who will be good teammates, the GM said.

"We've got three and half weeks of training camp to really see it play out on the ice and see how those battles ultimately end up," Hirshfeld said. "So we're excited for the competition. We think the more competition you have, the better it is."

MacLeod said she and Hirshfeld have had conversations with all the players at camp to try to learn who they are and where their strengths lie.

PWHL Ottawa will need to trim its roster by six players before the end of training camp. General manager Mike Hirshfeld says the team is prioritizing good teammates.
PWHL Ottawa will need to trim its roster by six players before the end of training camp. General manager Mike Hirshfeld says the team is prioritizing good teammates.

PWHL Ottawa will need to trim its roster by six players before the end of training camp. General manager Mike Hirshfeld says the team is prioritizing good teammates. (Pierre-Paul Couture/Radio-Canada)

Their next job is to try to bolster those strengths "and give them the best opportunity to be the best version of themselves," MacLeod said.

"I think every player is bringing something different, and we're going to have to figure out this puzzle and figure out what's going to make us the best team come January," MacLeod said. "It's not a checklist. It's an evaluation of feel and seeing what do we need collectively to be the strongest unit we can be."

Wednesday wasn't just a first-day-of-school type of day for players. MacLeod left a job with the University of Calgary's women's hockey team to come to PWHL Ottawa, and arrived in the city just a couple of weeks ago.

She's sharing a house with her assistant coaches, and the group took a first day photo on Wednesday morning to send to their parents. MacLeod, who played in previous professional leagues in Calgary, said they've been with her every step of the way in her career.

"I think for all of us involved, it is that dream and the importance now is on us to make sure that this becomes a reality for every day."

Long to-do list ahead for new league

While Wednesday was full of excitement for players and staff, a lot of hard work remains on the to-do list before the league begins play in January.

The league hasn't yet released a schedule, something it needs to do in order to start selling tickets.

Team names and logos are also on the list, and may not be ready in time for January, the PWHL's leadership said on Tuesday.

"Big things don't happen overnight, it takes a long time," Montreal forward Marie-Philip Poulin said on Wednesday at the start of her team's camp.

"It's unbelievable the amount of hours that have been done. Obviously there's going to be things that are not necessarily ready and it's part of it. We're all aware of that. They've been very open with that."