The newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) will have their inaugural dispersal draft on Monday. Multiple former Gophers will likely hear their name called in the 15 round snake draft and find out which of the six new teams they will play for in the initial season of the league. Minnesota was awarded one of the six teams and they are reportedly set to play their home games at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Let’s Pause for a Sec—-PWHL??
Yes, the Professional Women’s Hockey league is the newly single professional league for women’s hockey in North America starting this winter. Previously the players were splintered between the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF which featured the Minnesota Whitecaps and five other teams, and the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) which played a series of professional games in hubs around the US in Canada and featured a larger number of former US and Canadian Olympian players. The PWHPA players broke away from the PHF looking for better bargaining organization and more control a few years ago. The PHF began play in 2021 after the merger/dissolution of the National Women’s Hockey League, and the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) in 2019. It’s complicated to say the least and there are many better sources out there then us if you want to know more about this history of the leagues, the labor bargaining, and why ultimately it all fell apart.
But, the PWHL was founded in August, and the six locations were named in late August and early September and will be split between the US and Canada. US teams include Minnesota, Boston and New York, while Canadian teams will be in Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.
The Minnesota Team has Gopher Connections you Say?
Yeah, that would be correct. The General Manager for the yet to be nicknamed team from Minnesota is one of the best Gopher hockey players of all time in Natalie Darwitz. The Gopher legend still holds several scoring records at the U, and was an assistant coach under Brad Frost the past two seasons. She announced she was leaving last spring and was set to be the head coach of the Hill-Murray girl’s high school team this fall—until this opportunity came up.
The inaugural coach was named on Friday and it will be Charlie Burggraf. Burggraf is a Roseau native who played college hockey for North Dakota and was on the 1979 NCAA runner-up team that lost to the Gophers. He then redeemed himself by going into coaching and was a Gopher women’s assistant from 2004-2006 coaching Darwitz and Krissy Wendell and helping the Gophers win the 2005 NCAA title. Burgraff would coach both the Bethel women’s and men’s teams after that, but he has not coached since 2018.
Each team was allowed to sign three free agents last week who were not recently college eligible. The Minnesota team went back to the maroon and gold well twice signing a pair of Minnesota All-Americans and US Olympians in Lee Stecklein and Kelly Pannek . Their third free agent signing was one of the best US Olympians in recent memory in Illinois native and Northeastern alum Kendall Coyne Schofield.
Even more Ex-Gophers could be drafted?
Yep! The inaugural PWHL draft takes place on Monday at Noon live from Toronto’s CBC headquarters. The Minnesota franchise won the draft lottery and has the #1 overall pick. Each team will select 15 players and the rounds will go in a snake format meaning the Minnesota team has pick #1, #12, #13 and so on. It has been heavily speculated that with the #1 overall pick the Minnesota team will select 2022 Patty Kazmaier Award winner and recent Gopher grad Taylor Heise to anchor the top line for years to come. Additionally in a pair of mock drafts done on The Athletic and The Hockey News they have the Minnesota team selecting Grace Zumwinkle with pick #12 and setting up a young core of native offensive talent for years to come.
Players were required to declare for the draft to be eligible to be selected and a total of 268 players from all over the world did so. This includes recent college grads who have no professional hockey experience like Heise, players who have some PWHPA experience including former Gopher defender Emily Brown, and former Gophers who have played in the PHF in recent seasons including defenders Patti Marshall, and Olivia Knowles along with goalie Amanda Leveille.
The full list of Minnesota alums is below along with their 2022-23 team:
Abigail Boreen—Minnesota Gophers
Taylor Heise—Minnesota Gophers
Gigi Marvin—Did not play in 22-23
Savanah Norcross—Minnesota Gophers
Catie Skaja—Minnesota Gophers
Grace Zumwinkle—Minnesota Gophers
Olivia Knowles —PHF
Not all 14 Gophers eligible for the draft may be selected. Once the draft is complete undrafted players may sign free agent deals with any of the six teams. Teams are required to bring a 28 player roster to training camp which will begin in November, but rosters will be cut to 23 players by the time the season begins in January.
A few notable former Gophers players who have played professional hockey in the recent past did not declare for the draft. Amanda Kessel is taking a year off and is working with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. Sydney Baldwin who played for the Whitecaps last season also did not declare and will not play hockey in 2023-24.
Undoubtedly by the end of the draft on Monday the Minnesota roster should be stacked with plenty of former Gophers and Minnesota natives from other schools. it seems as though this league wants to try and keep the familiar faces front and center and this expect a very strong Minnesota-centric roster when the final named are added.
We will have a full recap of where the firmer Gophers went after the draft here at TDG.