The Premier Hockey Federation is back in action, and bigger than ever.
Seven teams — including the expansion Montreal Force — will begin their race for the coveted Isobel Cup when the PHF kicks off its eighth season on Saturday.
There’s been significant turnover on almost every roster since the Boston Pride won their second consecutive championship last spring, which promises to make the season ahead more dynamic and exciting than ever as a long list of new talents step into the mix.
And who might those skaters be? Glad you asked.
Before the PHF gets rolling, here’s what you need to know about the league, its top players, potential rising stars and other unique quirks.
When does the season start, and how long does it last?
The PHF begins its 84-game regular season with three tilts: Minnesota at Toronto (2 p.m. ET puck drop), Connecticut at Boston (7 p.m. start) and Montreal at Buffalo (7 p.m. start). Each club’s 24-game slate will run through Sunday, March 12, after which the Isobel Cup playoffs will begin.
This is the first full schedule for the PHF since 2019-20.
How do I watch the games?
ESPN+ will be the exclusive home of PHF games in the United States for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons. Fans can sign up here to stream all games.
In Canada, TSN subscribers can enjoy live PHF games across the station’s five platforms or stream online via the TSN Direct app.
What’s the playoff format, and when does the postseason begin?
The 2023 Isobel Cup Playoffs will begin in March. More information on the postseason — including its format and other key dates — will be announced at a later time.
Tell me about the teams.
The PHF — previously known as the National Women’s Hockey League — began in 2015-16 with four teams: The Metropolitan Riveters, Connecticut Whale, Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts. The league expanded to five teams in 2018-19 with the Minnesota Whitecaps, and the expansion Toronto Six joined in 2020-21. This will be the inaugural season for the PHF’s newest expansion team, the Montreal Force.
Boston has won more championships (three) than any other team, and are the reigning back-to-back winners of the Isobel Cup. Each club except the Six (and Force, obviously) have made at least one championship game appearance, and four of the six finals were decided by one goal.
Connecticut had its best season ever in 2021-22, earning the PHF’s best record (15-3-2) and top seeding for playoffs. The Whale advanced to their first Isobel Cup Final and led the Pride 2-1 midway through regulation before ultimately losing, 3-2.
The Metropolitan have been spinning their wheels since winning the Isobel Cup in 2018, and there’s been major changes this offseason to get them on track. The Riveters have a new GM in Tori Charron, a new coach in Venla Hovi, and a totally overhauled roster that includes just three players from last season.
Minnesota made an effort to increase its depth over last season. The Whitecaps struggled after goaltender Amanda Leveille got hurt, and their blue line was often challenged. They’re hoping a series of additions made since a fifth-place finish in the spring will be that spark.
Buffalo appeared in four straight Isobel Cup Finals from 2016-19, winning the trophy just once in 2017. It’s been a difficult couple of seasons for the Beauts though, who haven’t generated enough consistent offense. Mikyla Grant-Mentis’ return should help with that. She previously played in Buffalo during the 2019-20 season, and signed a one-year, $80,000 contract — the most lucrative women’s hockey deal ever — to re-join the Beauts this season.
Toronto does have the distinction of never having lost a game in Canada. They’ll put that streak on the line when facing Buffalo in their season debut.
Montreal will play its first home game on Nov. 26 against the Riveters at Centre 21.02. The Force will be playing in arenas throughout the province of Quebec all season long to highlight women’s hockey across the widest possible audience.
Who are the top players?
Grant-Mentis being pulled from Toronto to Buffalo will be fascinating to watch. She was the PHF’s MVP in 2020-21 and will generate plenty of attention trying to spark the Beauts’ offensive attack.
Connecticut’s Kennedy Marchment earned MVP honors last season after leading the league with 33 points in 20 games. Her teammate, Taylor Girard, was Newcomer of the Year with 11 goals and 24 points in 20 games.
Riveters captain Madison Packer is an impressive offensive force, and perennially proves to be one of the league’s best players. She’s coming off a 23-point season and is poised to have another strong campaign.
Leveille returning is big for the Whitecaps and league at large to have a star back in their midst. She’s twice been the PHF’s goaltender of the year, and is a two-time Isobel Cup champion who adds a real star presence for Minnesota.
What new players should I be aware of?
Elizabeth Giguere and Loren Gabel are joining the two-time champion Pride to make their roster even more dynamic. Giguere is a Patty Kazmaier Award winner out of Clarkson University who put off turning pro last season to spend one more year in the NCAA.
Gabel was previously with the Professional Women’s Hockey Association, but opted to join the PHF after receiving an offer from Boston last summer. The Pride struggled to put pucks in the net last season, and both Giguere and Gabel should help there.
Brittany Howard is another former PWHA skater, who opted to make a splashy free agent signing with Toronto in June. The dynamic offensive talent projects to play a major role in igniting more offense for the Six.
Amanda Pelkey is an old face making a new return to the league. She played three seasons for the Pride between 2015 and 2019 and will now suit up for the Riveters. The former U.S. national team member is a two-time World Champion gold medalist and won Olympic gold in 2018.
Another fresh addition for the Riveters is goaltender Rachel McQuigge who just finished a sensational season at Princeton, posting a .938 save percentage and 1.88 goals-against average.
Buffalo’s Olivia Knowles should also draw attention. The defender captained the University of Minnesota women’s team last season, and will help anchor the Beauts’ blue line.
I heard there’s a team playing games at a mall in New Jersey.
Yes, the Riveters will play their home games (for the next three years) at the American Dream mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The regulation-size rink will be surrounded by other traditional mall staples like an indoor water park and ferris wheel.
It’s a unique way to bring more fans to Riveters games. The rink can hold up to 2,000 people, but the Riveters are only looking to fill about 1,000 seats — which they will set up themselves — on the first level to start, with the third level allowing access for passersby in the mall to watch the Riveters in action free of charge.
Any other fun facts you can share ahead of opening puck drop?
The PHF has put in place a record-high salary cap of $750,000 per team for this season, including a $562,500 floor.
Brianna Decker has joined the PHF this season as a team and player development advisor. The Team USA stalwart is a six-time World Championship gold medalist and Olympic gold medalist who was previously with the PWHA but made a high-profile move into the PHF fold. Decker suffered a leg injury at the most recent Olympic Games, which has temporarily stalled her own playing career.